I know it sounds kind of strange. But maybe there’s a deeper biological mechanism going on here. Daniel Kahneman, in his great book Thinking, Fast and Slow, points out that our eyes dilate noticeably and uncontrollably when we concentrate on solving difficult problems. There’s also evidence that other automatic expressions — for instance, the tongue protruding slightly from the lips — have the benefit of immobilizing speech and thus improving concentration. Flared nostrils might be part of a larger set of advantageous reflexes, part of our evolution-built “focus face” we use when we employ all our mental energy to work through tough problems.