Why can’t we tickle ourselves?


Tickling is a great way to make a friend, partner, or loved one laugh. The bond established with the other person is strengthened with these types of details. Life usually has complicated moments in which it is difficult to be happy, so a good attitude and a smile are the best allies to drive away bad vibes whenever we have the opportunity.

Why can't we tickle ourselves

Thus, tickling is an excellent way to make a person you love smile, but could it work with ourselves? Unfortunately, we cannot reap the benefits of laughter by tickling our weak spots.

Is it possible to tickle us?

One of the reasons tickling is effective when it comes from someone else is because you don't expect it. Without warning, the contact is unexpected and puts our senses on alert. Also, you can't predict where you'll be hit either, so the uncertainty is even greater.

The problem is that the context is very different when you intend to tickle yourself. The cerebellum is the part of the brain responsible for much of our motor skills, and when you decide to move, it creates a preview of what the movement will look and feel like before you actually do it. In this way, it is practically impossible to surprise yourself with your own contact, since you already know how it will happen, how it will feel and when you will stop it.

And what if you tried another object other than your hand? If you were to try to tickle yourself with objects such as a feather, you might feel a slight tingling, as it is true that you cannot predict the sensation. However, you are still able to predict the movement, so the contact with your skin will not cause you surprise, alertness or that feeling of uncertainty in the face of external stimuli that you cannot control.

Mental disorders and tickling

Some people may tickle themselves if they feel that they are not in control of their own body. For example, it has been recorded that patients with certain types of schizophrenia may tickle themselves during periods of hallucination, as they feel that their body movements are not their own and therefore cannot be predicted.

Even if, in practical terms, it is the schizophrenic who makes the moves, the perception of the self becomes distorted and the person no longer identifies their actions as conscious decisions. This is the main difference between people who suffer from this type of hallucination and the rest of the population. And it is that the brain adapts to the experiences and the environment, knowing how to differentiate between the sensations coming from its own act and those that have their origin in some external element.

Tricking the brain: experiments with tickles

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, from University College London [1] , has carried out experiments to decipher how the brain works while people try to tickle themselves with the aim of finding a way to trick it.

To achieve this, the team created a machine with which the study subjects could expel a foam on their hand to tickle them. The researchers then changed the machine's reaction time so that it did not match the predictions made by people. The results determined that the more unpredictable the foam release time, the more ticklish the subjects were able to feel .

This is because the image created by the cerebellum of movement no longer matches what is happening in reality. Consequently, the foam surprises the brain and causes a stronger reaction in the body.

If you want to know more about the nature of tickling and its effects on the body, do not hesitate to visit our article Why we have tickles.

Benefits of tickling

Humans aren't the only species that knows how to tickle. Some animals such as chimpanzees and gorillas also play them as a game that is especially widespread among their young. Also, just like humans, great apes can't tickle themselves.

Laughter and physical contact have a very important social function in humans, which is why tickling is so popular with friends and loved ones. By laughing and sharing feelings, people improve their relationships and release tension. Also for this reason, it is difficult to tickle ourselves, because if we try, the social element is missing and the objective of the act is lost.

The most sensitive stage to feel tickles is childhood. Parents take advantage of this game to engage with their babies with fun. Surely many have done it for entertainment, but the truth is that there are many benefits of tickling . These are some:

  • They favor the development of the senses.
  • They enhance social skills.
  • They strengthen the family relationship.
  • They improve mood.
  • They create an environment in which joy predominates.


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