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Why Do People Blush?

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Called “the most peculiar and most human of all expressions” by Charles Darwin, blushing is an involuntary reaction that seems to serve no purpose beyond making an embarrassing situation even worse. However, scientists can’t seem to definitively explain this phenomenon, which is completely unique to humans.

AsapSCIENCE explains blushing as a reaction of the sympathetic nervous system and part of our “fight or flight” response. When you’re embarrassed, adrenaline is released, speeding up your heart rate and dilating your blood vessels to improve your blood flow and oxygen delivery. In humans, facial veins react to this adrenaline by blushing. But this response doesn’t happen anywhere else in your body, which is why you don’t blush all over.

Science may not be able to figure out why this reaction is so specific, but recent studies suggest that blushing has a functional purpose in social relationships. A team of Dutch psychologists discovered that people are more likely to forgive and view favorably someone who has committed an embarrassing act if he or she is visibly blushing. A test of 130 undergraduate students at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands provided each subject with the face of a blushing or non-blushing woman and a corresponding story about her “embarrassing mishap” or “social transgression.” Reliably, the blushing faces scored higher in likeability and trustworthiness.

According to these results, the act of blushing “serves to signal the actor’s genuine regret or remorse over a wrongdoing,” showing that the person recognizes the “social or moral infraction” and will probably endeavor not to repeat it. Blushing can help others predict your future behavior, assuming that you, like many others, do not enjoy being embarrassed and have learned from your mistakes. They are appeased by the involuntary act of contrition, and while you may never forget your most embarrassing moments, you can rest easy knowing that your blushing tendencies help neutralize their impact on your social relations.

If you happen to suffer from erythrophobia—the fear of blushing—you could take some drastic measures by having an endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy, which severs the nerve that triggers your blushing reflex. It seems, however, that the body has ways of showing your embarrassment even without the ability to blush, though: a common side effect of the surgery is facial sweating.

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Big Questions
How Are Royal Babies Named?
Jack Taylor, Getty Images
Jack Taylor, Getty Images

After much anticipation, England's royal family has finally received a tiny new addition. The birth of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's second son was confirmed by Kensington Palace on April 23, but the name of the royal newborn has yet to be announced. For the heir to the British throne and his wife, choosing a name for their third child—who is already fifth in line to the throne—likely won't be as easy as flipping through a baby name book; it's tradition for royals to select names that honor important figures from British history.

According to ABC WJLA, selecting three or four names is typical when naming a royal baby. Will and Kate followed this unwritten rule when naming their first child, George Alexander Louis, and their second, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. Each name is an opportunity to pay homage to a different British royal who came before them. Some royal monikers have less savory connotations (Prince Harry's given name, Henry, is reminiscent of a certain wife-beheading monarch), but typically royal babies are named for people who held a significant and honorable spot in the family tree.

Because there's a limited pool of honorable monarchs from which to choose, placing bets on the royal baby name as the due date approaches has become a popular British pastime. One name that keeps cropping up this time around is James; the original King James ruled in the early 17th century, and it has been 330 years since a monarch named James wore the crown.

If the royal family does go with James for the first name of their youngest son, that still leaves at least a couple of slots to be filled. So far, the couple has stuck with three names each for their children, but there doesn't seem to be a limit; Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne to George VI in 1936, shouldered the full name of Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Why Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images
CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images

On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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