Vestigial organ—goosebumps

January 27, 2010 • 11:55 am

The same muscles (arectores pilorum) that enable a cat to do this:

also enable us to do this:

And in both cats and ourselves, the same stimuli cause goosebumps/hair erection: cold and fear.

But of course goosebumps aren’t of any use to us. They don’t keep us warm, nor do they make us look bigger and fearsome, like the kitteh above. They’re evolutionary leftovers, evidence of our common ancestry with other mammals.

30 thoughts on “Vestigial organ—goosebumps

      1. Perfect, you got it!
        It takes us a bigger step backwarts than goosebumps, but actually that’s another fact to prove evolution.

        (But you have to read the definition of ‘missing links’ again)

    1. A chimp with goosebumps is a fearsome sight (sorry, this kitten would be peanuts) just check
      (just the first good photo I came across)
      In Jane Goodall’s description “Male chimpanzees show their power in “displays.” Their hair stands on end so they look bigger, they scream, stamp their feet, and go on a tear, dragging branches, or hurling rocks. This may scare other chimpanzees and keep them from picking a fight.”
      Therefore I think other than fear and cold, anger or agressivity is another reason to stand your hairs on end!

  1. About that cat: it must have found out that Sarah Palin is coming to Illinois (Washington, near Peoria) and that tickets sold out in about 2 hours at 75-200 dollars per pop. 🙂

  2. ok, I’m sry but weither you believe in evolution or not, would you seriouly believe this?!? goosebumps are of use to us they help us to keep warm. Why else would we shiver and as a result get goosebumps when…get this…..were cold!!! Cats get it as a deffence, not when there cold. Or are we now going to get goosebumps when we wanna look bigger…. seriouly people

      1. I think you’re right. That, or she’s a member of AFGBBBH (Advocates for Goosebumps Being Baby Heaters)

    1. Right, like shitting your pants when terrified is an adaptive trait, it lightens your load (so to speak) so you can run faster and leaves something the pursuing cheetah might step in and slip.

      This is fun.

    2. As Bjørn said, I believe this is probably a Poe/troll comment, but just in case:

      Actually, cats and other animals with fur also use those muscles to pull their hair slightly erect in the cold. It traps air between their thick fur to insulate their bodies.

      So if we had fur, “goosebumps” would help us keep warmer in the cold, and we could use them as a defense mechanism. But unlike our ancestors, we don’t have thick fur, so we don’t get either of these benefits. As Jerry said: goosebumps aren’t of any use to us.

    3. katie, entirely different muscles are involved in shivering, which makes new heat when you (or your kiten) are cold. Goosebumps are produced by totally diffent muscles (in fact, a totally different kind of muscle tissue), which in furry animals help keep heat in. It also happens to make cats look bigger, so they do it as a defense as well.

  3. “bigger and fearsome, like the kitteh above.”

    A tad bigger, perhaps, but “fearsome”??!!?? Come ON!

    That little guy is about as “fearsome” as a Unitarian.

  4. They’re evolutionary leftovers…

    Try warming them up over a low flame or for 30 seconds in the microwave oven and their original taste might be restored.

    1. You know how birds get all squat and fat when they’re happy? I wonder if that’s a similar thing with you….Maybe you’re part chicken.

    2. Real short and incomplete answer: The sympathetic autonomic nervous system stimulates the goose-bump muscles and is itself activated by emotion. Music evokes emotion.

    3. Because the same chemical is involved in both fear, anger and excitement: Endorphin.
      When it’s anger and fear, some other chemicals are also present, which dominate so you don’t just feel excited/happy.
      But the muscles, I think, react on endorphin. If other animals also raise their fur when they feel excitement… I don’t know…

      This is how I think it works, but I’m not 100% certain.

  5. After straining as hard as could, I finally came up with a function for goosebumps. Unfortunately, it only applies to .05 percent of the population. Does that count? (asked kind of humourously)
    The population I’m thinking of is deaf-blind parents of two-year-olds. They can’t tell if their child is cold unless they feel their skin on their arms.

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