They are a common reaction to the cold but Goosebumps could prove when someone is lying, a study suggests.
Researchers found that most people were unable to control the reaction, which provided a “strong indication of true feelings”. They suggest that the body’s natural defence mechanism against the cold could function as a type of “lie detector” for emotional reactions.
Goosebumps frequently come after an “emotional climax” provoked by a “powerful” event or the “remarkable” actions of someone, the scientists found. The way a person’s skin stood on end provided an insight into their fear, surprise, awe or admiration.
The research, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, concluded that while a person could lie about what they were feeling or thinking, goosebumps were not easily faked.
“Certainly, people could lie about their feeling goose bumps to create a false impression,” Prof Richard Smith, from the University of Kentucky, told The Daily Telegraph.
“But often, they can use the fact of their, natural, un-faked feeling of goose bumps in reaction to someone as a way of communication a special reaction.”
“People don’t usually control the reaction in themselves so it suggests strongly that one has had an uncontrolled, positive and special reaction.”
Prof Smith, who led a team from several other universities, added: “We tend to think of goose bumps as usually resulting from cold or fear. But we suggest that goose bumps may often be a blend of fear, surprise and submission in reaction to a remarkable action performed by another person.
“The emotion of awe may be closest emotion label for this kind of experience.”
In their study, the team asked volunteers from American colleges to keep a journal over a month, where they wrote down each description of when they experienced goose bumps.
While “almost everyone” reported at least one experience the average was about two or three a week, they found.
A reaction to the cold was the “dominant cause”. The next most frequent cause was awe, often in response to “something special” such as an outstanding performance.
Other reactions came come from an “aesthetic” reaction such as listening to music or “witnessing an extraordinary object, often created by another person”.
Prof Smith, from the university’s psychology department, said the study had some surprising conclusions including that there were “very few cases of goose bumps coming from one’s own actions”. “We rarely seem in awe of ourselves,” he said.
“This makes sense, since goose bumps producing experiences require the extraordinary, and, most of our own actions are actually quite ordinary.
“Once the trivial cases of cold were removed, goose bumps seems quite social in nature, either directly, through talent or performances, or indirectly, such as hearing music produced by someone.”
He added: “Goose bumps seem quite social in nature, either directly, for example talent or performances, or indirectly, such as hearing music produced by someone.
“If someone’s outstanding performance gives your goose bumps, what better, more authentic way to convey your appreciation that to tell the person this.
“It is unambiguous, authentic praise, straight from the gut. A side benefit is that reflects well on you too. Your natural, unfaked emotions flow from something praiseworthy.”
He said that goose bumps “may even be a kind of emotion lie detector”. It backs previous research from Ryan Schurtz, of Stevenson University in Baltimore.
He added: “Goose bumps seemed such an interesting reaction much beyond just the mundane experience of getting into a cold shower.”