Tag Archives: touch

Touched by a Tickle

I am highly ticklish yet cannot tickle myself. To be sure, I can give myself the chills but tickling remains evasive, and now I know why. Turns out my cerebellum is able to predict whether the tickling stimulus is coming from an entity other than myself.

If the tickle comes from me then laughter is not a necessary reaction because my brain knows the intent is not to surprise or harm. If the tickle comes from an entity other than me, then laughter is a highly likely response because my brain is anticipating the intent of the action along with what will happen upon being touched.

The science behind tickling is explained in the HowStuffWorks article Why can’t you tickle yourself? as well as A Ticklish Question at Neuroscience for Kids. Tom Stafford and Matt Webb have written a book, Mind Hacks ~ Tips & Tools for Using Your Brain. Hack #65 is all about Why Can’t You Tickle Yourself?

Laughter plays an important role in our ability to make ourselves feel good. I am intrigued with the connection between tickling (a physical act of touching) and laughing (a cognitive act of understanding as well as a physical one of acting out the laugh). At Neuroscience for Kids you can read more about What’s So Funny and Why: Laughter and the Brain.

By the way, we are not the only ones to laugh upon being tickled. Apparently we are in the company of rats when it comes to laughing at being tickled.

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Touchy Feely

Just ask my husband – first thing each morning I hop out of bed and find him for my morning hug. And last thing each evening is our good night kiss. Sense of touch, coupled with the emotional impact, make these acts huge in terms of their impact. But even if you could take away the emotional impact, the sense of touch remains paramount.

We have about five million sensors in our skin, all finely attuned to the nuances of contact with something else, be it the stove’s flame or an uncomfortable sweater or holding hands or digging in the dirt. I am reminded of a friend of my son’s who, years ago, could not resist touching just about everything he saw, especially if he did not know the purpose for the object; that’s how a controlling switch for our furnace was unintentionally turned off.

There are a number of articles and studies on the role of touching in human development and relations, running the gamut from caring for infants to loving adult relationships to caring for folks who are elderly or impaired. The Caring Touch maintains that

touch has the first, most direct and powerful effect on the brain’s programming and reprogramming activity. Accordingly, touch, including its inherent kinesthetic (movement) stimulation, is particularly important in working with young children and adults with brain impairments.

In the article Children Need Touching and Attention, Harvard Researchers Say, researchers Michael Commons and Patrice Miller state that

physical contact and reassurance will make children more secure and better able to form adult relationships when they finally head out on their own.

And then there is an Australian who last year started a Free Hugs campaign in Sydney, which made it to the news. Corny? Perhaps, but I smiled to see that the blog leading me to the video came up on the first search page when looking for articles about the human need for touching. And having just returned from Europe, the blogger’s comments about how Europeans perceive touching resonated with me.

A Primer On Touch, published in the September 1996 issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine, explains how touch works. And you can further explore the world of your nervous system, including its sensory systems, at Neuroscience for Kids.