Given the possibility of being deceived, it would have been rather foolish of our ancestors to take at face value a person’s verbal or behavioral expressions of remorse. Instead, over tens of thousands of years, uncontrollable blushing would have evolved as a fairly reliable predictor of the actor’s future behavior. In other words, if the behavior or situation at issue made the person feel so uncomfortable that his or her facial veins dilated—a physiological response that for many people is attended by a somewhat unpleasant tingling sensation—the blusher would probably avoid repeating that behavior in the future. Thus, blushing seems to be an appeasement display. Interestingly, this evolutionary hypothesis is aligned with a recent argument advanced by neuroscientist Mark Changizi in his book The Vision Revolution (BenBella, 2009). Among other things, Changizi claims that our species unusually strong color vision evolved so that we could detect subtle hue changes in other peoples’ skin, thereby deducing their emotions.
Image by flickr user SanFranAnnie used under creative commons license.