It has been said many times, and in many ways, that laughter is the best medicine. The best part? It’s usually quite easy to prescribe. From a quick turn of phrase in a punchline to a silly face at the opportune moment, laughter is just around the bend.
However, there is that one particular avenue that leads to giggling that has us divided: tickling. Many a family “wrestling match” has devolved into an all-out tickle war. Maybe, at times like these, your home resounds with the roars of child’s laughter followed closely by pleas to stop the torture, only to dive right back into the fray for more of the same. What is it that makes tickling so fun and so feared at the same time?
While we are bonding through the activity of tickling, be it parent-to-child, or that playful poke you sneak by your adult loved ones, something in us cringes. It seems our brain is receiving mixed signals: tickling activates both pleasure and fear. If we see or hear something funny, our pleasure center is gratified and we let out a laugh. When tickled, there is an added reaction that signals the anticipation of pain. It makes sense if you think of the areas usually targeted for tickling as vulnerable spots. Laughter then becomes a signal of submissiveness in hopes of relaying the message, “You win. Please stop, now.”
Sounds reasonable, especially, considering that similar activity only makes your pet cat purr and your dog roll over for more. So, can animals be tickled? Take a look at our little friend Cookie the penguin and decide for yourself!