Is Facial Blushing?
Blushing results from an increase in superficial facial blood volume: blood
vessels in the skin dilate, and red blood cells color the skin red. The area of
skin that can blush is usually restricted to the face, ears, and neck, and in
rare cases, the upper body.
This dilation of the blood vessels is involuntary.
Stress can increase the activity in the autonomic nervous system. Blushing
appears to be an involuntary sympathetic nervous system response.
Blushing starts at three years of age. At that age we become aware that others
can observe us. Most people, however, do not remember blushing before the age of
five. Normally, the intensity and frequency of blushing peaks in teenage years
and decreases with age.
However, even very old people can blush, and the amount
of blushing varies greatly between individuals.
One ironic effect of the fear of blushing is that the fear itself can increase
the activity of the autonomic nervous system, thus increasing the likelihood of
The more you are afraid of blushing in front of someone important, the
more likely it is that a compliment from that person will deeply color your face
red. This may turn into a vicious circle.
Actually, the reason why we blush isn't known.
Despite how common blushing is, it has received very little scientific
attention. Most studies about blushing have been conducted by psychologists, and
the scant findings so far suggest that blushing is a response to undesired
Self-consciousness is the only feeling universally associated with blushing.
Other emotions, such as embarrassment, gratitude, or pleasure, may accompany
this feeling of conspicuousness.
In support of this hypothesis, blushing
behavior first becomes common in children of kindergarten age, when they begin
to develop a "social self" and interact with others in more complex social
situations. Most people, however, do not remember blushing before the age of
Differences in blushing.
Differences in blushing behavior exist. Between men and women for example, women
are more likely than men to blush in response to a compliment, and between
people with different cultural backgrounds, people from a European culture blush
more readily than those from an Asian culture.
There are no discernable physiological differences between these groups,
suggesting the differences are social ones. Indeed, even very dark-skinned
people blush, although it is far less easily seen.
And finally, it is rare for a person to blush when entirely alone, regardless of
how silly or inappropriate their behavior, suggesting a social component.
are the only animals who blush.
The social purpose of
blushing is unknown. One possibility is that blushing is a nonverbal means of
saving face. It may be meant to mitigate the negative reactions of others.
Studies have shown that people react more favorably to those who have made a
mistake when they blush. Studies also suggest that when people blush and they
believe it is not observed, they engage in more overt, voluntary behaviors
designed to elicit a positive response in embarrassing situations, for example,
they may act more apologetic.
This hypothesis has some support in the animal kingdom. Although blushing is a
uniquely human characteristic, behaviors that often go hand in hand with
blushing (for example, avoiding eye contact or smiling) are used by other
primates in appeasement displays. Overt attention such as staring triggers these
responses in humans and nonhuman primates alike.
Why a response to unwanted
social attention results in the physiological response of blushing is still
unclear, particularly since blushing tends to draw attention toward the blusher.
How the response may have arisen evolutionarily is even more unclear, because it
is believed that all groups of people arose from dark-skinned African ancestors,
for whom blushing would be hard to see. It is possible that facial vasodilation
arose as a physiological response for some other reason and then became
associated with certain behaviors or social contexts.
Another possibility is that the genetic trait of beta-adrenergic responsiveness
of the facial vein became randomly associated with a genetic predisposition to
certain types of social behaviors because of genetic linkage on the chromosome.
Blushing occurs in response to social cues, but it is an innate response. All
humans blush, though an individual's propensity toward blushing may vary.
Charles Darwin, called
blushing "the most peculiar and most human of all expressions." Almost everybody
has blushed at one time or another. Blushing occurs most commonly when someone
suddenly experiences embarrassment, perhaps because of spilling a drink or
leaving a zipper unzipped.
On the other hand, blushing
may also occur in the absence of an embarrassing event, and some people can feel
terribly embarrassed without blushing. For some people, however, blushing has
become the central focus of their embarrassment.
When blushing becomes a
is a harmless reaction, although in combination with certain skin diseases (like
rosacea), it can cause painful tingling sensations.
Blushing becomes a psychological problem, however, when a frequent blusher
becomes socially phobic (intensely fearful) about blushing.
People with fear of blushing experience the blush as exceptionally distressing
and anxiety provoking. Out of fear of blushing, they avoid social situations and
are willing to accept severe negative consequences of that avoidance. Others
experience very high discomfort in normally enjoyable situations.
If you suffer from frequent blushing,