When a cold breeze softly touches our skin, when we hear beautiful music, or when we get scared, we surely notice one thing – our body hair somehow stands erect, giving us the sensation popularly known as goosebumps. But why do we have goosebumps in the first place?
To answer this question, we first have to learn that the medical term for goosebumps is cutis anserina or horripilation. This is what happens when a short body hair becomes erect involuntarily when experiencing cold temperatures, when feeling great amounts of fear, nostalgia, admiration, and sexual arousal.
As we mentioned, it’s involuntary. This means goosebumps are not something you can force upon yourself when you want to act sophisticated and pretentious listening to opera. Goosebumps are triggered by a reflex called predilection.
We experience having goosebumps due to triggers of feeling, sensation, or emotion. This causes tiny muscles located at the base of each hair we have on our body to contract, and when that happens is that hair tends to stand up. Consequently, this creates an appearance of bumps in your skin that looks like a newly plucked goose.
Part of the whole process of having goosebumps is attributed as a vestigial reflex. This refers to something our bodies have adapted (due to evolution) to doing in order to fit to the environment. However, several drastic changes in ones surroundings caused this response to lose its function over time. More like how we wanted to ride a bike to go see our childhood crush. Over time, we don’t unlearn how to ride a bike even though we forgot why we biked in the first place.
What does this mean?
This means that humans had originally used having their hair stand up to serve a purpose. A great sign of the existence of such vestigial reflex can be found in present day ecosystems. For example, when animals feel cold, they usually fluff their feathers or hair up in order to trap in body heat. (Because unlike humans, animals don’t kill other animals, for their fur) And because we probably share the same evolutionary ancestor with these animals, we inherited the same reflex, only that we don’t know why we fluff the remaining thin hair we still have.
One more reason of having goosebumps is fear. It’s natural to flash signs that you are feeling strong emotion of fear: heartbeat racing, high volume perspiration, and other reflexes. Same goes for goosebumps. Humans tend to react involuntary to fear by horripilation. Like when porcupines make their fur come up to make them look scary, we do the same thing, only we don’t really know why.
Lastly, one of the more common triggers of goosebumps is hearing beautiful music, or reading a heartbreaking story. Goosebumps is a reaction to such emotion, same as blushing, feeling butterflies in your stomach, and becoming pale. These are all caused by our limbic system that is fired up during psychological events like this.