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10 Explanations For Everyday Things Your Body Does

Nathan P. Gibson


The human body is an amazing machine that is more complex than any man-made device ever created. While many of the functions it carries out require little explanation, some things it does are more complex. For the most part, people have no idea why their body does these things, but scientists and researchers have investigated them and came up with simple explanations for the baffling everyday functions of our body.

10Hiccups

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Everyone has hiccuped at some point in their life. However, the involuntary action usually comes and goes relatively quickly for the vast majority of people, meaning it is more of a nuisance than anything else. Although for some, it can become something of an issue. Charles Osborne, for example, had the hiccups for 68 years.

Scientists have never been able to completely understand why people hiccup, but they have proposed several theories. One of the most recent ones comes from Daniel Howes. He suggests that the hiccups may have evolved as a way for infants to expel air from the stomach so that they can more effectively suckle milk. The contraction of the diaphragm causes suction that forces air out of the mouth, allowing the infant to burp itself. Howes points to the fact that only mammals—the only type of animals that suckle milk—get hiccups and that they are much more prevalent in the young.


9Appendix

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The appendix has long been considered an organ that does more harm than good. Its function was a mystery, and it has a tendency to cause serious health problems in a number of people. Appendicitis can lead to severe pain, fever, and even death if it is left untreated after the appendix bursts.

In 2007, after years of research, researchers finally discovered what’s believed to be the actual use of the appendix. Rather than simply being a leftover organ from our evolutionary past, it was an important part of the immune system. According to the research team, the appendix provides a safe haven for bacteria that is needed in the gut. When illness or diseases such as dysentery wipe out the bacteria in the gut, the organ allows the bacteria to reenter the digestive system. It essentially keeps a backup of bacteria needed for the immune system to function.

8Tickling

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Every person has experienced being tickled at some point. While it can be pleasant at times, it is usually something that people dislike and try to avoid. This has never stopped people from trying to tickle others, though. That fact, combined with the response to tickling, is something that has perplexed thinkers for thousands of years.

Previously, it had been thought that the reaction might be a panic response, similar to that triggered by a spider crawling on you. But Christine Harris, following numerous experiments, has suggested a more complex answer. According to Harris, tickling may be a system designed to help develop combat skills.

She points to the fact that close family members or friends usually carry out that tickling in much the same way as play fighting. It causes the recipient to convulse and try to break free as quickly as possible, teaching the victim how to get away from an attacker without actually causing them any harm. Meanwhile, the fact that the recipients laugh and smile when being tickled encourages the tickler to carry on the action and to do it more frequently. This increases the value of the action as it is reinforced multiple times.



7Wrinkled Fingers And Toes

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Spending a long time in the water will lead to fingers and toes becoming wrinkled. This bodily function has baffled researchers for decades, with very little evidence to say definitively what the cause of the reaction was. A leading theory had been that water caused the skin to swell, leading to the wrinkling effect.

Scientists now believe they have come up with the exact reason. According to a number of researchers, the wrinkling is an evolutionary advantage that helps to increase grip in wet conditions. Experiments showed that those with wrinkled fingers and toes get a better grip on wet objects.

Another study from Newcastle University theorized that the function might have helped our ancestors handle tools in rainy conditions or have steadier footing on a soaked floor, providing an advantage over others who did not get wrinkly fingers and toes from water.

6Lump In Your Throat

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Ever been really sad and felt a lump in your throat even though you knew for a fact that there’s nothing physically there? That’s a pretty common occurrence that happens to people when they get bad news or are on the verge of crying.

The “lump in the throat” sensation is a consequence of the fight-or-flight response inbuilt in humans, which is induced when a person is put in danger or under intense stress. In these emotional situations, the body pumps blood and oxygen to the brain and muscles to allow it to react faster. This has the added effect of causing the heart to pump harder and for breathing to become more frequent. To facilitate this, vocal chords, known as the “glottis,” expand to allow more air to pass through the throat. However, when a person tries to swallow, the glottis need to close. The muscles effectively work against each other, causing the “lump” sensation.

5Phantom Vibration Syndrome

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If you use a smartphone or another electronic device that comes with a vibrate function, you will probably have experienced the “phantom vibration syndrome.” Essentially, you feel a vibration in your pocket, take out the phone, and see that your phone is dark. Nothing has happened to cause the device to vibrate, and yet you could clearly feel it.

In 2010, a study found that 68 percent of people using such devices experience these phantom vibrations on a regular basis. Possible explanations include the brain misinterpreting other sensory information, such as a slight movement in clothing, as vibration as it anticipates incoming communication through the device.



4Shiver Down The Spine

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Shivers down the spine, and the goosebumps that traditionally accompany them, happen in all kinds of situations. They usually occur during stressful moments, such as when a person is in danger. This affects the hypothalamus, the section of the brain that controls certain nervous system functions. It releases large amounts of adrenaline to help the body prepare to react to the situation. This causes muscles to contract and hair to stand on end, leading to goosebumps. The same reaction happens when a person feels intense emotions such as love, happiness, or shock. Music causes shivers down the spine because it induces strong emotions in humans, causing the brain to release adrenaline.

3Yawning

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The act of yawning is so contagious that even reading about it can cause a person to yawn, but there has been much debate over what exactly causes it. One competing theory was that yawning allows the body to take in more oxygen for stressful events that are about to occur, like in sports, to make the body more alert. Other theories suggested that it may be a way to communicate boredom and tiredness and to pump vital fluid around the body.

In 2014, researchers came up with a new theory that unified many of the contradictory elements of yawning to give a complete explanation. According to the study, yawning is the body’s way of attempting to cool down the brain. The yawn takes cold air in and increases blood flow around the brain, carrying away excess heat. This theory also explains why so many situations cause yawning. The brain heats up in stressful situations and before exercise; it also increases in temperature as people grow tired. Yawns fight boredom by allowing the brain to be more alert.

2Alcohol-Induced Blackouts

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It is a fairly common occurrence for those who have drunk a large amount of alcohol to be unable to remember parts of a night out (or the entire event). While these blackouts can happen with other drugs, they happen most frequently with alcohol.

Studies have shown that alcohol prevents the brain from being able to transfer short-term memory to long-term memory, essentially stopping people from remembering recent events. This is because alcohol stops receptors in the hippocampus from releasing glutamate. This prevents neurons from being able to communicate with each other normally, blocking the transfer of memory. As such, the person becomes unable to create new memories. The memory can still exist somewhere in the brain, though, which explains why people can be reminded of an event from the previous night and then suddenly remember all about it.

1Seasickness

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Seasickness, and other types of motion sickness, is a set of symptoms experienced by a large amount of people when they are traveling in vehicles such as ships and cars. The symptoms can include vomiting and dizziness.

It happens because of a disconnect between what a person feels and sees. On a rocking boat, for example, the body senses the motion through the inner ear but cannot see the movement, as the entire boat appears to be still. This causes the brain to receive conflicting information. This triggers a psychological defense mechanism, because the most likely cause of a conflict between the senses are hallucinations brought about by poison. The nausea and vomiting are the body’s way of trying to get rid of the toxins it thinks are affecting it.

While medication and electronic devices can prevent seasickness, it can also be mitigated by looking at the horizon on a boat or out of the window in a car. This gives the eyes a visual cue to sense the motion, and so the brain doesn’t receive confusing information.

Nathan is a freelance writer who has provided work for a number of websites across a variety of topics including film, TV, sports, video games, and humor. He also occasionally writes serious pieces. You can keep up to date with his work at his website.