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acebamboo77's avatar

What causes the butterfly feeling in your stomach?

Asked by acebamboo77 (717 points ) November 28th, 2008

We all know that feeling, your about to go on stage for a big performance, or your significant other just did something incredible; whether it’s nerves or otherwise, everyone has experienced the feeling of butterflies in your stomach.

My question is, what causes that sensation? (not what gives you butterflies, but from a anatomical perspective, what physically creates that sensation?)

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12 Answers

AstroChuck's avatar

Butterflies.

jtvoar16's avatar

I am not a doctor or anybody who has studied the body in depth, but this is my theory:

Because it is always dealing with nerves, ether fear and folly, or fun and amazement, it would surmise that it has to do with adrenaline. I know that in small quantities, adrenaline can do amazing things, or really bad things. In a natural setting, in the wild, it would make sense that your stomach would be upset when you are nervous. You don’t want food or acid on your stomach when you are about to hunt. The same holds true for matting.
I think over the centuries it has become dumbed down more, in the sense that it does not immediately signify something bad or something good.

Like I said, I’m not a doctor, but I can tell you from experience, every time I have had more butterflies then my body could handle, I have had enough adrenaline to kill 2,886,734.64 elephants. I did the math.

flameboi's avatar

You ate something maybe….

Zaku's avatar

Your brain that sees and thinks and emotes, and the nerves in your body, are connected and part of the same system, and their functions and interactions are interconnected in many ways that may not seem to have any logical reason for them. So something going on in your head may cause feelings in the body, memories can even be stored in the body, things going on in the body have effects on the mind, etc.

This also relates to how some ancient medicines (e.g. acupuncture, chakras) that associate parts of the bodies with mental effects can make sense to modern Western scientific thinking, even if it doesn’t yet have specific explanations.

Harp's avatar

It’s caused by the body’s sudden effort to redistribute blood to the parts of the body most needed to respond to a crisis situation, mainly the brain and the large muscle groups. To do this, it shuts down flow to less critical areas, including the stomach and skin. The sensation in the stomach is the result of that decrease in blood flow.

mea05key's avatar

@ Zaku

Acupunture is a temporary way to relief pain in the body because it numbs then nerves. I agree when you say that there isnt any logical reason on why our body react to different simulant. A good example would be faking a tablet as a medicine and give to a patient. Research shows that patients that took the fake medicine are more likely to feel better than patients that takes no medication. Its all about perception. Sorry out of topic.

Jeruba's avatar

@Harp, wonderful explanation! Can you take it one step further and say what is being stimulated by the activity in the stomach so that we have that butterfly sensation? or what exactly it consists of? (e.g., cells contracting, something like that?) And why don’t we have butterflies on the skin, then?

Harp's avatar

The viscera can handle being deprived of a full blood supply for a short time, but they’re not happy about it. There’s a lot of muscle tissue there, and I suppose that just as skeletal muscles cramp when they don’t get the blood they need, the gut muscles probably make their displeasure known by spasming.

Skin doesn’t have that degree of musculature, but the skin temperature does drop as a result of the vascular constriction.

Jeruba's avatar

@Harp—ah, I think that would explain why I have…other…discomfiting visceral effects when I have to perform. Which add enormously to my stress. Thank you for the explanation. Is there any way to counteract this response?

acebamboo77's avatar

thanks harp, that’s exactly the kind of answer i was looking for! its really interesting!

generalspecific's avatar

I actually thought of asking this question before, but somehow never go around to it. so great questions, and GA for harp!
I love learning random new things like this.. :)

GreekGaze's avatar

i’ve heard its because the body is doing the fight or flight response, so its redirecing blood from the stomach more to muscles.SO, if you think about it, that butterfly sensation does kind of feel like your stomach is going numb. you know, like when you sit on your leg wrong. that tingly sensation, only, deep inside you. what do you think?

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