| Down to a Science |

Why do people get the shivers?

Sometimes we shiver even though it has nothing to do with our bodies. Sometimes we shiver because of our feelings!

Why was the baby jalapeno shivering?

He was a little chili.

Hello Kiddos, this is Professor Mordy Maven, Thinker, Wonderer, and Figure-Outer of all things Science-ish. What that basically means is I try really hard to figure stuff out. I do the hard work so you don’t have to!

Today, an interesting thing happened. I was sitting in my laboratory (well, actually, at my kitchen table), carefully adding liquid to a solution (okay, you got me. I was adding milk to chocolate syrup. But whatever!) for an important science experiment (you know, breakfast). I was deep in thought about something very important, when suddenly I began to shake all over. I immediately assumed it was an earthquake and jumped under the table to protect myself. Safety first! But after a few minutes squeezed under the table, I realized it wasn’t the earth that was quaking… it was me!

And that got me to wondering, what is that strange shaking and shivering sensation I sometimes get going up my spine and running across my arms and legs? Why do people get the shivers?

As I’m sure you already know, there are lots of reasons why people get the shivers. One of the most common reason is because you’re cold. You see, our bodies are really smart. They like to stay at a perfectly even temperature, not too hot and not too cold. When your body senses that you are too cold, it tries to warm you up. Shivering is the result of your muscles tightening and loosening really quickly. This movement helps increase your body temperature and makes you warm.

But right now it’s August and it’s 96 degrees outside… so being cold is probably not the reason for my shivers. What are the other reasons why someone might start shivering?

There are a number of other reasons why you might start to shiver. And one of them is… being sick. Yikes!

When someone starts to shiver and they don’t even feel cold, that can be a sign that their body is fighting off an infection. Heat is one way to kill a bacteria or virus, so the shivering warms your body up enough to help you fight the sickness. Yep, those shivers are there to make you better! Pretty smart, huh?

Okay, now I’ve told you two physical reasons why you might start to shiver. But here’s something really interesting: sometimes we shiver even though it has nothing to do with our bodies. Sometimes we shiver because of our feelings!

My feelings? Hmm… I’m not sure how I feel about that. Just kidding!

Have you ever been afraid? I mean, really, really scared? Like, the kind of terror you’d feel if you were walking down the street alone at night and you suddenly got attacked by a band of angry monkeys? That kind of scared? Well, if you have, then you know that sometimes when you’re really frightened, you get the chills. This happens because our emotions are connected to the hypothalamus — an important part of our brains. When we feel really frightened, our brains signal our bodies to react by producing adrenaline in our blood. Adrenaline is a hormone that gives us energy. It is released when we feel fear, so that we can fight off whatever is threatening us, or run and escape. Adrenaline causes our muscle fibers to contract very quickly, so we’re ready to fight or run. Those speedy contractions give us a feeling we call “the chills.”

And here’s the really strange thing. Sometimes things that aren’t scary at all but are just really special, like beautiful music or a hearing a sad story or feeling really, really happy can also make you shiver! And I bet you know why. Yep, it’s the hypothalamus again. It reacts to our sudden change in emotion and causes us to feel the shivers. Basically, it’s our body showing us that our brain is feeling a really strong emotion.

All this made me feel a lot better about my situation. I climbed out from under the table and resumed making my chocolate milk. I put on my sweater and then took off my sweater (because, it’s August!), took my temperature to make sure I’m not sick and thought about whether or not I’m scared of anything. (I’m NOT!)

Then I realized! I’m shivering because I’m excited. I’m excited because I love writing columns about scientific mysteries for you to read! You made me shiver!

To sum it up, shivering happens when you get really cold, or really sick or really nervous or really happy. With all the things that make us shiver, it’s a wonder that we aren’t shaking and quaking all the time!

Here are some fascinating facts about shivering!

Shivering can boost your body’s surface heat production by about 500%

Personality can affect how much you shiver! People who are curious and imaginative (like you and me!) are more likely to shiver for emotional reasons

Being cold doesn’t make babies shiver!

(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 826)

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