5 Annoying Things Your Body Does (Explained By Science)
Over the years, we've made serious bank explaining why you feel the things you feel, you emotionally stunted robot. These discussions have mostly focused on the good stuff, not least because this world is a trash fire and the more positivity we can spread, the better our morale for the inevitable Morlock uprising. But what about those annoying sensations -- the weird pains, inexplicable dread, your complicated feelings for Dean Winchester? Science is on those too! For example ...
Stubbing Your Toe Hurts So Much Because It's Attacking A Bunch Of Nerves At Once
There's no pain quite like twanging your funny bone or stubbing your toe. Which is weird when you think about it, considering that one of those parts is made of pure bone, while the other was put there by evolution to make your flaming spin-kicks even more devastating. By all rights, they should be some of the hardiest parts on the emaciated flesh bag that you call a body. So why aren't they?
It comes down to nerves. Your toes, for instance, are packed with nerve endings known as nociceptors, which are responsible for creating the feeling of pain. Those suckers are everywhere, but unlike the rest of the body, your toes aren't well-padded. Which means that any hit to your toes triggers an apocalyptic pain reaction.
There's also the fact that your brain is hardwired to read pain differently depending on the body part the signals are coming from. Your brain isn't bothered much by the pain notifications it receives from, say, your hips or breasts compared to how over-the-top it gets when it thinks your hands, tongue, or feet (and the rest of the ways you receive sensory data) are under attack.
This might sound like an unfair way of doing things, but it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. One of the main ways we explore the world, after all, is through walking. If our feet weren't fine-tuned to react oh-so dramatically to injury, then that might lead to us taking a more laissez-faire response to injuries, leading in turn to an increased risk of infection and, inevitably, an increased risk of our species dying out. We'll let you judge whether that's a bad outcome or not.
Likewise, your funny bone is extra-sensitive to the slightest injury because it's basically an obstacle on the nerve superhighway connecting your hands to your brain, otherwise known as the ulnar nerve. This nerve is well-protected along the majority of its length, but when it gets to your elbow, it has to pass by a bone knob (stop giggling) called the medial epicondyle. And like with your toes, this section of elbow doesn't have any padding. When you bang your funny bone, that means your arm is at just the right angle to pin your exposed nerve against the medial epicondyle, resulting in one helluva mental noogie.
Latchkey Incontinence Is The Reason You Need To Pee When Arriving Home
You're pretty good at holding it in. You're all grown up now, you're in big person undies. And yet incontinence threatens to strike as soon you pull up the driveway or step into your building. Your inner workings become so sensitive that the slightest knock could result in an explosion that takes out your pants, your dignity, and two city blocks. It's not your fault, though. It's the work of latchkey incontinence -- a bizarre psychological phenomenon typified by "loss of urine that occurs when one arrives home and puts the key in the lock of one's front door." You know, on the off chance that the phrase "latchkey incontinence" wasn't obvious enough.
The term was coined back in 2015 by a group of doctors studying patients with overactive bladders. After studying cases of latchkey incontinence, researchers suggested that by innocently going to the toilet upon returning home, their subjects accidentally conditioned themselves to always associate returning home with needing the toilet. And yes, this is exactly what happened with Pavlov's dogs, but with pee.
If you suffer from LI, it's effectively the result of your bladder remembering that you always urinate when you arrive home, which results in urination happening through its own sheer force of will. You'll note that by succumbing to LI and jumping into the bathroom, you're only strengthening the conditioning further. Which means that, and we're very sorry about this, you're going to have to start holding it in. Or use the bathroom at Arby's on the way home. Of course, that conditioning means you'll always have to go to the bathroom anytime you visit an Arby's, but is that so different from right now?
Walking On A Lego Hurts Because Legos Are Tough As Nails (If Not Tougher)
Let's ask the big questions: Why does it hurt so damn bad to step on a Lego brick?
It's all about physics, baby. As Smithsonian notes, Legos are made from an incredibly strong and durable plastic, and this, combined with their compact size, means they can withstand 950 pounds (or 4,240 newtons) of pressure before breaking. If you're unfortunate enough to stand on one, therefore, the pressure you're exerting has no chance of dissipating into the brick. You know what can't withstand a great deal of pressure, though? Your foot.
When faced with a literal immovable object, your foot crumples and wraps itself around the brick's knobs and sharp corners. Combine this with the fact that, as we mentioned earlier, your foot is a gentle weeping willow when it comes to pain, and you've got an effective stun gun built into your shag carpeting.
You Jerk When Falling Asleep Because Your Brain Is Trying To Shut Down
Ever been trying to sleep, and your brain decides it's time for you to bolt upright for no apparent reason?
This sensation, otherwise known as the hypnic jerk, is the result of your body falling asleep faster than your brain can shut down. Essentially, when you go to sleep, your brain switches from its default system (the reticular activating system) over to its nighttime program (the ventrolateral preoptic nucleus), which puts the body in a state similar to paralysis. Scientists believe that the hypnic jerk happens when the body's motor functions are still firing, but the brain switches over nonetheless, which breaks the system and causes your muscles to contract, causing you to jerk like it's the hot new dance craze sweeping the nation.
There's no real way to stop this from happening, because your body isn't so much "your body" as it is a bunch of appendage-shaped roommates who hate each other. But one suggestion is to starve your motor system of any stimulants before bed, such as caffeine, exercise, and stress, so that when the lights go out, your motor is much less primed to kick off. Or you could hook a motion sensor up to your speakers and set 'em to play Gloria Estefan so it looks like the rhythm finally got you. Your call.
Stop Whining, That Other Lane Of Traffic Isn't Moving Faster Than Yours
You're sitting in traffic when you notice that the lane next to yours is picking up speed. So you throw on your blinkers, scooch over, and watch dejectedly as your old lane picks up the pace and leaves your smart ass behind.
It's a situation we've all encountered, not because the Universe hates the impatient, but because we all share the same broken sense of perception. It's called the "illusory correlation," and it's a phenomenon whereby your brain invents a relationship between two completely unrelated things, which in this case are 1) those lanes of traffic alternatively speeding up/slowing down, and 2) you moving lanes.
Instead of explaining #1 as something that simply happens of its own accord, your brain explains it as a result of #2. Your new lane would've continued moving along nicely if it wasn't for you screwing things up like you always do by moving into it.
There are obviously going to be times when lanes switch speeds, either because there's been a sudden accident or because a million like-minded drivers (like yourself) moved into the "fast" lane and opened up a ton of space in the "slow" lane. In most cases, however, it's just our dumb sensory faculties running amok. Back in 1999, two scientists studied this phenomenon and found that feeling of "lane envy" (as it's otherwise known) in the result of a visual illusion based on how vehicles spread out when they're moving quickly and pack together when they're moving slowly:
Cars in congested traffic spent more time being overtaken by other cars than they did passing them. Both lanes were moving at the same average speed, but it wouldn't have seemed that way to the drivers ... A driver may pass 10 cars all at once, then move into the slow lane and watch 8 cars speed past one by one. He'll think he's moving slower than average, but in fact he's moving faster.
There is a slightly sadistic twist to this story, though. The results of this study not only confirm that this illusion exists, but also that drivers who have an aggressive driving style are more prone to this illusion than most, which means that your average traffic jam is like an existential nightmare to them -- a fact that should bring a spiteful smile to your face next time somebody is tailgating you so bad that it feels like an vehicular prostate exam.
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For more, check out What Your Doctor Wants To Tell You, But Can't (From A Medical Physician):
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