It is known that why we see a small bit of lightning or an electrostatic shock is when placing a negatively charged conductor to a neutral conductor, isn't it?

My question is why do feel hurt or shocked when this happens? For example if we touch a conducting object when we are negatively charged we feel a bit of shock. This is because the charges in our body rapidly goes to the conducting object then why is it that we are hurt? Or even why do we see a bit of lightning? Is it connected to electromagnetism?


1 Answer 1


The "shock" or "hurt" you feel is the result of current in the body - which is what happens when charge flows from one place to another.

Your body contains nerves - and they signal "pain" and other feelings with very small currents. Your body is not very good at distinguishing "pain sensor is sending a message" from "a current is flowing through the nerve, making me think there is pain".

Also - currents can cause local heating of tissue, ionization, polarization, ... all of which may in turn cause nerves to fire so that you feel "real" pain.

The amount of current flowing in nerves is very small, because it's just a few ions of potassium crossing the membrane. A voltage on the order of several tens of mV (40 - 100 mV) is enough to fire a nerve"; static electricity can easily give voltages in the 1000's of Volts.

See also this link on neurotransmission

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    $\begingroup$ Another question is, why do we see the light or this "tiny lightning" such as what is commonly termed static electricity? Which concerns light. $\endgroup$
    – Czar Luc
    Commented May 22, 2017 at 17:50
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The current density in the air is high enough to cause the formation of a plasma - the current ionizes the gas in the air. As the electrons are knocked off the molecules and later recombine again, they emit light. So it's really "lightning on a very small scale". $\endgroup$
    – Floris
    Commented May 22, 2017 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ So the density of the environment also affects the visibility of the "tiny lightning"? $\endgroup$
    – Czar Luc
    Commented May 22, 2017 at 18:00

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