Monday, July 14, 2014

Head hair as a sensory organ

It's no mystery that hair acts to amplify the sense of touch. Everyone is familiar with the feeling of a bug crawling on their arm, and everyone who has ever gone swimming with a beard knows how much more pleasurable (like a million tiny hands gently pulling at your chin) it is than swimming without a beard. There are also more mystical ideas about long hair granting a kind of sixth sense.

I recently gave myself a buzz cut after letting my hair grow for about 2 years. My hair is moderately curly, so when it's long it poofs out an inch or two from my scalp. From my experience, I don't think long hair grants any kind of mysterious powers (nor do I think it has any effect on personality or intelligence, although people with certain personality traits may be more likely to choose to grow their hair long), but I was surprised to find that scalp hair does seem to contribute to spatial awareness. My evidence for this (which is admittedly circumstantial and has a low sample size, but this would be a very hard thing to test in a controlled environment, you can't very well have a "double blind" haircut) is that in the 24 hours after I cut my hair, I bonked my head into the wall twice. Once I was leaning over to put something in the trash can, and hit my head on the corner of the doorway that the can is next to. The other time I was in the shower and leaning around the too-hot stream of water to adjust the knobs. So I think scalp hair can function for people kind of like how whiskers function for cats.

I think that when I had poofy hair, I subconsciously used it to provide spatial information about the environment immediately around my head. Lacking that information, but not yet having had a chance to compensate by other means, my lack of hair temporarily increased my propensity to bonk into things.

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