WHY must I BLUSH??

Blushing… the uncontrollable and incredibly inconvenient reaction caused by embarrassment / being flustered / general emotional stress. It is the red flag (that is your face), broadcasting your social discomfort to everyone. Personally… I could do without it. I would like to pull off a cool, calm, calculated, nonchalance in embarrassing or uncomfortable situations. However, this is really hard when your face spills ALL your emotional beans! I think I spent half my pubescent years with a case of slapped cheek.

But WHY must we blush?? I have spent a number of train rides (ok.. one) thinking about the evolutionary benefits of blushing … and I could not think of an answer! How does displaying your discomfort help you in any way? Surely all the obvious, red-faced liars were removed from the gene pool? Even Charles Darwin described blushing as “the most peculiar and most human of all expressions”!

Essentially, when you become emotionally compromised, your body experiences the ‘fight or flight’ reaction and you receive a flush of adrenaline. The adrenaline causes your blood vessels to dilate, resulting in a flush of blood to your face. ie. you blush.

Embarrassed chimp.

In Dijk et al. (2009) paper, they basically suggest that it helps you get out of trouble. That you are more easily forgiven because you show you are regretful;

“Publicly conveying embarrassment or shame may signify the actor’s recognition that she/he has committed a social or moral infraction, and regrets this. As a consequence, this message may mitigate the negative social impression that was caused by the infraction.”

I do agree with this point. I would even extend this idea to include displaying naivety (in certain situations). I have found blushing rather cute / endearing when it indicates a level of naivety or confused pleasure. But what about in situations where you really do not want to be given away as guilty?? Such as for serious crimes?… surely displaying your guilt on your face could get you in some serious trouble?


5 Responses to “WHY must I BLUSH??”

  1. Angie says:

    Hi Sam,
    I was wondering where you found the pic of the chimp? I am looking for an “embarrassed animal” pic to use in an advertisement and was wondering where you found this?

    Thanks!

  2. S.H.W. says:

    Yes! It is a tough one… I am not sure why we would develop it. It’s such a true part of human expression, which we read and interpret. So I find it hard to believe it was some kind of by-product. There has to be some evolutionary driver…?? Something more than to get out of trouble :/

  3. Stacey says:

    I’ve often wondered about the point of blushing, too. I think the reason proposed by Dijk sounds quite reasonable, however it doesn’t cover all situations. My biggest problem with blushing is when I have to get up in front of people – even friends. As soon as all those eyes turn in my direction, before I’ve even said or done anything to be embarrased about, bam! There go the tomato cheeks. So their reasoning perhaps falls short on that one – there’s no reason to show I regret my faux pas, because there was none. I guess my brain is just preparing me for my imminent screw ups.

  4. Helen says:

    Awesome post! 🙂 Blushing really is the most inconvient and seemingly useless human trait ever!