The Real Reason People Get Goosebumps

Why do people get goosebumps? Because R.L. Stine is and always has been the preeminent voice of a generation, a compelling author with a lot to say about society, the political process, and man's unfathomable capacity to say "cheese" and die.

But what about physical goosebumps? That strange phenomenon of the human body in which tiny mounds of flesh rise up like Lin Manuel and turn your skin into a radio static written in braille? For that, we can thank our hairier ancestors. Or, for those of us of Nordic descent, just our ancestors. The way Discovery explains it, human beings used to be coated in nose to toes hair, eventually ditching it in favor of a fleshy outer layer either to keep cooler, attract fewer bugs, or look closer to the Neanderthal version of "beach ready." The details are shaky.

Here's what we do know: while we were still rocking full body coifs, the ability to form goosebumps meant that our thicker, longer body hair would stand on end, creating a layer of insulation between the bitter elements and our tender, vulnerable skin.

The skins of our fathers

But what about when we're scared? Think about cats: when they feel threatened, their hair expands outwards, making them look bigger than they really are. Imagine something human-sized suddenly getting 30% bigger while it screamed and bared its teeth. That's what we used to do, back before we got predominantly uncombable.

How about the chills we get when we're waiting to see if a last-minute touchdown pass is complete, or when we're rocked to our emotional cores by Sia's masterpiece Breathe Me? Why do we get goosebumps then? First off, that's called "frisson." There's your new word for the day.

According to Discovery, most scientists agree that frisson is triggered by the same reflex as panic goosebumps as part of a fight or flight response in the amygdala. It's a funny old nut, the amygdala, and the theory goes that it treats any strong emotional experience the same way that it treats a threat, processing a baseball flying at your face in the same way that it treats a surround sound system blasting you with high fidelity Journey remasters.