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This one gives us goose bumps

Why do we get goose bumps?

— Paul M., Medford

Don't know about you, Paul, but we get 'em because of stuff like having to go into a scary place after dark.

According to Wikipedia, goose bumps also are called goose flesh, chill bumps, chicken skin or people bumps, though we don't remember ever hearing anybody talk about having people bumps. Themedical term is cutis anserina.

Whatever you call them, they are the bumps on a person's skin at the base of body hairs which involuntarily develop either when a person is cold, or when strong emotions such as fear or awe bubble up. Just for the sheer thrill of tossing around some big words, we'll mention that the reflex of producing goose bumps is known as horripilation, piloerection or the pilomotor reflex.

Kind of gives us goose bumps just using those words — must be the sense of awe.

It's interesting that you said "we," because goose bumps are not limited to humans. Lots of mammals get them. Think of a dog's hair standing on end when the animal is cold, frightened or on alert, or a porcupine's quills raising.

Goose bumps help trap air between the hairs and skin, warming the body by insulating it. Birds do the same with their feathers.

When an animal is frightened, including people, goose bumps raise the fur and make the creature appear larger, and thus a more formidable adversary. At least that's the theory. For all we know, goose bumps could be nature's way of advertising that we're really, really scared.

It's probably safe to say that unlike our furry or feathered friends, those of the human persuasion no longer benefit from goose bumps. But they're still there, a bit like the appendix and the coccyx, relics of our distant past.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.