Vestigial organ—goosebumps

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.

28 Comments

  1. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    But of course goosebumps aren’t of any use to us

    They are immensely useful to film directors.

    • Greg B
      Posted January 31, 2010 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

      I bet that little kitten breathes air too, JUST LIKE US!!! Wow you have found the missing link.

      • Elias W.
        Posted January 28, 2012 at 7:33 am | Permalink

        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)

  2. Posted January 27, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Do apes get goosebumps?

    • Posted January 30, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      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!

  3. Pepe Silvia
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Does a goose get apebumps?

  4. Posted January 27, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Does a bump get apegeese?

    • Jim
      Posted January 28, 2010 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      Yes, but how do they smell?

  5. Eddie Janssen
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Smetimes

  6. Posted January 27, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    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. 🙂

  7. katie
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    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

    • Posted January 27, 2010 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      And how, exactly, do goose bumps keep humans warm?

      • Posted January 27, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

        That’s gotta be a Poe

      • Pepe Silvia
        Posted January 27, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

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

    • Posted January 27, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      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.

    • Posted January 27, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      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.

    • Sven DiMilo
      Posted January 28, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

      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.

  8. John D Stackpole
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    “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.

    • Posted January 27, 2010 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      I’m terrified of that kitteh. It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. I’m quaking.

  9. NewEnglandBob
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    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.

    • Arya Eshraghi
      Posted January 29, 2010 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

      Brilliant and distressing at the same time.

  10. Posted January 28, 2010 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Beauty gives me goose bumps. Beuatiful music, a beautiful singing voice. How does that work?

    • TJ
      Posted January 28, 2010 at 8:22 am | Permalink

      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.

    • Sven DiMilo
      Posted January 28, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

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

    • Bla
      Posted January 29, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      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.

  11. TJ
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    It tis a fearsome kitteh.

  12. Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Apparently, “goosebumps” is the only word some people can spell correctly. Which I guess makes them of some use.

  13. GeorgeG
    Posted September 19, 2010 at 1:05 am | Permalink

    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.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] 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. via whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com […]

  2. […] An interesting post about the apparent uselessness of goosebumps for humans. But of course goosebumps aren’t of any […]

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