Why We Can’t 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 by these kinds 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 scare away bad vibes every time we have the opportunity.

Why We Can't Tickle Ourselves

So, tickling is a great way to bring a smile to a smile to a person you love, but could it work with ourselves? Sadly, we can't take advantage of the benefits of laughter by tickling our weak spots. On this occasion, in we tell you why we can't tickle ourselves and why it's so easy to make others laugh with them.

Is it possible to tickle us?

One of the reasons tickles are effective when they come from someone else is because you don't expect them. Without warning, the contact is unexpected and puts our senses on alert. Plus, you also can't predict where you'll be touched, so the uncertainty is even greater.

The problem is that the context is very different when you try to tickle yourself. The cerebellum is the part of the brain responsible for much of our motor ability and, when you decide to move, it generates a previous image of how the movement will look and feel before carrying it out. 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 tried to tickle yourself with objects like a feather, you might feel a slight tingle, because it is true that you cannot predict the sensation. However, you are still able to predict movement, so contact with your skin will not cause you surprise, alertness or that feeling of uncertainty before external stimuli that you cannot control.

Now, is there a way to trick the brain into tickling us? The truth is that yes, but not in a very practical way.

Mental disorders and tickling

Some people might tickle themselves if they felt they were 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 predict them.

Even if in practical terms, it is the schizophrenic who makes the movements, the perception of the self is distorted and the person stops identifying his actions as conscious decisions. This is the main difference between people who suffer from this type of hallucinations and the rest of the population. And it is that the brain adapts to experiences and the environment, knowing how to differentiate between the sensations coming from an act of its own and those that have their origin by some external element.

Fooling the Brain: Tickle Experiments

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore of University College London [1] has conducted experiments to decipher how the brain works while people were trying to tickle themselves in order to find a way to trick it.

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

This is because the image created by the cerebellum of the movement no longer matches what happens 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 tickle.

Benefits of tickling

Humans aren't the only species that knows tickles. Some animals such as chimpanzees and gorillas also practice them as an especially widespread game among their young. In addition, as in humans, great apes fail to 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 sensations, people improve their relationships and release tensions. 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 feeling tickled is childhood. Parents take advantage of this game to interact with their babies with fun. Surely many will have done it for entertainment, but the truth is that there are many benefits of tickling. Here are a few:

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


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