The Real Reason Getting Tickled Makes You Laugh

Have you ever wondered why you emit an involuntary squeal when someone tickles you? The question is even stranger when you consider that being tickled isn't always a pleasant experience. Sometimes it's downright painful, but you laugh anyway. What's the deal?

Let's first explore how tickling works. Underneath your skin, there are millions of nerve endings that send signals to your brain when you touch something. According to How It Works, when these nerve endings are touched very lightly they stimulate two regions of the brain: the somatosensory cortex (which processes touch) and the anterior cingulated cortex (which processes happiness or pleasant feelings).

Depending on which region is stimulated, tickling can be processed as a light sensation that may cause goosebumps or itchiness, or an intense sensation that may cause laughter and pain. This also helps to explain why we can't tickle ourselves. If our brain knows what is coming, it will process the tickle as the lighter sensation and we will only feel a mild effect.

If being tickled isn't fun, why do we laugh?

Scientists believe that laughter from being tickled is a fight-or-flight response. According to Mental Floss, laughing may be a way to show submissiveness to a potential attacker. This theory also explains why some people start to giggle as soon as they think someone is about to tickle them. It makes sense, then, that some of the most ticklish parts of the body tend to be the most vulnerable, like the neck, ribs, and underarms.

The fight-or-flight response adds more explanation to why we can't tickle ourselves. Our brain wouldn't see us as a threat to ourselves, so there would be no need to show submission. You would have to really catch yourself by surprise to make yourself laugh.

So the next time you're tickling someone and you don't believe them when they ask you to stop because they're laughing, remember that those giggles are involuntary. They probably aren't enjoying it as much as you think they are!