Why Do People Blush?

Blushing is defined as ‘a reddening of the face from shame, shyness or embarrassment’ as this post will look at why people develop this particular facial phenomenon. There are a couple of reasons, mainly biological that can cause a person to blush.

The feeling of embarrassment is something everybody feels but nothing emphasizes such feelings, like a red face. The blushing rather, serves a functional response rather to simply embarrass you even further. Blushing is an uncontrollable and involuntary reflex caused by the sympathetic nervous system.

This post will approach the issue through a biological process:

Step One: Stimulus

Step Two: Organism

Step Three: Response

Step One: The Stimulus

The sympathetic nervous system, activates our fight or flight response in which overwhelming moments can stimulate the release of adrenaline, speeding up our breathing and heart rate. Our pupils will dilate and energy will be directed to our muscles.

Basically, if we are embarrassed, shy or ashamed, we blush. If we are shy or ashamed, it creates us immediate stress and when causes such immediate stress our sympathetic nervous system deems as such a threat. To defend against such a threat, this system orders our adrenal glands to release a hormone called adrenaline.

Step Two: Organism

These effects will all therefore contribute to the feelings you experience when put through an embarrassing situation. All these effects contribute to the feelings you experience when embarrassed. The adrenaline however, also dilates your blood vessels to improve oxygen delivery and blood flow, which is a positive effect of blushing.

Adrenaline therefore speeds up our breathing rates, expanding the blood vessels so that basically more oxygen and blood can be reached to our body parts. This in turn, prepares our body for the fight or flight response. Now that our blood vessels have expanded, the ones on our face are in close proximity to our skin’s surface, which means it is how they make our face appear so red, and thus, that is why we blush.


The interesting part is that, even though veins do not generally respond to adrenaline, the veins in our face does. However, this effect is exclusive to just humans which means other species of the animal kingdom do not experience blushing.

Scientists still debate this topic; with even Charles Darwin commenting that blushing is “The most peculiar and most human of all expressions.” However. there are a few scientific theories into why we actually blush and why it results in a visible red face and cheeks.


Step Three: Response

The main theory or belief suggests that humans developed blushing as a method or response to show remorse or regret within the social codes or customs of human society and civilisation. Through the process of blushing, we are actually showing others that we understand and recognise that we have socially misstepped and in many ways, it is considered as both a nonverbal and physical apology or expression for our mistakes or wrongdoings.

Essentially, humans may blush for example, as a way for apologising for asking a person a private or unnecessary question and in response, blush to show respect or sympathy. Therefore, blushing is mainly socially-based. Blushing is also a much more reliable display rather than a behavioural or verbal expression of remorse,which can be faked or controlled. If people see you blush, they will understand from experience what exactly you are feeling.

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