Allgemeine und Biologische Psychologie

piloerection

Goosebumps are a contradictory phenomenon. They seem to occur in situations that are at the same time positive and negative. One might get goosebumps seeing a friend one has not seen for many years. It is both the happiness of seeing them and the sadness of not having seen them for so long that contribute to the feeling of being moved that might result in goosebumps.

Goosebumps as a reaction to coldness are well understood. Body hairs erect (piloerection) in order to create an air buffer that would help to conserve the body temperature. And then there are those shivers that run down one’s spine when watching a frightening horror movie. They might be explained by an attempt to increase our body contour by erecting our body hair. Think of a scared kitten making a hump and with its hair standing on end, telling us “I am not as small as you might think!”

But why do we get goosebumps in emotionally moving situations? This is still a matter of debate. In order to study the phenomenon of emotionally elicited goosebumps, we have developed a specialized camera, the “GooseCam”, recording this phenomenon objectively, and a software, “GooseLab”, analyzing the video capture and extracting information of the onset and amplitude of the goosebumps reaction (www.goosecam.de).

Benedek, M., Kaernbach, C. (2011). Physiological correlates and emotional specificity of human piloerection. Biological Psychology 86, 320-329.

 

                                                                                               
Scared kitten. Picture: R. Kaufhold digitalfoto-welt.de        

Katzenbuckelgooselab                    Illustration of a video taken with our GooseCam (left panel),
of the video analysis via a two-dimensional Fourier 
transform using GooseLab (middle panel), and of the 
resulting goossebumps value (red bar to the right).