Scientists suggest that being ticklish is our defense against creepy crawlies like spiders and bugs, a physiological response alerting us to a specific type of threat. That is why vulnerable parts of our bodies-- feet, chest, and armpits, are among the most ticklish.
While there is no question that being ticklish is neurological, scientists contend that it is also learned. One theory sees ticklishness as a personality-based response to perceived attack. Antsy folks may laugh uncontrollably at the lightest touch, or even without being touched at all, while folks made of sterner stuff won't budge during more aggressive tickle attacks.
If you close your eyes and try to remain calm while you are tickled, you can decrease panic, reduce giggles, and dull sensation. And, no matter how hard you try, it is nearly impossible to tickle yourself.
Tickling satisfies our human need to touch. Robert R. Provine, a professor of neuroscience and author of Quest for Laughter, sees the tickle as a form of communication between friends, family, and lovers, playing a key role in the evolution of social and sexual behavior. He points to chimps tickling each other during play, parents tickling little kids, and lovers tickling each other affectionately.
"If you think the social component is not important," Provine says, "Try tickling a stranger."
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