Tickle your fancy

By • Published: May 26th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Piano players tickle the ivories and a new romance can tickle your fancy, but don’t expect to be too tickled by your own touch.

A truly tantalizing tickle takes the touch of another.

Therein lies the rub for people who might like to trigger a giggle in themselves to ease the stress of the work day… it’s impossible to effectively tickle yourself.

When it is done properly, the tickle-er uses pressure, speed, location and duration in amounts the tickle-ee cannot possibly predict.

That unpredictability and excruciating anticipation are an essential part of the experience.

Just ask scientists at the Center for Neurosciences at Queen’s University in Canada.

They had volunteers place their fingers on a keyboard and tap keys, which in turn tapped back at a different finger.

Sometimes, the machine paused between taps.

Volunteers usually rated those taps as harder, although they weren’t any different. Researchers think the delay surprised the volunteers, influencing their judgment of the taps.

In other tests, researchers used remote control to make the machine tap in a predictable way.

Volunteers gave these taps no special attention, probably because they were expecting them.

But whether it’s a tap or a tickle, people appear to anticipate and prepare for touch.

Scientists say it’s likely the mental rehearsal takes the edge off what otherwise might have been a terrific tickle. Or tap.

Additional insight into the nature of tickling will require more research… perhaps next time with an expertly wielded feather and some bare feet.