Why the Heck Are We Ticklish?

published on July 9, 2020

Hey smart people Joe here you've tired acoronavirus yet don't worry we're gonnatalk about something else this weekwe've covered a ton of different weirdbodily functions on this show butthere's one that is always really bugged

Me because it's just so confusingtickling it's one of the greatcontradictions of the universe likejumbo shrimp or saying that's your onlychoice I mean that doesn't make anysense because tickly makes us laugh but

We hate it I mean go ahead try it foryourself go try to tickle someone rightnow actually I'm shooting this duringKovan 19 physical distancing and allthat so maybe don't do that unless it'ssomeone in your house that you're

Hunkered down with or maybe this is allblown over by the time that you'rewatching this also ask them permissionfirst because that's rude and maybeassault but what do they do they askedyou to stop because the almost universal

Reaction to tickling is to say no stopit please stop it or I swear I will whatare you for tickling what is the pointof view why do you exist well we'regonna dig down into the soft tummy tumof science and we're gonna try to shake

Out some answers to why we're ticklishwhat is it really for and why istickling the unfunniest thing that stillmakes us laughso I know what you're wondering can youtickle yourself and the answer is of

Course it depends because there'sactually two different kinds of ticklingbut the one that we're all familiar withthe one that makes you laugh and freakout that's called gargle Isis now thisis the kind of tickling you can't do to

Yourself and that'll be important laternow almost everyone has been tickledbefore we do it to make kids and babieslaugh maybe you do it with someoneyou're feeling a little flirty with butit is a real head-scratcher

Or maybe armpit scratcher actuallythat's not a good image people have beenconfused by tickling for thousands ofyears I mean Aristotle attributed ourticklishness to the softness of our skinand the fact we're the only animals

Smart enough to find things funny evenmy boy Darwin wrote about tickling nowhe didn't exactly hit the nail on thehead he thought that you had to be in agood mood to be tickled which definitelyisn't true but he did give us the one

Important question that we have to askabout weird behaviors like this what'sthe evolutionary purposeI mean tickling wouldn't exist if itdidn't have some biological purposeeither in US or in one of our species

Ancestors and we're gonna try to figureout what that isclue number one this only some areas ofour body are ticklish I mean try totickle someone's shin you're not gonnaget much of a reaction but get him here

And it turns out other primates tickleeach other too during a kind ofrough-and-tumble play this may hold somehints to why it exists particular spotsare really vulnerable and I don't meanemotionally vulnerable I mean these are

The spots that a predator or an attackerwould try to get you if they wanted tokill you you've got major arteries hereand here you've got important forstaying alive stuff like organs herehere and here you curl up in a little

Ball you recoil it's a reflexgargle Lisa's probably evolved as a wayto protect ourselvesnow those ticklish spots don't reallyapply to the second kind of tickling MSthat's the feeling you get when you drag

Something really lightly across yourskin you can feel this almost anywhereon your body the reaction to be anythingfrom goosebumps to literally an isthmusthis isn't normally associated withlaughter and it's actually pretty easy

To guess where it might have come fromthis kind of tickle is like an alarmgoing off on your skin you know in casethere's like a dozen spiders crawling upyour neck or something that's somethingyou're gonna want to notice and it's

Definitely not funny that's why it leadsto all the twitching and shuddering andscratching to get those potentiallydangerous creepy crawlies off your skinthat gives you something to think aboutnext time somebody scratching your back

It's like a physical touch reflex andyou can do this kind of tickling toyourself but this kind of tickling isn'treally associated with laughter whilegargle Isis is but why why does ticklingmake us laugh I mean why doesn't it hurt

Or burn or tingle I mean why is tryingto protect your internal organs fromwould-be attackers funny well thatbrings us to clue number two that youcan't tickle yourself no matter how hardI try I can't tickle myself with gargle

Isis just doesn't work why well it's forthe same reason that you can't scare orstartle yourself you've got a part ofyour brain that's always predicting yournext move and that's why I can picksomething up without looking my brain is

Predicting my movements it's looking forfeedback making little adjustments thepoint is that my brain knows what I'mtrying to do and if I try to ticklemyself it just overrides the wholetickling program so for gargle eases the

Laughy tickles only other people cantickle us that tells us tickling issocial just like facial expressions ortalking it sends a social message butwhat is that message scientists havedone some pretty weird experiments to

Try to figure this out it turns out thatthe person tickling us doesn't have tolaugh for us to laugh when someone'swearing a mask and tickles a baby thebaby still laughs which is a prettyweird experiment maybe don't do that and

It turns out that adults will stilllaugh even if they think they're beingtickled by a machine which is also areally weird experiment now we've gottwo clues to help us thinktickling number one are ticklish spots

Are vulnerable places that we need toprotect and number two you can't tickleyourself so maybe the reason we laugh isto get other people to tickle us yeaheven though we hate it just hear me outnow imagine tickling made people cry

Well then you probably stop doing itimmediately laughter is like positivereinforcement it's a social message thatmakes the person tickling us happy andencourages them to keep doing it and whyshould they keep doing it because

Rough-and-tumble play in animals is animportant part of learning anddeveloping and growing up and in ourancestors it would have been importantfor survival it would have taught uslessons about fighting and hunting and

Protecting ourselves on the flip side iftickling was only about laughter andpleasure if it didn't give you thatrunaway feeling if you didn't recoil andtry to fight back then it wouldn't teachyou that all-important lesson about

Protecting yourself and it turns outthat other animals last when they'retickled too our primate cousins make asort of haha laugh like sound duringtheir own form of tickle play and itgoes back even farther on our family

Tree you can even tickle rats and getthem to laugh and people have done itfor science when they're tickled theymake these high-frequency enjoyments whywell I don't know the mind of a rat butthese are the same high frequency noises

They make when they play with other ratsor when they're given food it seems tosay I'm happy and maybe encourage otherrats to keep doing it so tickling isprobably an ancient social behavior fromway back in our evolution that helps

Animals learn how to protect themselvesbut importantly the laughter that goesalong with tickling doesn't haveanything to do with being funnyand this is why tickling can teach ussomething important about laughter

Itself we tend to think and laughter asalways being associated with funnythings but it's not it's it's not hahathere are people who study laughter andthey're called geologists and one thingwe know from their research is more than

Anything else we laugh for each otherpeople are more than 30 times morelikely to laugh when they're with otherpeoplethan if they're alone and we've learnedthat fewer than one in five laughs are

Actually in response to something funnyI mean seriously just watch two peoplehaving a normal happy conversationsometime you're gonna see a ton of likehaha you know stuff like that we laughbecause we're nervous

We laugh to just feel space in aconversation or to let the person thatwe're talking to know that we're stilllistening it's more like social noise orfiller I mean unless you're laughing atmy joke you know we know that's real

Right and you've ever been so sad or madthat you laughed it's kind of weird butsocial discomfort and emotional pain ourbrain treats those a lot like actualphysical pain and we think that laughterleads to the release of beta and orphans

Hormones that act like our body'snatural painkillers the point is thatlaughter is one of our most complexsocial behaviors we use it to send a tonof different messages most of which havenothing to do with something being funny

So maybe it's not surprising that it'slinked to tickling is complex to sohere's what we know tickling isbasically built into our bodies it'slike a reflex and the places that we'remost ticklish well those are the places

That were most vulnerable and eventhough we laugh tickling is not funnytickling is almost a weird form of playthat in our evolutionary ancestorstaught them to be safe and laughter isthe reward for our brains that makes us

Want to do it to each otherremember we're animals too and that'swhy tickling makes us feel so good deepdown it helps you reinforce social bondswith the people that we love wait I takeit back social picnic stay curious

Hey guys thank you so much for checkingout our latest video and I want to sayan especially big thank you to everyonewho supports the show on patreon theseare weird timesand we really could not do it without

Your support we're working on more kovat19 stuff to keep you informed and ourregular good old videos to keep yourbrain educated and excited if you'd liketo join our community there's a linkdown in the description

And we're so thankful to have yoursupport and if not we're just sothankful that you're here with us andthat you're staying safe we'll see younext time

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