Goose bumps

Goose bumps
Goose bumps on a person's body

Goose bumps, also called goose flesh, goose pimples, chill bumps, chicken skin, funky spots, Dasler Bumps, chicken bumps or the medical term cutis anserina, are the bumps on a person's skin at the base of body hairs which may involuntarily develop when a person is cold or experiences strong emotions such as fear, nostalgia, pleasure, awe, admiration or sexual arousal.[1]

The reflex of producing goose bumps is known as horripilation, piloerection, or the pilomotor reflex. It occurs in many mammals besides humans; a prominent example are porcupines, which raise their quills when threatened, or sea otters when they encounter sharks or other predators.



The "goose bumps" (also "gooseflesh", "goosepimples" or "chicken skin") effect gets its name from geese. Goose feathers grow from stores in the epidermis which resemble human follicles. When a goose's feathers are plucked, its skin has protrusions where the feathers were, and it is these bumps which the human phenomenon resembles. The term "goose bumps" is misleading because the bumps on a goose's skin do not qualify as piloerection, though birds do have the same reflex of extending their feathers out, a function that keeps them warm.

It is not clear why in English the particular fowl goose was chosen, as most other birds have this same anatomical feature. Some authors have applied "goose bumps" to the symptoms of sexually-transmitted diseases.[2] Certainly being "bitten by a Winchester goose" was a common euphemism for syphilis[3] in the 16th century.[4] "Winchester geese" was the nickname for the prostitutes of South London,[5] licenced by the Bishop of Winchester in the area around his London palace.

However, this seductive etymology does not explain why other languages use the same bird as English. "Goose skin" is used in German (Gänsehaut), Italian (pelle d'oca), Russian (гусиная кожа), Polish (gęsia skórka), Czech (husí kůže), Danish (gåsehud) and Hungarian (libabőr). In other languages, however, the "goose" may be replaced by other kinds of poultry. For instance, "hen" is used in Spanish (piel de gallina), Portuguese (pele de galinha), Romanian (piele de găină) and French (chair de poule). "Chicken" is used in Dutch (kippenvel), Chinese (雞皮疙瘩, lit. lumps on chicken skin), Finnish (kananliha), Afrikaans (hoendervleis) and Korean (닭살, daksal). In Hindi/Urdu it is called rongtey khade ho jaana. The equivalent Japanese term, 鳥肌, torihada, translates literally as "bird skin". In Arabic, it is called kash'arirah, in Hebrew it is called simply "duck skin" (עור ברווז).

The same effect is manifested in the root word "horror" in English, which is derived from Latin horrere, which means "to bristle", and "be horrified", because of the accompanying hair reaction.

Anatomy and biology

Goose bumps are created when tiny muscles at the base of each hair, known as arrectores pilorum, contract and pull the hair erect. The reflex is started by the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for many fight-or-flight responses.

As a response to cold: in animals covered with fur or hair, the erect hairs trap air to create a layer of insulation. Goose bumps can also be a response to anger or fear: the erect hairs make the animal appear larger, in order to intimidate enemies. This can be observed in the intimidation displays of chimpanzees,[6] in stressed mice[7] and rats, and in frightened cats. In humans, it can even extend to piloerection as a reaction to hearing nails scratch on a chalkboard, listening to awe-inspiring music,[8] or feeling or remembering strong and positive emotions (e.g., after winning a sports event).[9] Some people have learned to will goose bumps at any time they please.[10]

Piloerection as a response to cold or emotion is vestigial in humans. As we retain only very little body hair, the reflex now provides no known benefit.

In humans, goose bumps are strongest on the forearms, but also occur on the legs, neck, and other areas of the skin that have hair. In some people, they even occur in the face or on the head.

In humans, the areolas of the breasts of females typically show piloerection because of hormonal distribution, for example, when aroused or inside the maternity cycle.[citation needed]

Piloerection is also a classic symptom of some diseases, such as temporal lobe epilepsy, some brain tumors, and autonomic hyperreflexia. Goose bumps can also be caused by withdrawal from opiates such as heroin. A skin condition that mimics goose bumps in appearance is keratosis pilaris.


Extreme temperatures

Goosebumps can be experienced in the presence of cold temperatures. The stimulus of cold surroundings causes the tiny muscles attached to each hair follicle to contract. This contraction causes the hair strands to literally "stand on end." At the same time, the tiny muscles that are contracting are causing a "bunching" of the skin surrounding the hairs, which results in the "bumps" in goosebumps.

In winter, when people get cold outside, they can experience goosebumps. This is the body's way of preserving its own heat by causing the hairs on the skin to stand up, thus reducing heat loss. Goosebumps are often seen in conjunction with shivering in these instances.

Ironically, people also get goosebumps when they are hot, or in the presence of extreme heat. The main reason for this is sweat. As the perspiration accumulates on the skin, it naturally evaporates. As the sweat evaporates, it cools down the skin surface. As this process occurs, a dramatic temperature difference occurs and the body responds to the "chill" of the evaporation of the sweat and the "goosebump response" kicks in.

Intense Emotion

People often say they feel their "hair standing on end" when they are frightened or in awe. Another intense emotional situation that can cause goosebumps is the "fight or flight" response the body can employ in an extremely stressful situation. As the body prepares itself for either fighting or running, it floods the system with adrenalin, the chemical that speeds up heart rate and metabolism in the presence of extreme stress.[11]

The fight-or-flight response pulls the physiological trigger. When sensing danger, the sympathetic nervous system floods the blood with epinephrine, a hormone that raises the body temperature and primes it for a physical fight. “The sympathetic nervous system also causes a reflex called piloerection, which makes the muscles attached to the base of each hair follicle contract and force the hair up,” says Horatio Wildman, MD, an assistant professor of dermatology at Cornell University. Goose bumps cause the hairs to stand up – just as porcupines raise their quills when threatened. When piloerection occurred in our hairy ancestors, it made them appear larger to enemies and kept them warm. Over the millennia, we lost the fur but not that reflex. Goose bumps do not make hair grow.


Canadian researchers have suggested that when we are moved by music our brains behave as if reacting to delicious food, psychoactive drugs, or money.

The pleasure experience is driven by the chemical dopamine, which has been linked to addiction. It produces physical effects known as "chills" that cause changes in the skin's electrical conductance, heart rate, breathing and temperature. The responses correlate with the degree to which people rate the "pleasurability" of music.

The new research has shown that dopamine release was greatest when listeners had a strong emotional response to music. "If music-induced emotional states can lead to dopamine release, as our findings indicate, it may begin to explain why musical experiences are so valued,” wrote the scientists.[12]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Roberts, Chris (2004), Heavy words lightly thrown: the reason behind the rhyme, Granta, p. 24, ISBN 9781862077652, 
  3. ^ Buret, Frédéric (1895), [1]-0rq[jrgtg[94t5[j4th[924ghw4[otgegoibjertohjw9itjh955gjb hue8rhgwiernjgpuwerge4 w5gjwn4rgmqeg qoiejr0ggoog Syphilis to-day and among the ancients v. 2-3], F.A. Davis, p. 48,]-0rq[jrgtg[94t5[j4th[924ghw4[otgegoibjertohjw9itjh955gjb hue8rhgwiernjgpuwerge4 w5gjwn4rgmqeg qoiejr0ggoog 
  4. ^ Buret, Frédéric (1895), Syphilis to-day and among the ancients v. 1, F.A. Davis, p. 62,  dates the aforementioned manuscript to the 16th century
  5. ^ Wabuda, Susan (2002), Preaching during the English Reformation, Cambridge studies in early modern British history, Cambridge University Press, p. 127, ISBN 9780521453950, 
  6. ^ Martin Muller and John Mitan. Conflict and Cooperation in Wild Chimpanzees. Advances in the Study of Behavior, vol. 35
  7. ^ Masuda et al. Developmental and pharmacological features of mouse emotional piloerection. Experimental Animals, 1999 Jul;48(3):209-11. PMID 10480027
  8. ^ David Huron. Biological Templates for Musical Experience: From Fear to Pleasure. Abstract
  9. ^ George A. Bubenik. Why do humans get "goosebumps" when they are cold, or under other circumstances? [2]
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • goose bumps — or[goose pimples] {n. plural}, {informal} Small bumps that come on a person s skin when he gets cold or afraid. * /Nancy gets goose bumps when she sees a snake./ * /Ann, put on your sweater; you re so cold you have goose pimples on your arms./ …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • goose bumps — or[goose pimples] {n. plural}, {informal} Small bumps that come on a person s skin when he gets cold or afraid. * /Nancy gets goose bumps when she sees a snake./ * /Ann, put on your sweater; you re so cold you have goose pimples on your arms./ …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • goose\ bumps — • goose bumps • goose pimples n. plural informal Small bumps that come on a person s skin when he gets cold or afraid. Nancy gets goose bumps when she sees a snake. Ann, put on your sweater; you re so cold you have goose pimples on your arms …   Словарь американских идиом

  • goose bumps — n. Same as {gooseflesh}. [PJC] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • goose bumps — goose ,bumps noun plural AMERICAN if you get goose bumps, very small lumps appear on your skin and your hairs stand up straight, because you are cold, frightened, or excited …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • goose bumps — goose′ bumps n. pl. a bristling of the hair on the skin, as from cold or fear; horripilation Also called goose flesh, goose pimples. • Etymology: 1930–35; amer …   From formal English to slang

  • goose bumps — güs .bəmps n pl a roughness of the skin produced by erection of its papillae esp. from cold, fear, or a sudden feeling of excitement called also goose pimples …   Medical dictionary

  • goose|bumps — «GOOS BUHMPS», noun (plural). Informal. goose flesh: »I m goosebumps all over... (New Yorker) …   Useful english dictionary

  • goose bumps — ☆ goose bumps n. a roughened condition of the skin in which the papillae are erected, caused by cold, fear, etc. * * * …   Universalium

  • goose bumps — ☆ goose bumps n. a roughened condition of the skin in which the papillae are erected, caused by cold, fear, etc …   English World dictionary

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