The Evolutionary Need for Blushing

The short and long of this post? There isn’t an evolutionary need for blushing. That’s right. Scientists have no idea why it would be smart for your body to tell your enemies that you are a little embarrassed or concerned about your well-being by letting your blood vessels bloom on your skin in a rather showy manner.

But it happens anyway as part of our “flight or fight” response. Apparently, it also has some effect on our social relationships. When people see our red faces, they can tell that we are sorry for whatever faux pas we have committed, and they deem us trustworthy as a result. I’ve even heard that pink cheeks indicate good health and robustness of life, which can be helpful in attracting a mate.

Except when you blush over everything. Then everyone just thinks you have a problem, not that you are a potential friend. Much, much, much to my chagrin, I find myself feeling a bit flushed and warm over the most ridiculous situations. I get red just answering the question “How are you doing today?” or drinking a beer (which I blame on my Irish heritage that also allows my face to get red in other ways, like when I get sunburned on an overcast day).

So, what is with my bodily betrayal? Shy of getting surgery to stop my blushing (and have facial sweating as a side effect for the rest of my life), I have no way to stem the obviously embarrassing tides. The reaction is completely involuntary.

I know, I know. In terms of evolutionary short sticks, blushing isn’t the worst of them. You could be the white moth who is living during the Industrial Revolution when all of the trees turn black with soot from the greed of machines. But isn’t it bad enough that I don’t own a poker face? Not only can people read exactly what I’m thinking, they can also tell how I feel about it. Which is bright red embarrassment. Constantly.

Yet, maybe that’s the rub. Maybe blushing is the closest we can get to reading people’s minds and knowing their true feelings. As humans, we’re terribly susceptible to covering up our emotions or, put simply, lying. And sure, we express our emotions, but it’s hard to tell how someone really, truly feels. Tears can be false in that we can make ourselves cry without stimulus or, conversely, when we’re happy. Smiles can also be painted on, and more likely than not, we don’t naturally wear them. Blushing, as I mentioned, is unable to be controlled. You are embarrassed, and your body is exactly aligned with your emotions.

And so, maybe we all need to be genuinely embarrassed sometimes. Not because it feels good to have a hot flash, but because in a world that it is superficial, blushing reveals our deeper selves (specifically our cardiovascular system).

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