Why Do You Get Goosebumps?

The Short Answer from a family medicine doctor

Q: Why do you get goosebumps?

A: Centuries ago, people believed that goosebumps made your hair grow faster. Today, we know this is not the case, but goosebumps still hold some mystery.

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When you’re cold, or you experience a strong emotion, such as fear, shock, anxiety, sexual arousal or even inspiration, goosebumps can suddenly pop up all over the skin. They occur when the tiny muscle located at the base of each hair follicle contracts, causing the hair to stand on end.

But what really causes this involuntary body response? Does it serve a purpose?

While these goosebumps, or piloerections, have no beneficial function in humans, scientists say furry animals have practical reasons for getting goosebumps. In animals, hair standing on end creates insulation against the cold.  Goosebumps also appear during a fight-or-flight situation. When an animal finds itself in danger, the raised fur coat creates a visual of a bigger animal and may scare off predators.

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Humans don’t have enough body hair for goosebumps to have any insulating effect, and goosebumps won’t scare off any would-be predators either. They are an involuntary response to hormone surges caused by changes in temperature or emotion.

Family medicine physician Amber Tully, MD

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