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Why are some people more ticklish than others?

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You've probably met people who could resist being tickled. What gave them this super power?“You’ve probably met people who could resist being tickled. What gave them this super power?Hero Images/Getty Images

Do you dread being tickled? Does it leave you yelling and squirming uncomfortably? There are a couple of reasons why you may loathe tickling when everyone around you sees it as lighthearted fun. First of all, some people are simply more ticklish than others. Secondly, being tickled isn’t fun for everyone.

Before moving on to why some people are more sensitive to tickling than others, let’s address the second claim about pleasure. While tickling can make you laugh and smile, scientists have found that these reactions are the body’s way of mimicking pleasure – not actually experiencing it [source: Yoon]. So, just because someone breaks out into hysterical giggles in response to tickling, it doesn’t necessarily mean he or she actually likes it.

Now, back to the subject at hand: people who are more ticklish than others. We know that certain people tend to have a higher tickle sensitivity. For instance, young people can be more ticklish than people over age 40 [source: Asp]. But, researchers don’t know why one individual might be more affected by tickling than another. There are some theories, though.

Some scientists believe some people simply have a heightened sense of touch, just as there are those who have other hypersensitive senses – super-tasters and super-smellers, for instance.

Other experts think that tickling is associated with bonding instincts that develop in early childhood. Because of this, it’s possible for a person to react positively to one person’s tickling and negatively to another’s. For instance, it may not bother you to be tickled by a romantic partner, but it would if a friend did the same thing.

If you’re super ticklish, at least you can be assured of one thing – you can’t tickle yourself. Scientists believe this is due to a phenomenon known as sensory attenuation, a survival instinct that allows people and animals to anticipate and cancel out the effects of their own movements so that they can better focus on their environment [source: Phys.org].

Keep reading to find out more interesting facts about the human body.

Lots More Information

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  • Why Can’t You Tickle Yourself?
  • How Laughter Works
  • 10 "Kid" Habits to Hold On To
  • Are humans wired to survive?
  • How many senses does a human being have?

Sources

  • Adams, Diana. "Science: Why Are We Ticklish & What Does it Mean?" Bit Rebels. 2011. (Sept. 24, 2014) http://www.bitrebels.com/lifestyle/science-why-are-we-ticklish-what-does-it-mean/
  • Asp, Karen. "Tickle Me Pink: 12 Fun Facts About Tickling." Everyday Health. July 19, 2011. (Sept. 24, 2014) http://www.everydayhealth.com/healthy-living-pictures/tickle-me-pink-12-fun-facts-about-tickling.aspx#13
  • Musaffi, Brittany. "Ticklish?" Science in Our World. Sept.15, 2011. (Sept. 24, 2014) http://www.personal.psu.edu/afr3/blogs/SIOW/2011/09/ticklish.html
  • Phys Org. "The science of tickling." Jan.19, 2006. (Sept. 24, 2014) http://phys.org/news10056.html
  • Wolchover, Natalie. "FYI: What Is The Evolutionary Purpose Of Tickling?" Popular Science. Aug.12, 2013. (Sept. 24, 2014) http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2010-12/fyi-what-evolutionary-purpose-tickling
  • Yoon, Carol. "Anatomy of a Tickle Is Serious Business at the Research Lab." The New York Times. June 3, 1997. (Sept. 24, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/1997/06/03/science/anatomy-of-a-tickle-is-serious-business-at-the-research-lab.html

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