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6. Moving: Hacks 62–69 > 65. Why Can’t You Tickle Yourself?

Why Can’t You Tickle Yourself?

Experiments with tickling provide hints as to how the brain registers self-generated and externally generated sensations.

Most of us can identify a ticklish area on our body that, when touched by someone else, makes us laugh. Even chimpanzees, when tickled under their arms, respond with a sound equivalent to laughter; rats, too, squeal with pleasure when tickled. Tickling is a curious phenomenon, a sensation we surrender to almost like a reflex. Francis Bacon in 1677 commented that “[when tickled] men even in a grieved state of mind...cannot sometimes forebear laughing.” It can generate both pleasure and pain: a person being tickled might simultaneously laugh hysterically and writhe in agony. Indeed, in Roman times, continuous tickling of the feet was used as a method of torture. Charles Darwin, however, theorized that tickling is an important part of social and sexual bonding. He also noted that for tickling to be effective in making us laugh, the person doing the tickling should be someone we are familiar with, but that there should also be an element of unpredictability.


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