Being tickled is not always fun. For some people, it can be a torturous experience filled with laughter. What makes some people more sensitive to touch than others? It is true that humans respond to touch, both emotionally and physically, and some areas of your body are more sensitive. The question is, "What exactly happens in your body when someone tickles you?"
Why Are People Ticklish?
Types of Tickling
By digging deeper into the details, you will come to know that there are actually two kinds of tickling phenomena. Gargalesis, which is the heavy tickling that produces laughter when someone targets certain areas of your body like the stomach or armpits. Knismesis is the other type of tickling phenomenon caused usually by light movement – it produces an itching sensation instead of laughter.
Quite interestingly, you cannot tickle yourself, which is mainly because your brain already knows what you are going to do. So, why are people ticklish? There are different hypotheses actually. For instance:
It is believed that tickling boosts and facilitates the bonding experience with a parent and child. This hypothesis does not explain why some adults and children find tickling unpleasant.
Another hypothesis suggests that tickling was a developmental response from before your birth. The purpose of this prenatal response was to keep a baby into favorable positions.
The third hypothesis is a hybrid and suggests that tickling evolved to encourage the development of different combat skills in humans. It means when someone is tickled, he/she uses different defensive and combat moves to stop others from doing it and this helps develop valuable combat skills.
Physiology of Tickling
There are millions of tiny nerve endings beneath your skin. These nerve endings make you aware of all manner of touch. It is due to these nerve endings that you respond to heat and cold and keep your hand from burning. When someone stimulates these nerve endings with a feather or finger, your brain receives a message. Since the nerves are stimulated quite lightly, your brain analyzes the message and only produces a tickling sensation as a result. The effect of a light touch basically stimulates the somatosensory cortex and the anterior cingulated cortex in your brain. The somatosensory cortex plays a role in analyzing touch and the pressure associated with it, whereas the anterior cingulated cortex controls pleasant feelings. When both of these regions are stimulated, you feel ticklish. You experience a tickling sensation only from a light touch – tickling turns painful when too much pressure is applied.
Fun Facts about Tickling
You Feel Less Ticklish As You Age
You may not be aware of it already, but it is quite interesting that people under 40 years of age are 10 times more likely to feel ticklish as compared to people over age 40. One simple reason for this is that you have fewer opportunities for tickling as you grow old, and the tickle response may also become weak due to hormonal changes that take place with age.
It Is Possible to Block a Tickle Advance
All you have to do is place your hand on the tickler's hand and you will not feel ticklish. It is due to this particular reason that many doctors ask you to place your hand on theirs when they are examining your belly. By making this move, you generate the motion similar to the doctor and make your brain think that you are the one trying to tickle.
Tickling Can Make You Lose Weight
Why does it happen? The reason is that tickling makes you laugh, which in turn helps burn calories. Studies show that you can lose 10-40 extra calories a day by laughing for 10-15 minutes daily. If you stick to this routine, you will be able to lose up to 4 pounds within a year. This may not sound a lot, but every calorie counts when you really want to shed some extra pounds.
Some People Are More Ticklish than Others
Why are people ticklish? You already know that. However, the question is why the response is more severe for some. Scientists believe that the pleasure of the tickling experience depends heavily on your relationship with the tickler. It is due to this reason that you may have a different reaction when different people tickle you. Now you know why your lover's ticklish touch feels so pleasurable but the same touch from your older brother feels like torture.
Tickle Spots Stay the Same
Yes, the most sensitive areas on your body where you feel especially ticklish are universal. Research shows that soles of the feet and the area from the armpits to the waist are the most ticklish spots on your body. Some other common ticklish spots include genital regions, external ear openings and breasts.