Why can’t I tickle myself?

I admit it. I am SUPER ticklish. The slightest touch from both man and machine alike will have me squirming and giggling like a child. However, I am immune to the touch of one particular entity – myself. See, I’ve never been able to tickle myself. Trust me, I’ve tried (I had way too much free time as a kid.)

Tickling is often described as an uncontrollable reflex response that occurs when a sensitive area of the body is stimulated in a certain way. This response is thought to be related to the fact that tickling is often associated with social interaction, and is therefore more likely to occur when someone else is tickling us.

It is important to distinguish that there are two types of tickling:

  • Gargalesis, which is tickling that causes laughter when areas of the body are touched, and
  • Knismesis, which is tickling caused by light motion on the skin, which usually just feels like an itch.

The kind of tickling I’m talking about today is Gargalesis, which is what we usually think of when we think of tickling. Knismesis can actually be self-induced! To experience it, try to touch your skin suuuper lightly. (I also did this as a kid. I had WAYYY too much free time.)

When we try to tickle ourselves, we are essentially anticipating the sensation that we are about to feel. This anticipation of the sensation reduces the tickling response, making it less intense or completely absent. The brain is able to predict the sensation and to some extent, suppresses the ticklish feeling that we would normally experience when someone else tickles us.

Additionally, when we try to tickle ourselves, we are able to predict the timing and location of the tickling stimulus. This makes the sensation less unpredictable, and thus, less ticklish. On the other hand, when someone else tickles us, we are unable to predict the timing or location of the tickling, making it more unpredictable and therefore, more ticklish.

So, in summary, we can’t tickle ourselves as effectively because our brain is able to anticipate the tickling sensation and suppress the tickling response, making it less intense or completely absent.

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