Why get goosebumps at all? We get cold, or stressed, or frightened, or hear a cool guitar riff, or see some inspiring art, and bang, we get these odd bumps.
When other mammals with long hair all over their bodies get cold, frightened, angry, or sexy, then their hair stands up. If they’re cold, the fluffed hair traps air and helps with insulating their body. If they’re fighting, erect hair can make them look big and nasty.
We all have body hair, regardless of our attempts at waxing, shaving, using lasers, and other forms of depilation and epilation. A long way back on our family tree our distant ancestors had long body hair, and we have retained this (vestigial) ability to make our hair erect. Near the base of every hair on your skin there is a tiny muscle, beautifully called the arrector pili. When it contracts, the hair stands up. When it does this, the surrounding skin bulges, forming the ‘goosebump.’
And because we now have short body hair (well, most of us) we notice the bump more than we notice the erect hair.
But what sets the arrector pili off?
It’s due to the release of the most famous of our hormones: adrenaline. It’s release from the adrenal glands into the body at various times:
When we’re cold. (squirt)
When we’re stressed. (squirt)
When we’re excited. (squirt)
When our mother-in-law is coming up the driveway. (squirtsquirtsquirt!)
We have two adrenal glands, which are small blobs that sit like squishy beanies on top of our kidneys.
In fact, this is where the name adrenaline is derived: the Latin ad, meaning ‘on’, and renes, for ‘kidney.’ Adrenaline is also known as epinephrine, which is the Greek words epi, meaning ‘on,’ and nephros, for ‘kidney.’
(Incidentally, if you know someone with bad allergies, they may have a shot of adrenaline ready in an EpiPen. And, yes, that’s ‘Epi’ short for ‘epinephrine’, but Greek-word pedants may call it an ‘on top of the pen.’ You know who you are…)
We get an outside stimulus, adrenal glands squish adrenaline into our bodies, and our hairs stand up. Goosebumps!
I remember when Monkey Island 2 came out, I would start and restart the game over and over so I could listen to the opening theme music. It made me tingle. And then, about a week later, the effect disappeared. Thinking about it today, I can only imagine my body became used to the stimulus. Humming the song incessantly meant my mind was no longer ‘surprised’ by the music. No more adrenaline.
So if you want the goosebumps to last, restrict your exposure to the causing stimulus: that song, that picture, that girl. Exposed too much, and the tingles may disappear, and you might wheel about like an addict, looking for another source…
This Rough Science came from a question from @annaryanpunch: why does music/something we read/an artwork give us physical goosebumps? Her blog, four hundred years ago a baby went to sleep, features poems written from suggestions by Twitter people. Ask her nicely and she might write a poem for you!