Why we Laugh when Tickled

In order to generate laughter tickling needs two essential elements: a body part to be tickled and somebody tickling the body part.

We cannot tickle ourselves and laugh. This occurs because our own skin appears to be insensitive to our touch and because a vital element is missing: the element of surprise.

Surprise plays a major role in tickling because we do not know where the tickler is going to strike and this unexpectedness produces laughter just as other ordinary series of unexpected events. An example may be the laughter produced by somebody walking down the street and suddenly slipping on a banana peel.

This element of surprise is greatly utilized in comedy movies for the same above reasons.

However, we must consider that the element of surprise needs to be accompanied also by a sense of acknowledgment. For instance, you are reading a book and suddenly something tickles your bare foot. In this case you will not laugh, rather your first reaction may be of fear as your mind comes to the ugly conclusion that a spider may have been the source.

Tickling therefore, can cause a negative response if we cannot recognize its source.

Try tickling with a feather somebody that is asleep. Most likely the person will awaken startled and confused.

Tickling has also been used in the past as a torture, the famous Chinese tickle torture took place by restraining the victim and providing hours of tickling torture.

Most people are not able to tolerate being tickled after a while, rather than laughing they will start feeling uncomfortable and may fight back. People must stop tickling after the laughing stage has passed. Prolonged tickling is recognized as abusive tickling. No kidding.

In more pleasurable instances,tickling starts at an early age as parents bond with their child. Babies are often tickled and they seem to react pretty quickly to the stimulus.

Tickling a baby produces the baby’s first smiles and giggles. Tickling is perceived by the baby as a pleasurable event.

Many times touch is not needed, many sensitive people may start laughing even prior a body part is tickled, this factor provides a lot of insight about the tickling mechanism.
In this case their mind must be overreacting to the stimuli and therefore this causes bouts of laughter because the tickling expectancy is in their opinion, very near. This mechanism may be close to the mouth watering effect of seeing a baked pie or in more scientific terms “the Pavlov effect”.

Tickling also requires healthy nerves, when assessing nerve damage doctors may tickle the victim’s foot soles to generate a response. When no response is generated the prognosis is poor since it indicates nerve damage.

Animals react to tickle as well, however rather than generating laughter or pleasure they seem to become irritated, for instance, many cats may not let you pet their abdominal areas and it is assumed that this is due to the area being ticklish. Horses may not tolerate being brushed in some areas and may tend to kick.

Perhaps this is because animals have not gone through the same social aspects of tickling as humans. However, if watched carefully, animals may display similar reactions when they are playing together biting each other, they may squeak and react similarly to humans being tickled. It is unknown though if they are reacting to being tickled or if they are reacting to the element of surprise of where they will be bit next.

Back to humans and human reactions, tickling and being tickled for fun may generate many laughs and a really good time; the important thing is not over doing it as with almost everything in life “a little bit is acceptable but too much will break the bag”….