I am a big blusher, I mean huge. I take blushing to a whole other level. It used to be worse. When I was at school I used to get called ‘purple face’ or something similar because I didn’t just go a cute shade of pink, I defied science and went to the other end of the spectrum. Bright freakin purple. It wasn’t a good look.
I’d say I have now settled to a steady crimson. The question is, why do I do it? What possible purpose could red cheeks serve me?
It seems this question has stumped scientists too. Even Charles Darwin commented:
“The most peculiar and human of all expressions.”
It is completely exclusive to humans, and is caused by the same system that activates your fight-or-flight response: the sympathetic nervous system. This means that, unfortunately for me, it’s a completely involuntary and uncontrollable reflex.
Doesn’t sound so sympathetic to me *hmph*.
When you are embarrassed your body releases adrenaline. You will all have felt the jolt that this has on your body. Your heart rate and breathing increases to prepare you for running away, your pupils dilate to maximise your visual awareness and energy is redirected to your muscles. You’re all set to get the hell out of there.
“Image courtesy of Rendtih Krishnan/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net”
Now this is the bit that we’re concerned with: adrenaline also causes your blood vessels to dilate in order to improve blood flow and oxygen delivery. What’s interesting is that while other blood vessels are responsive to adrenaline, veins generally aren’t. Except for the veins in your face. Great. Veins in your face respond to the chemical transmitter adenyl cyclase, which allows the veins to dilate, blood to rush through your cheeks, and your friends to call you purple face.
So, now I’m bright red. But why?!
The main theory suggests that blushing evolved as a means to show regret or remorse within the social codes of society. By blushing we are showing others that we are aware that we have stepped out of line socially.
It’s like this: you fart in a lift, so you blush to show you are sorry. It’s a non-verbal, physical apology which is much more reliable than a verbal response which you could fake. Everyone who sees your face can understand from experience what you are feeling and will be less likely to attack you for letting off a stinker in a confined space (i.e. bad social behaviour).
Interestingly, there is another theory which aligns with this one, that our strong colour vision developed to be exceptional at deducing hue changes in skin and, as a result, emotion.
People who tend to blush more than others are likely to just be more sensitive to the opinion of other people. I suppose they are more self-conscious and aware that someone might be about to judge them. This sensitivity, it seems, is genetic.
The good news for me is that people who blush are looked upon much more favourably and embarrassment, in fact, displays an emotional intelligence.
So, next time I blush I’ll know: it’s because I am emotionally smart.
"Image courtesy of Theeradech Sanin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net"
I can live with that.
Smiley Face Picture Credit: By Gwen5484 and the people from the Tango! project. (The Tango! Desktop Project (derivative work).) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 ]