Have you ever stopped to wonder why we do certain behaviors? Most of us do not stop to think about why we just coughed, yawned, or got an itch on your arm. In fact most of us do not give it a thought at all, until you are asked by a child.
Most likely if you have ever been asked by a child why we sneeze, cough, dream or itch you made up a logical answer, but do you know the scientific reasons why we participate in these normal or reflexive behaviors.
- Yawn….Current research suggest yawning helps the brain operate more efficiently by keeping it cool. It is believed that yawning stimulates cooler blood to circulate to the brain and pulls fresh air in cooling off the roof of your mouth which lowers the brain’s temperature. So why do you yawn when you’re tired? It turns out that a tired brain is a warmer brain and cooling if off will make you more alert.
- Sneeze….Sneezing is described by Dr. James Banks form Maryland as “nature’s broom”. It is a way to push out foreign matter that has entered our nose. The foreign matter could be pollen, cold air, perfume, smoke, viral infection or basically any other matter that will tickle your nasal passages. Chemicals are released by inflammatory cells in the nose telling the body something foreign is present. The brain then receives messages from the nerve endings resulting in a sneeze.
- Jump when startled….Our bodies react quick when it senses danger, it’s part of the Flight or Fight response. Adrenalin is ultimately formed from a certain amino acid pulled by the liver from the protein foods we eat. It is stored until we sense a dangerous situation. Our eyes, ears, nose, skin and even tongue pick up cues and send them to the brain. The brain’s threat center, amygdale, is the lookout for danger. When the amygdale structure senses danger it sends out an alarm, which kicks the fight or flight response into gear. The adrenaline kick will usually last for a couple minutes and hopefully you will have dealt with the dangerous situation accordingly. Some people like this feeling and enjoy being scared, that is one reason some people enjoy roller coasters.
- Dream….The purpose of dreams/dreaming have been studied since Freud era. Freud believed dreams were like poems we recite at night to experiences our unconscious wishes. He believed dreams allowed us to be what we cannot be or say what we cannot say in daily life. However there are more Modern beliefs of why we dream. Some evolutionary theorist believe dreams are a way to practice our response to threatening situations so in real life we get better at fight or flight responses. Other theorists believe dreams create wisdom. We cannot possible remember every image of our life, so when you dream you are separating what is useful enough to put into your long term memory from what can be pitched. Other theories argue dreams are to deal with emotional content in a safe place while others argue there is no meaning to dreams at all; they are simply random firings of a brain that doesn’t happen to be conscious at the time. Next time you dream (and remember it), think about what theory you agree with.
- Blush….You may find yourself blushing at some point in your life, when your embarrassed, under pressure, stressed, excited, angry or even when other factors are involved, temperature, alcohol and even some medications. Why do we blush during these times? It’s an involuntary response (part of the same system that triggers the fight or flight response). When your body is under pressure it releases adrenaline. The adrenaline acts like a natural stimulant and speeds up your heart rate and breathing. Then blood vessels start to dilate which improves flow of blood and oxygen. This increased blood flow is what makes your cheeks turn red.
- Get Goosebumps….Adrenaline is released when we are cold, afraid, stressed or filled with great emotion. This adrenaline causes contraction of skin muscles. These miniature muscles are attached to each hair. The contracting muscle creates a shallow depression on the skin surface which causes the surrounding area to protrude.
- Itch….Itching is a built-in defense mechanism alerting your body to the potential of being harmed. Itching begins with external stimuli (bugs, dust, clothing, fibers, etc.) and rubs back and forth on your skin. The receptors in your skin then send a signal to your brain through the spinal cord and your usual first response is to scratch the area to remove the irritant quickly.
The next time you get asked “why do we….” you will be prepared with more information than you probably need. Learning, even about the everyday things we rarely think about, will encourage your children to want to learn more too.
The next time your child asks you a question, take some time to research it together. It will encourage great learning habits in your kids. You can do your research on the internet or in your local library.
Cleveland readers can visit: www.cuyahogalibrary.orgto find their local library.