Why do we get goosebumps? Experts explain

Your body has millions of parts working together every second of every day. In this series, Dr. Jen Caudle, a board-certified family medicine physician and an associate professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine, explains how the body works — and all of its quirks.

Scientists have discovered a rare group of people who can actually induce goosebumps when they want to. But if you’re like most people, you only get goosebumps involuntarily — namely, when you’re cold or experiencing intense emotions, such as fear, anger or even sadness.

You probably ignore them when they appear — after all, they’ll go away on their own. But why exactly do we get goosebumps in the first place? And is having goosebumps ever a cause for concern? Here’s what experts have to say.

What causes goosebumps?

Goosebumps occur when the body releases hormones that tighten the tiny muscles surrounding the roots of your body hair, Dr. Jen Caudle tells Yahoo Life. This tightening causes the hairs on your epidermis to stand straight up, forming small bumps on the skin.

These bumps show up when you're cold and can also form when you experience intense emotions, such as fear, adds Caudle.

Goosebumps also regulate body temperature, by trapping a layer of air close to the skin. So when we’re cold, this can help keep us warm, Dr. Hana Patel, a London-based general practitioner in family medicine tells Yahoo Life.

Fun fact: Animals get goosebumps, too. The same phenomenon helps some animals look bigger, in response to something that could harm them.

Why do we get them when we're experiencing strong emotions?

If you have goosebumps even when you don't feel cold, it could mean that you’re feeling strong emotions, such as fear, anger, awe, pleasure and surprise. Simply listening to music that moves you, appreciating art or watching a scary horror movie can trigger the effect.

Researchers don’t entirely know why this happens when people experience intense emotions. But the body’s "fight or flight" response and adrenaline release contribute to goosebumps involuntarily forming, Dr. Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, an internal medicine physician and health expert, tells Yahoo Life.

What's the difference between chills and goosebumps?

Although people think of goosebumps and chills as being interchangeable, they happen for different reasons.

“Chills are typically linked to fever and can be a response to a bacterial or viral infection,” Okeke-Igbokwe explains. Your body might also shiver when you have chills. Conversely, “Goosebumps typically arise as a response to stimuli such as cold air or strong emotions,” she says.

Are goosebumps ever a sign of a health condition?

“In some instances, goosebumps can be a sign of a health issue,” says Okeke-Igbokwe. “Goosebumps are linked to underlying health conditions, like certain brain disorders,” such as temporal lobe epilepsy. Opioid withdrawal symptoms may also cause goosebumps, she adds.

Patel notes that goosebumps resemble another, harmless, skin condition called keratosis pilaris or chicken skin. You can tell the difference by noting other skin changes. Keratosis pilaris causes the skin to be red, dry and itchy. If you’re experiencing these symptoms and have concerns, experts recommend consulting a doctor or dermatologist.

This video was produced by Olivia Schneider.

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