Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Blushing – do men find it attractive?

Actors can’t fake it, no-one really fully understands why we do it. It’s involuntary and uncontrollable.

We can blush when we make a mistake and blush when people praise us. Self-consciousness is apparently the only emotion universally associated with blushing.

And it’s not just your cheeks.  The “blush region” can include ears, neck and upper chest. Some cheek blushes come quickly, other blushes creep up slowly and have a more blotchy and widespread appearance.

But blushing with embarrassment when we receive unwanted attention, for whatever reason, seems counter-productive as it only draws more attention to us.

Darwin thought it was related to shyness, shame and modesty but it can also be related to gratitude and pleasure. He thought it was caused not just by thinking about your appearance but thinking about what other people think of us ie “self-attention”.

And people can blush even when they are not the centre of attention if something significant to them now or in their past is discussed which they would rather keep hidden. Of course once they blush they immediately draw attention to themselves. And even innocent people may blush when wrongly accused of something they didn’t do.

Recently researchers found that staring at one side of a person’s face whilst they were singing or reading aloud only caused blushing on that side of the face. Something to try at your next party?

There is also some evidence that when people blush because they have made a mistake other people are more forgiving. So blushing helps to defuse angry reactions by sending out a signal that we are embarrassed or feel guilty and also that we have some modesty. But is modesty still considered attractive?

In the last 2 centuries women who blushed were considered very attractive and Caucasian women in Turkish harems were considered attractive for this very reason (At the height of the Ottoman Empire the emperor’s wife was Ukrainian). And rouged cheeks emulate blushing, similar to lipstick emulating sexual arousal – according to Desmond Morris anyway.

There are gender differences eg women are more likely to blush than men on receiving a compliment, and cultural differences eg Europeans blush more easily than Asians. From a man’s point of view it seems that:

  • Men might find women who blush attractive because it’s a cultural stereotype, because they believe a woman who blushes is less sexually experienced, younger, or less worldly (perhaps the origin of the “blushing bride”).
  • If it’s in response to something they have said or done it indicates that whatever it was it has had an effect. If accompanied by appeasement activity this provides an opportunity for further interaction, especially if the man believes the woman is blushing from gratitude or pleasure.
  • It might also boost the man’s ego to think that he could have such an effect on a woman!
  • On the other hand men who see a woman blushing – for whatever reason – may feel more protective towards her or want to comfort her.

What do you think?