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October 16, 2008

Ticklishness has deep roots in human evolution.


The deeper meaning of tickling…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Dieter, a listener from Fort Collins, Colorado, emailed us to ask why human beings are ticklish. Well, Dieter, some of the greatest minds of all time have pondered that question, including Plato, Galileo and Darwin. Yet today it is still a mystery. It may have started with hypervigilance to things crawling on us, and attacks to vulnerable parts of our bodies. But neuroscientist Robert Provine of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, points out that there’s much more to it.

ROBERT PROVINE (UMBC): The most important thing to know about it is that you have to be tickled by another person…So tickle is an important step in the evolution of the sense of self, because it takes something else, what I call an ‘other,’ to tickle you.

HIRSHON: He says tickling could be intimately tied to how humans form social relationships. But clearly much more research is needed. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.