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Time to Tickle You

July 16, 2010

Tickling is a very interesting sensation, it can burst you into laughter and on the other hand it can make you agitated as well. We all have tickled someone or have been tickled either by parents or siblings or friends. It’s also interesting to note that you can not tickle yourself implying that an element of surprise is very important.

Tickle is defined as light sensitive touch resulting into laughter or twitching movements. Psychologists have divided “tickle” into two types– one that’s caused by light movement against the skin and the other that’s caused by applying pressure to ticklish areas in the body such as soles of feet, armpits, neck, below the knee, midriff, ribs etc. While the first type produces more of an itching sensation, the other one induces laughter. There are many theories as to what causes tickle responses- some say release of endomorphine causes laughter response while some say its a nervous reaction repsonse as some people start laughing even before they are tickled.

There are various social aspects of tickling behavior and response as well. Drawin proposed that tickling induces laughter in response to anticipated pleasure. That’s why you can argue that if a stranger starts tickling you, chances are you will not burst into laughter rather feel displeausre or threatened. Tickling induces laughter only when it comes in a social setting you are comfortable with and when the tickler is the person you know and you anticipate pleasure. Darwin also suggested that surprise is the key to tickle response and that explains why we can’t tickle ourselves. When we tickle ourselves, our brain knows what we are doing and what kind of sensation to expect and thus any tickle response is inhibited or diminished.

Tickling is also important from point of view of child-parent bonding. Babies associate tickling by parents with pleasure and it also allows them to develop a trust bond. Sibling tickle-fights is also common. It starts with laughter, then turns into displeasure as the other sibling keeps tickling and then sometimes into fights. Siblings use tickle as an alternative to violence and in order to dominate or punish other sibling.

So what’s the purpose of tickle response? As pointed out, it can be just a nervous reaction, or it can be a defense mechanism to protect ourselves. Most of the tickle zones are very weak zones during hand-to-hand combat, so our reflexes protect us from being hurt from sudden attacks, maybe. Parent-child bonding and pleasure anticipation can be other reasons for various types of tickle responses.

But whatver the reason be, It’s an interesting phenomena. And as Galileo puts it, tickling, the sensation belongs to us, not to the hand , not to the feather, not to the tickler or anything else, the sensation is ours:

When touched upon the soles of the feet, for example, or under the knee or armpit, it feels in addition to the common sensation of touch a sensation on which we have imposed a special name, “tickling.” This sensation belongs to us and not to the hand… A piece of paper or a feather drawn lightly over any part of our bodies performs intrinsically the same operations of moving and touching, but by touching the eye, the nose, or the upper lip it excites in us an almost intolerable titillation, even though elsewhere it is scarcely felt. This titillation belongs entirely to us and not to the feather; if the live and sensitive body were removed it would remain no more than a mere word.[The Assayer ]

Phot credit: Flickr user paulm | used under Creative Commons License

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1 Comment Leave a Comment

  • 1. Science Is Beautiful &raq&hellip  |  June 3, 2011 at 12:54 am

    […] Time To Tickle You- Tickling is a very interesting sensation, it can burst you into laughter and on the other hand it can make you agitated as well. We all have tickled someone or have been tickled either by parents or siblings or friends. It’s also interesting to note that you can not tickle yourself implying that an element of surprise is very important. […]

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