The secret cause of sniffles

I think we’ve all encountered the following archetype at some point in our lives: a shy, quiet person who frequently coughs or sniffles. And I think we’ve all suspected that there’s some kind of emotional component to this behavior. This is a person who, due to their social anxiety, is uncomfortable calling attention to themselves by actually talking or expressing themselves, so they use the subconscious fa├žade of a cold or stuffed nasal passages to assert their existence. In essence, the cough is saying, “I am here! Acknowledge my presence! Give me the love I so need!” Of course, we all know their desperate pleas for attention will never be rewarded. Rather they will be slowly suffocated by the ever tightening tentacles of their own obsolescence.

Today I started thinking about how this behavior can be explained from a neuroscience or psychological perspective. Obviously, these people aren’t faking their coughs or sniffles — they genuinely feel urgings. Perhaps the reptilian id part of the brain, angered by its perceived social invisibility, can fire off some process that leads to an inch at the back of the person’s throat. From there they have to cough, drawing attention to themselves in a gawky but socially acceptable manner, which at least temporarily satiates the angry id.

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