Why we get goose bumps

goose bumpsI thought goose bumps were my skin’s attempt to get tighter, to cinch in and keep me warm. But that’s not quite right. Getting goose bumps is something the body does to keep warm, but what it’s doing and why is funny. And useless.

When we’re cold, our body makes our hairs stand on end, to create an insulating layer on the skin. Just like a good down coat… what a great idea. The only problem with this is that we have so little hair that this doesn’t actually warm us up; it’s just a vestigial reaction from our salad days when we were much hairier. Since the hairs standing upright make our skin pucker, the end result is just general, unflattering-yet-cute bumpiness.

We have little muscles called erectores pilorum [*snicker*] that contract to pull our hairs up like that. It’s the same mechanism that makes a cat’s hair stand on end, and raises a porcupine’s quills when threatened.

The Wikipedia entry on goose bumps currently says: “[goose bumps] are the bumps …which involuntarily develop when a person is cold or experiences strong emotions such as fear, awe, or the need to defecate.” Hahahaha, don’t you just love that… strong emotion of the need to defecate…

I got on this subject because Ian asked me a little while ago how it is that we stay warm… specifically, what part of the body does that? And I don’t know the answer to this question.

If anyone reading knows the answers to any of these questions, please share!

May 3, 2007. how things work. 2 Comments.


  1. Fluffy! replied:

    I’m not sure this actually answers any of your questions, but it’s an interesting read:


    I think the actual production of heat is a byproduct of cellular respiration:


    May 3rd, 2007 at 1:08 pm. Permalink.

  2. Fluffy! replied:

    Jenny found this page for me:


    Shivering produces heat because the energy required for your muscles to shiver is created by a chemical reaction, which releases heat. It’s the same thing that makes us hot when we exercise.

    While I was poking around in Wikipedia, I found something about the hypothalamus regulating body temperature, but there wasn’t much about how it actually senses that your body is too hot or too cold. I bet our spinal column is filled with mercury, and when we get too hot, the mercury reaches the brain and tells the body to start cooling off.

    May 3rd, 2007 at 2:22 pm. Permalink.

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