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The Physiological study of emotional piloerection

Updated: Sep 5, 2023


This paper provides an accessible review of the biological and psychological evidence to guide new and experienced researchers in the study of emotional piloerection in humans. A limited number of studies have attempted to examine the physiological and emotional correlates of piloerection in humans. However, no review has attempted to collate this evidence to guide the field as it moves forward. We first discuss the mechanisms and function of non-emotional and emotional piloerection in humans and animals. We discuss the biological foundations of piloerection as a means to understand the similarities and differences between emotional and non-emotional piloerection. We then present a systematic qualitative review (k = 24) in which we examine the physiological correlates of emotional piloerection. The analysis revealed that indices of sympathetic activation are abundant, suggesting emotional piloerection occurs with increased (phasic) skin conductance and heart rate. Measures of parasympathetic activation are lacking and no definite conclusions can be drawn. Additionally, several studies examined self-reported emotional correlates, and these correlates are discussed in light of several possible theoretical explanations for emotional piloerection. Finally, we provide an overview of the methodological possibilities available for the study of piloerection and we highlight some pressing questions researchers may wish to answer in future studies.

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