Discovery Fit & Health
Actually, we can tickle ourselves any time we want. The trouble is, we won't laugh. (Go ahead -- give it a shot!) And believe it or not, researchers are looking into this issue. The theory is that if laughing when tickled is a purely physical response, then we should be able to tickle ourselves. The information going to the spinal cord and up to the brain should be the same as if someone else were tickling us.
Research shows that our brains are actually trained to know how to feel when we make any type of movement, and because of that, we don't really feel some of the sensations that we would expect to feel. The brain is also prepared for the movements we make: When you try to tickle your toes, your brain will anticipate and prepare for the feeling as your hand moves toward your foot. The cerebellum, or the part of the brain that controls movement, also seems to be the part that prevent us from tickling ourselves, as it distinguishes between expected and unexpected movements and actions [source: Blagrove]. Based on this brain research, scientists hypothesize that the tension and surprise of a tickle must be integral to the experience of being tickled, and equally integral to triggering laughter. How the tension and surprise manifest themselves -- physiologically -- to elicit the full response of laughter is not yet known.
If you really want to tickle yourself, there is one way: a tickling robot. British researchers actually designed a machine just for this purpose. You lie down with your eyes closed, then touch a joystick attached to the robot; the robot will respond with a tickle to your hand after a short delay. Most test subjects did feel a tickling sensation [source: Blagrove].
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