The body's natural defense mechanism against the cold could function as a type of "lie detector" for emotional reactions suggests researchers in a new study.
The scientists found that goosebumps frequently come after an "emotional climax" provoked by a "powerful" event or the "remarkable" actions of someone.
AdvertisementThe way a person's skin stood on end provided an insight into their fear, surprise, awe or admiration, the Telegraph reported.
The research concluded that while a person could lie about what they were feeling or thinking, goosebumps were not easily faked.
According to Prof Richard Smith, study leader from the University of Kentucky, goosebumps are often considered to be a result of cold or fear but they may also be a blend of fear, surprise and submission in reaction to a remarkable action performed by another person.
Smith said that 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".
Smith said the study had some surprising conclusions including that there were "very few cases of goose bumps coming from one's own actions".
The study has been published in the journal Motivation and Emotion.