Why are people ticklish

Derived from ‘ticken,’ meaning a slight touch, tickles instigate involuntary twitching and induce laughter as a response. In more technical jargon, tickling could be either ‘knismesis’ or ‘gargalesis,’ as proposed by psychologists in the fag end of the nineteenth century.

The former is the term used for a slight and subtle physical touch across the surface of the skin. This does not result into laughter, whereas the latter does. Gargalesis leads to involuntary laughter caused by the repeated touching of certain points on the body. These ‘ticklish’ areas produce almost instant laughter upon being simulated. Though the odd tickle is trifling, repeated tickling can put an individual off. Though some rightly compare the feeling of being tickled to the one induced when an insect crawls on the skin, but the response produced by the human brain is rather dissimilar. Whereas the mere idea of having some bug meander over the body is repelling, tickling has the undercurrents of affection, and hence the milder response of laughter. The ticklish spots may vary from individual to individual. Some can’t control their laughter upon being touched on the underside of their feet; others are particularly sensitive near their knees. Still others startle into laughter if somebody grabs them from the sides of the chest. However, it is important to understand that there is nothing physical or biological about the ticklish attitude of these body spots. A simple observation exhibits this. Try tickling yourself, and you realize that there is no tickling! This is because the brain knows when an individual is about to tickle himself, or more precisely speaking, about to touch himself on the allegedly ticklish spot. This suggests that the roots of the whole sensation of twitching and tickling lie somewhere deep inside the spontaneous responses produced by the human brain to sudden and slight touches.

Apart from this, it is pertinent to mention that being called ‘ticklish’ might not always have connotations of being prone to laughing upon the slightest of touches, but could imply that the individual being referred to is easily distressed by verbal remarks.