It’s the end of Saving Private Ryan – Independence Day, Wayne’s World – and you can feel your skin getting a little tight. The brain has just released a bath of endorphins, some ancient part of the Fight or Flight mechanism triggered. All across your arms and legs and the back of your neck, tiny bumps of skin rise to the occasion.
And all of this despite the lack of cold or any real threat to life or limb. This is the pumped-up goose bump.
Maybe it’s just me, but I get these things about ten times a day. When I hear Jeff Jimerson belt out the national anthem, when I read about 9/11, when I watch that Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros cover. I mean, goddamn.
Most simply, goose bumps are tiny muscle contractions around our hairs. Way back when, this contraction would elevate our body hair and create a layer of air insulation between us and the cold. Of course, now we don’t have very thick body hair, so this is one of those leftovers from evolution that doesn’t do much of anything but feel weird.
But propping up the hair also served another, more familiar, purpose. What happens when you mess with a cat (dog, chimpanzee)? It arches its back and makes its hair stand on end – essentially the puffer fish response. “Hey dick, I’m bigger than you think I am. Come get some!”
And it’s actually that Fight or Flight response that gives us goose bumps when it’s not cold. Which is to say, the whole thing is tied to adrenaline. According to Scientific American, adrenaline release is more common than we think.
“In humans, adrenaline is often released when we feel cold or afraid, but also if we are under stress and feel strong emotions, such as anger or excitement. Other signs of adrenaline release include tears, sweaty palms, trembling hands, an increase in blood pressure, a racing heart or the feeling of ‘butterflies’ in the stomach.”
And since we don’t have to climb trees to escape baboons anymore, our defense mechanisms have adapted to fire under more mundane stimuli. Like advertising, Michael Bay movies and television shows about singing.
It’s probably obvious that we get the term “goose bumps” from the way a goose looks after its been plucked. But what you may not know is that “bitten by a Winchester goose” was another way of saying you had syphilis back in the 1500s.
And, since prostitutes were pretty rife with the syph back in ye olde London, they got nicknamed “Winchester geese.”
And on Sunday, there’s always one sure-fire way to get my goose bumps blasting.