What makes you blush?

We have all experienced that moment when we are so embarrassed that our face turns bright red despite trying to keep our cool. Maybe it's because you tripped in front of your class or forgot the words to your speech, but blushing is always a common occurrence. Why exactly do we react like this? Is this a real biological reaction or is it a psychological reaction that we are conditioned to do?

The sympathetic nervous system is actually what governs this reaction. This nervous system is involuntary, meaning that you don't have to think about doing it before performing the action. Blushing is part of the fight-to-flight response. Whenever you feel the sense of embarrassment, you get a rush of adrenaline which acts as a stimulant to this response. How does this really affect the pigment in your face though?

To get even more specific, this adrenaline rushes causes your blood vessels to dilate which allows more blood to flow through your face than usual. This creates the red tint to your face which is a signal to show your embarrassment. It is also interesting to note that most other veins do not have this reaction to the adrenaline rush, which makes this occurrence even more uncommon. This explains how blushing works biologically. Psychologists also have come up with nervous reasons why psychologically we feel the need to blush.

A theory for why we blush due to psychological reasons is that we have been socialized to this reaction to show that we have done something that does not follow the norms of society. By blushing we show that we were wrong and are taking the blame for this wrongdoing. Other possible theories were also discussed in an article on TLC Family. I feel that this argument is the most understandable and plausible reason. 

I tried to find experiments that were done to help verify a psychological reason why people blush. I was unable to find any that addressed this reaction or related it to the release of the adrenaline. How can psychologists make these arguments without any evidence to help their claims? If anyone can find any experiments on blushing and this unavoidable reaction, it would really help me understand this phenomenon.


This article caught my attention because non colored people always ask me if I blush. Being African American and never really thinking about it I always say I can't, but I never really tried to see if I actually can, and if I can't why not? After trying to find any theories on it I came across an article on livestrong.com. This article mentioned the process of blushing, which deals with your blood vessles dialating then the blood rushes to areas such as the neck and face which causes the blush reaction. This article stated people with fair skin will have more noticable blushes, which lead me to conclude the darker the skin, the harder it is to see the actual end result of the reddness in our skin, but the process of the blushing can still happen.

To be honest, I've never really given much thought as to why we blush, I just knew that it happened and it was uncontrollable. I have however, wondered if there was a way to prevent blushing from happening because we usually blush when we are embarrassed and blushing makes the situation all the more embarrassing. I of course typed this in to google and the only sources that came up were wiki, yahoo answers and the like, which are not very credible sources. In spite of this fact I did read one of them and this particular article, http://www.squidoo.com/blushingcure, makes several suggestions to prevent oneself from blushing. I'm a bit skeptical about it because like you mentioned, blushing is an involuntary bodily function so it doesn't seem like there would be a cure for it, however the advice seems to make sense.

So since people who get embarrassed have a fight or flight response (blushing), do people who never get embarrassed never blush? I researched this and found out that yes, people who never get embarrassed never blush. This is true for babies. They have no sense of social norms or how people see them, so they don't blush at all. People blush more when others see something that the person blushing views as unflattering.

I wanted to add to your topic something that I found quite interesting, some psychologists claim that there is passive benefits to blushing. For example, when people see your obvious embarrassment, most of them will feel sympathetic and will try to alleviate their inner anguish(assuming you did something that could make them angry.) Foe example, if you get red in the face for forgetting a friend's birthday, the friend is more likely to be forgiving after seeing that you were embarrassed (indicating that your shame was evident.) In general, people respond more favorably to those who blush.
Read this article to learn about more passive benefits

But what is even more interesting, is this study, which suggests that by blushing you could get away with anything. Apparently, it was found people who turn red after making a mistake or social blunder were considered more trustworthy and judged more positively than those who did not. After you do something wrong, people like you more when you blush," says Corine Dijk, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and the study's lead author.
Click on the link to read about how the study was conducted, and how the results were obtained.

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