Under the microscope: The science of goosebumps

Hannah Murray

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.— If you’ve felt a slight chill on the back of your neck, chances are you’ve fell victim to the reflex known as kutis ansterina, better known as goosebumps.

Goose bumps, also known as goose pimples or chicken skin, is a common involuntary reflex that occurs when you’re cold or feel a strong emotion, such as fear or surprise.

These little bumps show up on your skin at the base of hairs that stick up in response to some stimulus.

But why do we get goose bumps?

Goose bumps are caused by a reflex, called a pilomotor reflex, where your brain sends signals to your muscles that cause them to tense. Hairs attached to any of these muscles will stand up as a response, causing your hair to pull on your skin and create the appearance of little bumps.

Humans aren’t the only ones susceptible to this reflex. If you’ve ever seen a cat or dog’s hair stand up when they feel threatened, you’ve witnessed their own pilomotor reflex.

This allows animals to seem larger to any possible predators.

For humans, however, the reflex occurs to prepare for either a fight or flight response. The muscles tension prepares you for movement.

When you’re cold, the tensing of the muscles helps to generate heat so you stay warm.

Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that you don’t have to be alive to get goosebumps.

When a person dies, they experience rigor mortis, which is a stiffening of the joints and muscles. This occurs after the first few hours of death and can last for days.

When the muscles tense up, the same reaction can be seen in the skin.

So, whether dog, human, or dead, we’re all vulnerable to those pesky little bumps.