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Tickling is the act of touching a part of the body lightly so as to cause involuntary laughter or twitching movements. Image:Mr. Tickle.jpg



The word evolved from the Middle English tikelen, perhaps frequentative of ticken, to touch lightly. The sensation of surprise, known as gargalesthesia, elicited by tickling protects against crawling animals and insects, such as spiders, mosquitos, scorpions or beetles, which may be why it evolved in many animals, including rats. Some evidence suggests that laughing is a nervous reaction that can be triggered by tickling; indeed, very ticklish people often start laughing before actually being tickled.

It is also unknown why certain areas of the body are more ticklish than others, and it varies for different people. Many people find that their ribs are the most ticklish, while others find the soles of their feet to be the most ticklish. Other commonly ticklish areas include the armpits, toes, sides, neck, midriff, and other sensitive areas. In a recent survey, the most sensitive areas on the male body were found to be the foot and groin areas. Another odd phenomenon with tickling is that, when a person touches the previously mentioned bodyparts on their own bodies, most people measure no tickling sensation. This is because when someone else is tickling you, your brain doesn't know what the movement will be, but when you tickle yourself it is like sending an e-mail to yourself. You send a message from your brain to your fingers to move in a certain pattern against the ticklish area, but when the brain receives the message that that area has been touched, it realises that it is the same pattern that the brain just sent, so it doesn't tickle.


Image:M504P68820.jpg Tickling is a form of social interaction. One feature of tickling is that we do not laugh when we tickle ourselves, only when other people tickle us. This implies that the brain may have a different mechanism for responding to the two types of tickling.

Charles Darwin theorised on the link between tickling and social relations, arguing that tickling provokes laughter through the anticipation of pleasure. If a stranger tickles a child without any preliminaries, catching the child by surprise, the likely result will be not laughter but withdrawal and displeasure. Darwin also noticed that for tickling to be effective, you must not know the precise point of stimulation in advance, and reasoned that this is why you cannot effectively tickle yourself.

Tickling is defined by many child physiologists as an integral bonding activity between parents and children. In the parent-child concept, tickling establishes at an early age the pleasure associated with being touched by a parent with a trust-bond developed so that parents may touch a child, in an unpleasant way, should circumstances develop such as the need to treat a painful injury or prevent harm from danger. This tickling relationship continues throughout childhood and often into the early to mid teenage years.

Another tickling social relationship is that which forms between siblings of relatively the same age. Many case studies have indicated that siblings often use tickling as an alternative to outright violence when attempting to either punish or intimidate a sibling. The sibling tickling relationship can occasionally develop into an anti-social situation, whereas one sibling will tickle without mercy the other to such ends as helpless laughter.

According to some, tickling often serves as an outlet for sexual energy between individuals who cannot, for whatever reason, express that energy in other ways. This occurs frequently amongst young adults involved in a friendship. As with parents and siblings, tickling serves as a bonding mechanism between friends. This suggests that tickling works best when all the parties involved feel comfortable with the situation and one another.

In general society terms, the idiom tickled pink means to be pleased or delighted.


Tickling as a fetish is perhaps one of the most common human behaviors known, in that studies indicate nearly 85 percent of adults in some way or another enjoy tickling others, being tickled themselves, or watching others be tickled. The tickling can be done with or without restraint.

The use of tools in tickling is common in fetish tickling. Using tools can intensitfy the tickling sensation, inducing heavier laughter. The tools appropriate for tickling use varies by body part. For tickling the soles of feet, using something with sharp points to stroke the soles of the feet can produce intense sensations.

Forced laughter by tickling can also be found in the sexual fetish world of BDSM. Those who gain sexual pleasure from tickling and/or being tickled are known to have a tickling fetish. Those who seek tickling out, and who gain pleasurable excitement from tickling and/or being tickled are known to have a "Tickling Fixation". Tickle fetishes involving "erotic tickling" (frequent breaks, safewords, sensual movements), using fingers to tickle areas such as the ribs or feet, kneegling, using the tongue to lick the face, soles of the feet and toes or items such as feathers and brushes to produce tickling sensations as part of erotic foreplay. It can be a form of or simply mistaken for sexual harassment.


Researcher Sarah-Jayne Blakemore confirmed Darwin's propositions by investigating how the brain distinguishes between sensations we create for ourselves and sensations others create for us. Blakemore used robotic arms to tickle people and found them to be as effective as real people in provoking laughter. When her subjects used a joystick to control the tickling robot, however, they could not make themselves laugh. This suggests that when a person tries to tickle him- or herself, the cerebellum sends to the somatosensory cortex precise information on the position of the tickling target and therefore what sensation to expect. Apparently some cortical mechanism then decreases or inhibits the tickling sensation.

Washoe, a chimpanzee alleged to have learned to use American Sign Language, has been reported to frequently make the sign for "tickle me" to researchers, similar to children who enjoy being tickled.

Physical Reactions

When humans are subjected to tickling, they tend to display some similar reactions. The most reaction is demonstrated when an area of sensitivity on the human body such as the feet, underarms, or waists are stimulated. If an immobilized victim were to have her feet tickled, or example, then he or she would try to look away from the foot that is being tickled, to not focus on the sensation.

He or she would move his or her hands back and forth, to try to distract themselves from the tickling sensation. If the armpits were the spots on the body to be tickled, then he or she would flex his or her toes, and stretch his or her feet forward, in attempts again to distract themselves from the sensation of tickling on the designated spot.

Within ticklish areas, there are also more ticklish sub areas, such as the plantar areas of the feet.


In some science fiction literature, devices known as tickling boots are depicted as punishment-torture devices employed by some technological societies. Also in a comic book from the '60s "Magnus: Robot Fighter" there is one instance of a weather control tower producing "Tickle Rain". People hid under transparent plastic domes that had handles on the inside, so that the first people who managed to get under the domes could hold the domes down from the inside and then watch the "unfortunate" others being tickled to helpless hysterics by the rain drops.

H.P. Lovecraft, in his short novel The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, writes about nightgaunts — ebony-skinned, faceless, flying creatures that guard forbidden places from trespassers. When disturbed, they carry their victims away to unpleasant fates, tickling the poor captives into submission on the way. The more the captive struggles, the more he is tickled, though the nightgaunts make no noise in the performing of their mindless duties, nor do they inflict harm by any other means; the captive is typically dropped off in some death trap and left to fend for himself.

In the Veggie Tales: Esther kids video, instead of being executed by hanging - as described in the Biblical Book of Esther upon which the story is based - offenders were instead exiled to 'The Island of Perpetual Tickling'. Watering down the graphic details of a story in this way is known as Bowdlerization.

In the popular 1990s cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a minor villain named Don Turtelli, would frequently use tickling as a form of interrogation whenever he was featured in an episode. When capturing a hostage (ranging from April O'Neil to Vern Fenwick to Zack the "Fifth Turtle"), his normal procedure would be to tie the victim to a chair, bare feet propped forward, and tickle the soles of their feet with a feather until they told what he wanted to know.

Further reading

  • Blakemore S-J, DM Wolpert & CD Frith (1998). Central cancellation of self-produced tickle sensation. Nature Neuroscience 1, 635-640.
  • Carlsson K, P Petrovic, S Skar, KM Petersson & M Ingvar (2000). Neural processing in anticipation of a sensory stimulus. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 12, 691-703.
  • Berk, L.S., Tan, S.A., Fry, W.F., Napier, B.J., Lee, J.W., Hubbard, R.W., Lewis, J.E. and Eby, W.C. Neuroendocrine and stress hormone changes during mirthful laughter. Am. J. Med. Sci., 298:390-396, 1989.
  • Boiten, F. Autonomic response patterns during voluntary facial action. Psychophysiol., 33:123-131, 1996.
  • Ekman, P., Levenson, R.W. and Friesen, W.V. Autonomic nervous system activity distinguishes among emotions. Science, 221:1208-1210, 1983.
  • Fried, I., Wilson, C.L., MacDonald, K.A. and Behnke, E.J. Electric current stimulates laughter. Nature, 391:650, 1998.
  • Fry Jr., W.F. The physiologic effects of humor, mirth, and laughter. JAMA, 267:1857-1858, 1992.
  • Yoon, C.K. Don't make me laugh: scientists tackle tickling. J. NIH Research, 9:34-35, 1997.
  • Michael Moran, Erotic Tickling, Greenery Press, 2003. ISBN 1890159468.

See also

External links

es:Cosquillas fr:Chatouilles it:Solletico (fisiologia) nl:Kietelen ja:くすぐり fi:Kutittaminen