Mar 14, 2013
We’ve all been there — you’re in the middle of a work presentation, and you suddenly draw a blank. You’re walking through a crowded shopping mall, and you trip down (or worse — up!) the escalator. That potential new love interest says hello, and you’re tongue-tied. In each situation, your efforts to save face and get back on track are betrayed by the heat rising in your cheeks: You’re blushing. For most of us, blushing is a natural, uncontrollable reaction to embarrassment or anger. Why is it that, in situations like those listed above, we wear our emotions on our cheeks?
You can blame your body’s flight-or-flight response. When you get emotionally riled up, your body plunges into a stress response to help you deal with the perceived threat. Your heart rate spikes, a jolt of sugar is released into your bloodstream, and your blood vessels expand — all strategies to prepare you to fight off a threat, or to run away. Your face has a lot of blood vessels close to the surface, so the blush shows up the most there, resulting in rosy cheeks and that flushed feeling.
The real question, however, is not how our body generates that rosy-red hue, but why humans need to blush in the first place. One theory holds that blushing is a useful social cue: If you’ve just done something embarrassing, it signals to others that you feel shame about your transgression; if you’re angry, red cheeks will send a signal to others that they should back off; if you’ve got a crush and are too shy to make a move, a blush might do your flirting for you.
While that’s a great theory, most experts in the field maintain that we don’t yet understand the purpose of the blush. Until that mystery is solved, we’ll just have to embrace the blush — and let our face do the talking for us.
Whether you enjoy the endearing nature of those rose-filled cheeks — or you find it to be terribly embarrassing — just remember that it’s natural and it happens to everyone!
What makes you blush? Share your most blush-worthy moment in the comments below!