Why Do We Get Goosebumps When Emotional
Have you ever been so angry that it seemed like your entire body was on fire? Or maybe you felt betrayed by someone who had promised they would be there for you. The thought of what might happen next — perhaps even something horrible occurring — sent your blood pressure skyrocketing. Your heart rate increased. You may have started sweating. And then, suddenly, you began to feel those familiar tingles all over. It turns out these are called “goosebumps.”
Goosebumps are those little raised bumps you get when you experience an emotional response such as fear or anger. They often start small but can grow into large welts if left unchecked. But why do we get them in the first place?
The word “goose” actually comes from a Germanic legend in which a farmer catches geese in his barn and cooks their flesh into delicious sausages. In this case, the word “gees” means “to beat,” and “bumps” refers to the indentations created by beating meat. So goosebumps are essentially the result of physical stimulation caused by emotional arousal.
But why does the emotion cause our bodies to react physically? One theory suggests that goosebumps occur because our bodies respond to various stimuli with varying degrees of intensity. This is especially true during times of stress. For example, you probably don’t need much convincing that running away will make you feel better than staying put. However, when faced with danger, not everyone’s decision-making skills work exactly the same way. Some people find themselves frozen in place while others bolt for the door.
So how does this relate to getting goosebumps? Well, scientists believe that our bodies produce certain chemicals that cause goosebumps, specifically adrenaline and noradrenaline. Both hormones play important roles in the fight-or-flight reaction. Adrenaline triggers other reactions such as faster heartbeat, muscle contractions and release of energy stored in the form of glucose (sugar). Noradrenaline, on the other hand, creates feelings of alertness, wakefulness and well-being.
If adrenaline and noradrenaline are responsible for triggering goosebumps, then why doesn’t everybody get them at once? Next time you get goosebumps, try scratching one. If your skin feels more sensitive afterward, you’ve experienced an allergic reaction to something. Allergic reactions occur when the immune system releases histamine, causing inflammation and swelling. Histamine causes the smooth outer layer of skin known as the epidermis to swell up and become thicker, resulting in the appearance of goosebumps.
Now that you know why we get goosebumps, here are some interesting facts about the phenomenon.
How Often Does Everyone Get Them?
Although most people experience goosebumps at least occasionally, only a tiny percentage develop rashes or chronic conditions. People with eczema seem to be particularly susceptible; research has shown that nearly half of patients report feeling uncomfortable whenever they encounter anything unexpected, strange or unusual [sources: Tien et al., Norgaard].
It’s also possible to experience multiple instances of goosebumps at the same time. People who suffer from cold sores, commonly known as fever blisters, often complain of intense itching sensations accompanied by goosebumps. Cold sore sufferers actually refer to goosebumps as “itchbumps”. During episodes of severe panic attacks, many people report having several hundred goosebumps simultaneously covering their entire bodies.
On the flip side, sometimes people simply don’t want to feel goosebumps. Psychologically speaking, many people consider goosebumps embarrassing, unsightly or downright painful. As a result, people sometimes use techniques to reduce the number of bumps they see. One study showed that subjects who wore gloves developed fewer goosebumps than individuals who didn’t wear any gloves at all. Another method involves wearing tight clothing that constricts movement of the arms and legs, reducing the opportunity for goosepimples to form. Of course, some people choose to embrace their goosebumps rather than cover them up.
What Triggers Goosebumps?
The exact reason why we get goosebumps varies depending upon the individual. While some people claim that goosebumps appear due to nervous tension, it seems that the majority of cases are triggered by external factors.
One type of stimulus is called an “unexpected event.” An unexpected event occurs when you receive information that wasn’t expected, either positive or negative. This could come in the form of news, a conversation or even music. Studies show that unexpected events can prompt strong emotional reactions, including goosebumps.
Another kind of sensation that may trigger goosebumps is referred to as “surprise.” Surprise may take several forms, including being caught off guard, receiving unpleasant news or learning about something unexpectedly.
A third type of stimulus that may cause goosebumps is called “threat.” Threat includes hearing bad news, seeing a frightening person or watching a scary movie.
Finally, another potential source of goosebumps is referred to as “expectation violation.” Expectation violation occurs when you anticipate something happening but it never happens. This usually results in disappointment or shock.
Of course, it isn’t always easy to determine whether a specific goosebump is due to surprise, threat or expectation violation. To help figure things out, psychologists suggest asking yourself three questions:
Is it surprising? Is it threatening? Is it pleasant?
Expectation violations tend to elicit stronger emotional reactions than other types of stimuli. So ask yourself whether the surprise you received was truly unexpected. Was it good or bad news? Did it involve a loved one or stranger? Finally, did you expect it to happen? If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are the incident triggered a surprise response.
While some people report that they get goosebumps after touching wool, cotton or silk, many people claim that the opposite works best. That is, they say that putting something warm and fuzzy near their skin reduces the likelihood of goosebumps forming.
For more detailed information about why we get goosebumps, read on.
There’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that rubbing a child’s back relieves anxiety. On the contrary, studies show that children who were massaged by parents scored lower on tests measuring anxiety and depression compared to peers who weren’t touched.
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