What happens physiologically when we get goose skin

Chicken skin phenomenon

The literal resurrection of the chicken skin is justified by the fact that a lot of space is given to emotional experiences in our society. Anyone who gets chicken skin anywhere has experienced something unusual, has something to tell. We're not talking about those unfortunate people who are shivering or cold, not even about moviegoers who are hair-raising horror in the face of a horror film. We're talking about those chicken skins that suddenly appear in a moving moment, unexpectedly seize us during an emotional experience - unstoppable, uncontrollable.

But why do we actually get chicken skin in emotional situations? Why do our body hair stand up when we listen to certain music, when 50,000 Liverpool fans in the stadium on Anfield Road sing "You'll never walk alone" or even when we talk about a moving event? Then what happens to us?

The German emotion researcher Christian Kaernbach has been grappling with such questions for years. In his laboratory for emotion psychology in Kiel, he repeatedly confronts test subjects with emotional images and music and measures changes in and on the body. "Music and love films move people," Kaernbach stated, "but in different ways." In a test series with 50 people and selected, emotional film scenes, only 30 percent got a chicken skin. "Chicken skin is very individual," says Kaernbach. One reacts very emotionally to the film drama "Titanic", the other leaves it cold. One of them sheds gallons of tears in a love scene, the other remains motionless.

Much happens in the head
The results that are triggered by music are just as different. “A lot of things that give you goose bumps happen in your head,” says Kaernbach. He has set himself the task of tracking down this complex phenomenon in the hope of one day being able to explain why emotional moments cause goosebumps.

The squeaking of chalk on a blackboard, the high-pitched crackling of styrofoam on wood: Most people's neck hairs stand on the back of their necks and they get chicken skin. This reflex has been innate to us since ancient times. At that time people were still covered with a fur made of hair. When it got cold or when danger threatened, the hair stood up. That helped because the air cushion created between the hair protected from the cold - and because it looked off-putting.

Today the thick fur has given way to small, almost invisible hairs. What has remained is the tiny muscle that controls it. It's on the side of every hair - and contracts when it's cold or excited. The small muscles are controlled by the so-called sympathetic nervous system, which we cannot influence with our will. The tiny muscle pulls the overlying skin inwards a little, creating small dents in the skin that look like miniature craters. As a whole, the skin looks like that of a plucked chicken, hence the name chicken skin.

There are various theories that sound entirely conclusive, but do not resolve all questions. In one, the so-called peak arousal thesis, the hairs on the neck or arms stand up when they are extremely excited. The problem: It doesn't fit all basic emotions.

According to the second thesis, certain frequencies or tone sequences in music sound like the screams of baby animals who have lost their mother. These sounds increase the feeling of separation, the feeling of social cold, so the thought. The reaction to coldness that is only felt emotionally could lead to goose bumps.

Fascination with sport
And why do we suddenly get goose bumps while exercising? For example, when we are in the stadium at a big game and our favorite team scores the decisive goal shortly before the end of the game? Or when tennis professional Stanislas Wawrinka is able to miraculously turn a match believed lost in a Grand Slam tournament? “The feeling of being part of an unusual, perhaps even historic, event can move us deeply,” says the German Eckart Altenmüller, one of the leading researchers in the field of neurophysiology and neuropsychology, “and it is even stronger when we are ourselves are there, in the middle of an emotionally charged crowd. "

However, you don't have to be in the audience to experience that chicken skin feeling in sport. Anyone who turns into the home straight during a run and is then greeted by hundreds of spectators, as well as family, friends, acquaintances, with applause and whoops, knows the tingling feeling. Sometimes it doesn't even need an audience. Especially in the case of greater challenges, just seeing the target, the target arc or the speaker's voice is enough for unimagined emotions.

Reverence for nature
Not to forget the nature experiences, which become even more intense through sport. Those who step into the water at sunrise at a gigathlon or a triathlon often shiver not just because of the cold. Anyone who has already mastered a mountain marathon knows the feeling of awe of the forces of nature, of waterfalls, glaciers, angular fields, the respect for majestic and imposing natural beauties. Anyone who tackles the last kilometers of the Jungfrau Marathon at the foot of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau is certainly closer to humility than pride. And if you had to go through hell at the Inferno Triathlon, you will feel a little closer to heaven when you reach the finish line.

Maybe we don't even need to know what is happening to us physiologically in those moments. Let's just enjoy this feeling, which can sometimes only be paraphrased with one word: chicken skin feeling.

What's your chicken skin feeling?
Have you already been overwhelmed by the chicken skin feeling in sport? Tell your story by email [email protected] Subject «chicken skin».