5 things you’ve always wondered about the human body

We’ve inhabited our own body for many years, but we still have questions about how it works. Here are just a few questions we’ve always had about the human body.

Why do you sometimes get goosebumps when you listen to music?

Everybody has a song that gives them chills. Maybe it’s a piece of classical piano music, or maybe it’s an upbeat rock song that reminds you of your teenage years. That chill up your spine when you listen to a piece of emotional music is called ‘frisson’ is a response to the intense amount of adrenaline that is racing through your body. This evolved as part of our ‘fight or flight’ mechanism, but it appears that it can be initiated by a high level of a hormone that makes us feel pleasure. The chills in response to music happen more when we’re waiting for our favourite particular part of a song, and the anticipation builds until our brain is flooded with this happy hormone – dopamine

Why can some people wiggle their ears?

Our office is split almost exactly in half with ear-wigglers and non-ear-wigglers. It’s an old feature of our bodies that once was useful, and now serves little purpose other than making someone laugh by bobbing our glasses up and down on our nose. Ear movement is common in other mammals – have you ever seen your cat listening out for birds? Some species are able to completely swivel their ears. Some people argue we can all learn how to do this (we look very silly when we tried though), while others claim it is genetic, but regardless it looks like humans do have weak muscles attached to the ear, that will allow movement, but some people have stronger ear muscles than others.

Why do we dance to music?

There are some songs you just can’t help but tap along with your foot before breaking out the moves. The chances are, our desire to throw shapes on the dance floor comes from an ancient instinct that has been with us for millennia. We find dancing pleasurable, perhaps because of the mixture of music flooding the orbitofrontal cortex with happy hormones at the same time as music activates the cerebellum gives us a double shot of euphoria. But why did this evolve? It is thought that early humans may have danced to attract a mate as much as 1.5 million years ago, so it makes sense we would have evolved to enjoy it.

Why do we talk to ourselves?

It can be an embarrassing habit, to talk to ourselves as we make our morning coffee or while we pack away our belongings at the end of a long day in the office, but why do we do it? It feels a bit awkward if we accidentally do this in public because speaking out loud generally serves the purpose of communicating with others, not ourselves. But it turns out that when we have conversations with ourselves, what we are doing is organising our thoughts, planning what we are doing, consolidating our memories, and modulating emotions. We rely on the nifty little technique to control ourselves.

Why do I jolt in my sleep?

Have you ever been peacefully drifting into sleep before suddenly jolting yourself awake? This is called hypnagogic jerking – an involuntary muscle spasm that occurs as a person is falling to sleep.  It’s not been exactly established why this happens, though there are several leading theories. One suggests that this jerk is a normal part of the body’s transition from awake to asleep, and happens due to nerves getting confused and misfiring. Another theory that scientists have suspected is that the all over body spasm is an ancient reflex designed to stop our primate ancestors from falling out of a tree.

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