Have you ever tried to tickle yourself? 

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Tickling can bring such joy to people (although some people will hurt you if you even try). It causes fits of laughter, giggles, rolling around. Tickles are powerful. Wouldn’t it be great if you were ever feeling a little sad you could just…tickle yourself? Try right now. It doesn’t work! Unfortunately, it is impossible to tickle yourself. 

There are really two types of tickles. The type of tickle when your friends or family touch you and make you laugh and the type of tickle when a bug lands on you and gives you a fright. Let’s try and understand both in more detail.

Tickles warn of danger

Tickles have been present in humans for many generations. We evolved to have tickles so that if a dangerous bug or fly landed on our skin we would be warned. Most of us have tiny hairs all over our bodies that alert us to any strange object coming in contact with us. This can be particularly beneficial if you are ever in an area prone to mosquitos. It makes sense then that we can’t tickle ourselves as we would receive mixed signals. Am I in danger or did I just touch my own elbow? The brain is able to tell whether we are touching ourselves, something we are comfortable with is touching us or something unexpected is touching us.

Tickles are a form of bonding

The other form of tickles is when a friend or family member starts to tickle under your arms or belly and makes you laugh uncontrollably. This is because the body is surprised but not in danger. The brain then tells the body that it was not expecting what is happening but it is not alarmed. The result is laughter. We are unable to tickle ourselves because it is impossible to surprise the body using the body. Your brain is constantly communicating across all limbs so any movement is known by the other parts of the body.

I have to say I am not too disappointed that I can’t tickle myself. It would get old fast and would likely make showers more difficult. I am one of those people who don’t particularly enjoy being tickled, by a bug or by a person. In fact, instead of wondering why we can’t tickle ourselves maybe the question is how can we get people to stop tickling us!