February 19, 2011

I stumbled across the word “piloerection” last night on a documentary about “monsters” and in this case, a sighting of a large chimpanzee in central Florida. Chimps can be come extremely dangerous to humans as they get older, and a giant chimp could be a real problem. At any rate, the narrator point out that chimps work themselves up into a kind of frenzy from time to time and in the process their bodies produce piloerection, meaning, their hair or fur stands on end, making them appear to be larger.

Finally! The word for goose bumps. I looked up the meaning of piloerection in Wikipedia:

Goose bumps, also called goose flesh, goose pimples, chill bumps, chicken skin, funky spots, Dasler bumps or the medical term cutis anserina, are the bumps on a person’s skin at the base of body hairs which may involuntarily develop when a person is cold or experiences strong emotions such as fear, awe, admiration or sexual arousal. The reflex of producing goose bumps is known as horripilation, piloerection, or the pilomotor reflex. It occurs not only in humans but also in many other mammals; a prominent example are porcupines which raise their quills when threatened, or sea otters when they encounter sharks or other predators. Goose bumps do not appear on the face.

Fascinating. But where does music fit in here? I get piloerection all the time listening to music. I can evoke auto-piloerection just by thinking about music (opening of Stravinsky’s ORPHEUS always does it for me). The definition cited “fear, awe, admiration or sexual arousal” as the stimuli. So which of these are evoked in music? If anyone knows any good books on this topic please let me know. Musical goose bumps are a mysterious vestige of our primitive ancestors and I’m curious to know more about that evolution.

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