You Really Do Get Warm and Fuzzy, and Other Scientifically Accurate Cliches
Because they frequently evoke some kind of fundamental truth, cliches tend to become cliches for a reason. But a lot of them also make no sense. You’re not literally going to become a potato if you sit on the couch long enough, owls aren’t nocturnal and beating around the bush, while certainly no way to please anyone involved, isn’t a thing. That said, some of the bizarre phrases we use to describe ourselves and our behavior really do have some basis in science. Such as…
Warm and Fuzzy
That “warm and fuzzy” feeling we get when we see cats snuggling, old people holding hands or children swearing is the whole reason most of the internet exists. It’s like emotional heroin, and that’s even truer than it feels. All of these things trigger a flood of neurotransmitters that get the ball rolling on a chain reaction of biological processes, including thermogenic events that make you feel warm and tingly all over. Every time you hug your dog, you’re just chasing that oxytocin dragon.
There’s even a scientific term for warm and fuzzies: kama muta. It literally translates to “moved by love,” and it’s mostly related to feelings of “communal sharing,” like when you witness an act of charity or stand around a trash-can fire. That’s why the people who join the most Facebook groups devoted to clearly staged videos about feeding homeless people pickup truck soup are always the nicest people you know. Some people are more susceptible to warm and fuzzies, though, depending on the amount of tissue in certain parts of their brains.
Yes, you can be neurologically wired for Scroogedom.
When someone wants to back out of something, we describe them as having “cold feet,” but why would the temperature of your tootsies have any impact on your decision-making process? Is it the act of running away? Does that warm up your feet? How many lives have been irrevocably changed due to a lack of available slippers?
It’s actually the other way around — your feet get cold so you can run away. Stress hormones activate certain neurological receptors that respond by drawing blood, and therefore heat, away from our extremities. This is useful because that blood can be redirected to the heart and lungs and stuff that we need in order to flee or fight whatever is stressing us out.
But your body doesn’t know whether you’re stressed because a tiger is chasing you or you’ve been dared to sing “I’m Too Sexy” at karaoke night. In both cases, them feet are gonna go cold, even though punching the microphone isn’t going to help anything. Believe us, we’ve tried.
The pain of loss and betrayal is one of the top three most expounded-upon pains (the other two are papercuts and stubbed toes), so it’s only natural that we describe it in colorful terms. But it turns out that a broken heart really can manifest as chest pain. The same regions of our brains process physical and emotional pain, so it’s possible to be sad enough that it hurts, and that hurt probably localizes in the chest because that’s right in the path of the vagus nerve, which is stimulated by the part of the brain that regulates emotional reactions. So it’s not actually your heart, but “Achy Breaky Vagus Nerve” just isn’t as catchy.
If you’ve ever heard of somebody dying from a broken heart, you probably thought that was a particularly stupid Star Wars installment, but even that can really happen. Scientists believe it’s because stress hormones weaken heart muscles and blood vessels, triggering heart attacks, but they don’t really know how any of this works. They do know that it’s almost exclusively women who suffer from “broken heart syndrome,” so it’s probably men’s fault.
Life isn’t a Tarantino movie, so our rage isn’t accompanied by a fiery filter and sound effects from the theme song of a 1970s crime drama, but we still say that we “see red” when we’re angry. The phrase seems to come from bullfighting, which doesn’t make sense, considering the bull is the angry one in that scenario and also that we literally see red better when we’re mad.
In a 2010 experiment, participants’ “anger states were directly manipulated” by scientists, meaning they pissed them off with random blasts of white noise. They were then shown images of colors that were ambiguous enough to be either red or blue and asked what color they saw. The pissed-off people were not only better at identifying the red images, they were more likely to think the blue images were red. Suddenly losing kindergarten-level color identification had to piss them off more, and it just becomes a vicious cycle.
Scientists think this is because angry faces are red faces, and they’re rarely surrounded by calm people, so they become more important to recognize when you’re also angry. But the whole thing is a big ol’ shrug. What’s important to know is that you should never watch Avatar angry. The whole vibe will be off.