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Please don't go basing your PhD Thesis on anything I write here.
The information I provide comes with no guarantee of accuracy, and I'm just as likely to provide the most entertaining answer, as I am the factually correct answer.

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Sunday, 9 January 2011


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This enquiry came in from three of the seven dwarfs – Sneezy, Coughy and Curious.
I’m sure the question is on behalf of “a friend”, or more likely, a brother. Perhaps the brother was too Bashful to ask it himself?

I know why people blush, but why do some people
blush at the drop of a pin?”

Thank you boys for your question, but before I start in on the answer, I must stress to yourselves and readers of this blog post, that I do not condone the dropping of pins in any form.
This includes needles. As someone who has had surgery to remove the detached eye of a sewing needle that embedded itself in my heel when I was 13, it is no laughing matter. My appendectomy a few years later however, was HILARIOUS!
You three wise men claim to know why people blush, so if you could please pop a quick 500 word response explaining it, and email it over to me, I will post it alongside this post about why some people blush more than others.
While we await your detailed report on the physiology and psychology of blushing, I will provide a quick rundown on the main points, in case some of my readers (all two of them including me and my split personality) don’t know why we blush.
You can thank me later. I like diamonds. Or gold. I’m not sure what you mine for when you march off to work with your little pick axes and shovels, but if it’s tin, I’d prefer a cash offering.
What is blushing?
Firstly, we need to distinguish blushing from flushing. Nothing to do with toilets. Unless that smell was you, in which case you SHOULD be embarrassed. And checked out medically.
Flushing occurs in areas all over the body and is a more severe redness than blushing. And I’m not going to write too much about it today because it involves, by definition, a lot of sweat. Yuk. We’ll stick to blushing.
From, blushing is a reddening of the face, especially from modesty, embarrassment, or shame”.
This can also extend to the ears, the neck and d├ęcolletage area in females. Or in men, the chest area above their pectoral muscles. Preferably, pecs that are sculpted from a few weight lifting sessions at the gym each week that may or may not have a sprinkling of manly hair and could even be slightly oiled...
What are some of the reasons we blush?
Apart from thinking of oiled pectoral muscles?
The emotions that can cause blushing are; embarrassment, self-consciousness, sexual attraction, shame and modesty. In some situations we can experience all of these emotions at the same time, if you get my drift – wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
And if you don’t get my drift, you’re obviously not doing it or not doing it right.
How do we blush?
One of the things that separates blushing from flushing, is that it comes from a mental source. The mere thought of something embarrassing or sexy (pecs...) can cause the hormone adrenaline to be released, which then stimulates the small veins and capillaries of our face and neck area to dilate (expand), resulting in increased blood flow and oxygen delivery. It is part of the sympathetic nervous system or as it is more commonly known; the fight-or-flight response.
But why only in the facial area?
This is where it starts to get tricky.
Several different psychological and psycho-physiological mechanisms for blushing have been hypothesised, but none have been proven or universally agreed upon. Most theories work on the assumption that the cutaneous blood flow (blood to feed the skin) in this region is anatomically different to the other parts of our body. There are more capillary loops per unit area, more vessels per unit volume and blood vessels of the cheek are wider in diameter, are nearer the surface, and more easily seen as there is less tissue fluid in the area.
Therefore, when there is only a minor increase in blood flow as a result of minor stress on the body (for e.g. when you become self-conscious because you are thinking of someone you're attracted to), it is only visible in the facial area, despite the whole body being affected = blushing.
A greater source of stress on the body (such as exercise or heat), would result in a greater blood flow to the capillaries and veins of the body and would then be seen in other areas such as the arms, chest and feet = flushing. When flushing, the facial area becomes markedly redder than when we blush.
Skin conditions such as rosacea (or “The Celtic Curse” as it used to be known), can also cause some peoples' blush response to be more easily detected.
Yes, but how does the process of blushing help our body deal with embarrassment or shame? Why blushing and not something else?
What? Like farting? Would you prefer that was our body’s way of coping in stressful situations? Sheesh. Be happy it’s just a bit of a tinge in your face, and not a bottom trumpet, heralding your mortification.
Well lucky for you, Ray Crozier of the United Kingdom, a psychology professor of considerable experience who has written several books and papers on the psychological responses of humans, has been enlisted by me to find an answer for you. Well, me and the University of East Anglia have jointly enlisted his help. Ok, ok, JUST the University of East Anglia has enlisted his help. But I’ll be sure to “like” his Facebook page in thanks and help save his lonely Farmville cow.
My man Ray has concluded that blushing evolved as a way of communicating to our fellow cave men that we had acknowledged the social faux pas we just made, and that we were really, really sorry for eating the last BBQ pterodactyl wing that Grug was saving for breakfast the next day.
Ray also suggests that blushing displays emotional intelligence – the ability to monitor your own and others’ feelings and emotions. So all those blushing girls, hiding behind fans in Jane Austen’s books that we thought were dopey doras, swooning after poncy blokes in ruffles, were actually emotional Einsteins.
So to conclude, people who blush more readily than others, accompanied by dropping pins or not, could be deemed either;
a. More prone to social blunders that need physical apologies,
b. More emotionally intelligent, or
c. Have a skin condition.
Doesn’t sound too good does it?
I don’t think your brother Bashful, is likely to be scoring with Snow White anytime soon. Having “emotional intelligence, social ineptness and a skin condition” on an dating profile, doesn’t really rate that high with the lay-deez.
But then again, he is a dwarf, and portability in a boyfriend is always desirable.
Interesting fact – the operation to sever the tiny nerves in the spine that control blushing, is called an endothoracic sympathectomy. Try and say that six times fast.

By Monique Kowalczyk

So what do you want to know?

Please don't go basing your PhD Thesis on anything I write here.
The information I provide comes with no guarantee of accuracy, and I'm just as likely to provide the most entertaining answer, as I am the factually correct answer.