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Q: What is the dynamics behind goosebumps? How are goosebumps formed?
A: Goosebumps, scientifically called piloerection, are a fascinating aspect of our body's response to various stimuli.
The goosebump process begins with the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the part of our autonomic nervous system responsible for the "fight or flight" response. When we experience emotions such as fear, excitement, or even cold temperatures, our body initiates a series of reactions intended to prepare us for action. At that moment, the complex interaction of neurotransmitters and hormones comes into play.
After receiving signals from the brain, the sympathetic nervous system sets in motion the production of adrenaline, a powerful hormone that plays a central role in activating our body's stress response. Adrenaline, in turn, stimulates the small muscles at the base of hair follicles, the arrector pili muscles. These muscles contract, causing the hair to stand upright, resulting in the characteristic appearance of goosebumps.
This reaction traces its origins to our evolutionary past. In animals, upright hairs make them appear larger, creating a more intimidating look and helping to deter potential threats. Although humans don't have the same fur as our animal counterparts, remnants of this evolutionary mechanism still exist and manifest as goosebumps.
The phenomenon of goosebumps is not exclusively reserved for fear. In the realm of emotions, music and other forms of art can also elicit the goosebump response. The power of a moving musical piece or a poignant scene in a film can trigger a cascade of emotions, leading to the same physiological reaction as a cold breeze or a frightening event.
Hair muscle
Image via Roman Choknadii/Canva
Temperature regulation is also a factor that can contribute to the formation of goosebumps. When the body is exposed to low temperatures, it tries to retain heat by contracting the hair muscles, creating an insulating layer of trapped air around the skin and upright hairs. This response attests to the intricate balance within our body to function optimally in different environments.
Individual sensitivity varies, causing some people to get goosebumps more quickly than others. This sensitivity can be influenced by genetic factors, overall health, and even psychological predisposition. Goosebumps remind us of the intricate web of connections within our body, where physical and emotional domains converge.
See also:
How strong is hair?
What is hair made of and how does it grow?