Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

September 28, 1998

Why do we get goosebumps, seek thrills? George Bubenik tells all

Ever hear a song on the radio that makes your arm hair stand on end? Does thinking about your child being born also give you goose bumps? Memories are tied to emotion, and emotion triggers your body to release adrenaline and endorphin. Your brain responds to that hormonal rush by, among other things, giving you goose bumps, said George Bubenik, a physiologist and professor of zoology at the University of Guelph.
Goose bumps also pop up when you are cold. The body responds to the temperature change by releasing adrenaline, which causes the tiny muscles connected to hairs to contract. The response is the same with emotion. Adrenaline is released, the brain responds, and you get goose bumps. In extreme emotional situations, such as the birth of a child, the brain receives such a surge of hormones, the body's response can move beyond goose bumps to all-over shaking.

It does not matter whether the emotional event is live or recalled from memory. The bond between emotion and memory is so strong, we can hear a song that reminds us of our past, or think about emotional events, and give ourselves goose bumps. "Even years later, we can recover how we felt at that precise moment," Bubenik said.

However, the brain cannot distinguish between pleasure and a dangerous emotion. The reaction to hearing a memorable song on the radio or spotting a bear in your backyard will be the same: goose bumps. "There is a thin line between pleasurable and unpleasurable stress."

It has been said that exercise is like a drug: the more you do it, the more you crave.

The reason is that exercise floods the body with addictive "drugs," George Bubenik said. Physical exertion releases the hormones endorphin and enkephalins, natural substances in the body that are similar to opium. The brain responds to exercise the same way it would to opium.

Like any drug, endorphins and enkephalins are addictive. But the body also builds up resistance. "It is a typical addictive substance, the longer you use it, the less effective it is," Bubenik said. People who exercise often have to increase duration or intensity to get the endorphines or enkephalines "high."

People who climb mountains or parachute out of airplanes are not just daredevils. They actually have to seek adventure to satisfy their minds, George Bubenik said.
Many thrill seekers have different sensory receptors in their brains. The lack of stimulation in the brain is called reward deficiency syndrome.
" These people do not get enough satisfaction from the normal stresses of life," Bubenik said. They crave higher levels of the hormones adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin. The more adventurous things they do, the more "drugs" their bodies receive. "They do not feel happy unless they are doing something risky. They more and more dangerous stuff they do, the more pleasure they get."

Why does watching someone yawn, or even thinking about yawning, make us want to do it, even when we are not tired?

Yawning is the body's way of releasing extra carbon dioxide. When you are mentally or physically tired, carbon dioxide causes deep breathing in the throat, and the body expels the carbon dioxide, George Bubenik said.

But a yawn also can be a signal between two people, a way of communicating. "If I yawn, I'm saying to you I'm tired, you are probably tired too.' You take that cue from me, and you yawn too." People are a lot like animals, and yawning is one way animal herds transmit moods.

A yawn that results from merely thinking about yawning is a subconscious response based on memory. "Humans have a great capacity for memory. Just thinking about a past situation can trigger the same response automatically," Bubenik said.

If you are flying off to somewhere like Europe or Australia, count on it taking a few days for your mind and body to get in sync.

Flying through different time zones disrupts the body's perception of time. "The brain may be telling the body it is time to sleep, when in fact the eyes are telling the brain it is light outside," Bubenik said.

The brain can catch up to the body at a rate of about three hours a day, so the further away the destination, the longer the "jet lag" lasts.

Bubenik is conducting research on Melatonin, a natural substance. One of its benefits is preventing jet lag. Melatonin also regulates digestion and diurnal rhythms. Taking one melatonin tablet in the late evening the night before a flight, and another tablet on the air plane, can help the body adjust more easily, he said.

CONTACT: George Bubenik
Department of Zoology
(519) 824-4120 EXT. 8786/8383

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs, (519) 824-4120 Ext. 3338.

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