LISTEN LIVE KPR - On Air: Listen Live to classical, jazz and NPR news Schedule LATEST
KPR 2 - On Air: Listen live to KPR's all talk-radio service, KPR2 Recordings

Share this page              

The Hair-Raising Science Of Goose Bumps

Watch a scary movie and your skin crawls. Goose bumps have become so associated with fear that the word is synonymous with thrills and chills.

But what on earth does scary have do to with chicken-skin bumps? For a long time, it wasn't well understood.

Physiologically, it's fairly simple. Adrenaline stimulates tiny muscles to pull on the roots of our hairs, making them to stand out from our skin. That distorts the skin, causing bumps to form. Call it horripilation, and you'll be right — bristling from cold or fear.

Charles Darwin once investigated goose bumps by scaring zoo animals with a stuffed snake. He put forth the now accepted theory that goose bumps are a vestige of humanity's ancient past. Our ancestors were hairy. Goose bumps would have fluffed up their hair. When they were scared, that would have made them look bigger — and more intimidating to attackers. When they were cold, that would have trapped an insulating layer of air to keep them warm.

We modern humans still get goose bumps when we're scared or cold, even though we've lost the advantage of looking scarier ourselves.

And researchers have found that listening to classical music (or Phil Collins), seeing pictures of children or drinking a sour drink can also inspire goose bumps. There's clearly a link with emotion and reward, too.

Dive deeper into the science of goose bumps in Skunk Bear's latest hair-raising video.

Check out more Skunk Bear videos on YouTube, and the Skunk Bear blog on Tumblr. Follow on twitter @nprskunkbear.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit

Tower Frequencies

91.5 FM KANU Lawrence, Topeka, Kansas City
89.7 FM KANH Emporia
99.5 FM K258BT Manhattan
97.9 FM K250AY Manhattan (KPR2)
91.3 FM  KANV Junction City, Olsburg
89.9 FM K210CR Atchison
90.3 FM KANQ Chanute
96.1 FM K241AR Lawrence (KPR2)

See the Coverage Map for more details

Contact Us

Kansas Public Radio
1120 West 11th Street
Lawrence, KS 66044
Download Map
785-864-4530 (Main Line)
888-577-5268 (Toll Free)