Go ahead and find that ticklish spot on your body -- you know
the one. If anyone else comes near it, you’re toast. It may be your feet, your
elbows or your belly; it differs from person to person. Now try tickling that
spot yourself. Nothing, right? No squirming, no fit of laughter. Maybe a little
giggle? It’s really difficult to tickle yourself.
Part of what makes tickling a thing is the element of
surprise. Since you can’t surprise yourself, you can’t tickle yourself. When you are tickled by another person, your body goes into a state of panic. This feeling of unease is also what triggers your laugh response.
This reaction to tickling is due to a defense mechanism against creepy-crawly things. If you feel something brushing your skin unexpectedly, you react. If your brain knows it’s just you, it blocks it out, because that just isn’t important information.
Scientists have discovered that if you space out your movements
and the tickle, you might feel something a little funny, but not an all-out fit
of laughter like what would happen if someone else had done it. A team at University College
London employed a robot to allow people to tickle themselves with a fifth of a
second delay, and it worked. Any less than that, and the brain wasn't fooled.
But back to the laughing -- why is that our response to potentially
being covered in bugs? Since tickling usually includes vulnerable spots, like our
armpits and feet, our laughter could potentially be to diffuse a dangerous situation
and prevent us from getting injured. It only does so much good, though, because yes, you
can die from being tickled.
Most people don’t even like being tickled, and laughter can quickly turn into tears, hyperventilation and fainting under extreme circumstances. So, it makes sense that your own body won't allow you to torture it in that way. Just thinking about it might make you feel uncomfortable, though.
TL;DR: You can’t really tickle yourself, which is probably
good, because too much tickling could potentially kill you.
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