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Why Do Some People Feel The Tickle While Others Don’t?

Tickling can be fun for some, annoying for some, or a deeply unpleasant experience for a few, depending on the individual’s tickle response.

The sensitivity of people varies. Some people feel ticklish sometimes while a few others do not feel the tickle at all anytime.

Why Do Some People Feel The Tickle?

Why Do Some People Feel The Tickle?

Tickling is known to be of two types with two different causes:(3)

  • Knismesis: It is a light skin irritation that feels as if a bug is walking on the skin. There is an urge to wash it away.
  • Gargalesis: It is an intense tickling that makes people laugh when someone touches a sensitive area of the body.

Tickling stimulates the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is in charge of emotional reactions and fight or flight and pain responses.(1) The person laughs during the tickle, not because of fun but because of autonomic emotional response. The body movement often mimics those in severe pain.

A 2013 study found, on tickling, the area related to involuntary response i.e. the hypothalamus got active. This generated laughter.(4)

Both pain and touch nerve reaction is triggered during tickling.(2)

People would not always enjoy being tickled, but it still causes laughter. It is the same way as people cry while cutting an onion without feeling sad, happy, or any other emotion.

Spots On The Body That Tickle More

There are certain spots in the body that are more ticklish. They are:

  • Stomach
  • Armpits
  • Feet
  • Sides
  • Neck
  • Sole

These areas are more ticklish as they are the most vulnerable on the body.

Why Can Not A Person Tickle Himself?

People feel more ticklish when they are caught by surprise. Nobody can tickle themselves.

The tickle response also partly depends on a person’s mood. People feel less ticklish when they are sad or angry.

A study done on rats found that anxiety made them respond less to the tickle.(5)

The tickle response in humans also depends on who is tickling them. If the tickle is from a trusted friend it would elicit a stronger tickle response than from a complete stranger.

At What Age Do Babies Feel The Tickle?

Laughter in babies does not start until they are of 4 months age. They are seen responding to tickle at around 6 months of age.

It is felt that babies feel being tickled but do not understand where it is coming from.

Parents are seen playing tickling games with their children. This encourages emotional and physical bonding. Just like adults, the baby might laugh at being tickled but may not enjoy it.

It is therefore important to wait until the child is older and can move away when he has had enough. It is fine to just gently stroke a baby’s feet or gently rub their tummy until then.

Tickling And Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR)

Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a physical sensation that happens due to physical, visual, and audible stimuli. It can be triggered by a device or a person.

The sensation can be tingling, tickling, or chills. They are associated with peace, calm, euphoria, and well-being.

According to a study common trigger that is used to achieve ASMR are:(6)

  • Whispering
  • Personal attention
  • Crisp sound
  • Slow movements

ASMR improves depression and chronic pain symptoms temporarily.

How Can You Make Tickling Enjoyable?

Some people enjoy the moment of tickling while for a few it is no laughing matter.

Tickling can be made enjoyable in the following ways:

  • Tickle the less sensitive areas such as the palm, back of the head, and top of the feet.
  • Do the tickling slowly and gently
  • Use a feather to tickle instead of hands
  • Do not be rough or aggressive while tickling

No matter whether someone is enjoying it or not, tickling should be done within boundaries. Do not forcefully do the tickle even if a person enjoying especially a child. Stop tickle when you see the first sign of discomfort.

Also Read:

Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 20, 2021

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