What is the point of goose pimples? © Getty Images

What is the point of goose pimples?

Pimples, bumps, or flesh. Whatever type of goose you get, this may be a residual reaction from when we were covered in hair.

Asked by: Oliver Laufkotter, New Zealand

Advertisement

In humans there may be no point at all. Goose pimples (or goose bumps, or goose flesh) are caused by the contraction of tiny muscles called arrectores pilorum at the base of each hair. In much hairier or furry animals, such as rats, cats and chimpanzees, this reaction to cold occurs for a real purpose – to make their coat thicker and more insulating. But with our particularly naked flesh, our raised hairs have little impact on temperature.
Another function of raising the hairs can be to make an animal look larger and therefore stronger or more frightening: an effect that’s part of the fight or flight response provoked by the release of adrenalin.
Although goose pimples don’t make us look any bigger or scarier, we’ve probably inherited this now superfluous reaction. This may explain why some people get goose pimples when they hear beautiful music or experience strong emotions. A few people can even make their skin go goose-pimply at will.


Advertisement

Subscribe to BBC Focus magazine for fascinating new Q&As every month and follow @sciencefocusQA on Twitter for your daily dose of fun science facts.