There are still a few days left in summer (sigh…), and if you’re trying to make the most of them by savoring Halo Top’s new flavors or indulging in healthy ice cream recipes, you’ve got one potential misfortune to watch out for: brain freeze AKA the characteristic stinging/burning sensation of summertime. If you’ve ever wondered what causes this painful experience, wonder no more. The answer is: Your brain makes it up.

How Brain Freeze Works

When you eat something super cold, the roof of your mouth and all its capillaries and nociceptors (pain-detecting sensory receptors) notice a huge change in temperature and aren’t really sure what to do with the information. So the capillaries constrict, and they send that information to the brain.

The brain, detecting this odd change, needs to find a way to tell you to stop doing whatever it is you’re doing. Obviously, it doesn’t understand that you’re just trying to eat some yummy ice cream, just that a major (possibly dangerous) sensory change has occurred. Basically your brain interprets the signal as pain, and that’s why you finally feel the sensation in the top of your head.

“The brain is what actually interprets all those signals that are coming in and determines whether it is painful or not painful,” Dr. Kris Rau of the University of Louisville in Kentucky told NPR. “So without the brain there would be no pain.”

Your brain usually achieves its desired goal: Getting you to stop eating the ice cream for a little while. After the pain dies away, you can generally go back to eating your ice cream as planned. Yay!

Follow us on Pinterest for more food news and updates!