Why are we ticklish?


Tickling is a phenomena that we have grown to accept without a question. But if you look at the explanation that scientists have come up with and the results of somebody tickling you, you may realize that the idea and the facts don’t seem to fit together.

Based on many studies, scientists have come up with various different reasons as to why we may be ticklish. Three of these are:

  1. Tickling helps strengthen the bond between children and their parents.
  2. Tickling could be a quality of humans and animals to encourage them to interact.
  3. Feeling ticklish is a reflex and is a type of self-defense mechanism

Of these reasons, to me, the most believable is the third. Why? Because, as a ticklish person myself, I know that tickling isn’t exactly fun for the victim. Hence, the term ‘victim’. As well as this, according to an experiment carried out around 5 years ago, ticklish laughter activated some parts of the parietal lobe, a part of the brain responsible for pain, and the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls the fight response.

From this particular study, we can come to an understanding that the first reason as written above has a very small possibility of being true. Why would a parent want to be the cause of their child’s pain, right? As the first two reasons are quite similar, it is highly unlikely that the second is true as, if tickling evoked a fight response, it probably does not encourage animals to interact with each other.

Therefore, there is a high chance that feeling ticklish is a type of self-defence mechanism, which has evolved in primates (mammals with developed qualities such as good eyesight or flexible hands and feet) to protect vulnerable areas such as the ribs, neck and feet from being attacked. This also clarifies why we can’t tickle ourselves. It obviously wouldn’t be self-defence when you yourself are the attacker.

Scientists have also broken down tickling into two categories: Knismesis and Gargalesis. Knismesis is the slight itchy sensation that helps protect us from bugs while Gargalesis is the intense laughter experienced when someone touches certain aforementioned vulnerable areas on the body.

This explanation provides us with an answer to two questions:  ‘Why are we ticklish?’ and ‘Why can’t we tickle ourselves?”. However, it still leaves two unanswered. Why isn’t everyone ticklish? And if feeling ticklish evokes pain and a fight response, why do we laugh when we are tickled?

Not many answers have been identified but there is one that states that laughter when feeling ticklish may be a sign of surrender to the threat or prey. As for the first question, scientists have no idea.

What do you think? Any crazy suggestions and ideas popping into your head? You never know, it’s always possible that you could be right. Unless, of course, you say that little green aliens living inside some people’s bodies make them ticklish :).

This is obviously not the only explanation as to why we feel ticklish as I’ve already stated but I, personally, think this is the most believable and hence, this post.

More cool questions coming up!


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