Tickling is about survival

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Tickle Tickle
If a baby giggles when getting tickled, it’s more likely to be feeling okay than if it doesn’t laugh.

Have you ever been tickled for so long, you nearly pee your pants? You’re laughing so hard, you can’t even breathe, and your body is just so sensitive! Why do we even tickle each other in the first place? According to Robert R. Provine, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland, it may appear like fun and games to you, but it has an evolutionary purpose for humankind!

For one, tickling allows a mother to bond better with her baby! “It’s one of the first forms of communication between babies and their caregivers,” Provine says. Say a mom tickles her baby. If the bundle of joy laughs, mommy knows her baby is in a good mood. If the newborn doesn’t crack a smile, the mother senses the fussy mood.

What’s interesting, though, is that it’s not just for moms and babies. Tickling helps all members of the family, and even friends bond together. Think about it, would you ever tickle a stranger on the bus, or a kid you didn’t know in school? Probably not.

Growing up, learning how to stop someone from tickling you is actually a perfect way to learn about protecting your body. You see, the areas where we are most sensitive – like our armpits, neck, and ribs – are some of the most vulnerable parts of our bodies. We would be in a lot of pain if they got damaged. When you’re having an innocent tickle fight with someone, you are actually learning how to protect those delicate areas!

Finally, tickling is believed to be the cause of laughter! “Tickling while horsing around may have also given rise to laughter itself,” said Provine. “The ‘ha ha’ of human laughter almost certainly evolved from the ‘pant pant’ of rough-and-tumble human play.”

I always thought a surprise tickle attack was just for fun. Who would have thought I was actually becoming closer to friends and family, and learning how to protect my body!

Featured image courtesy of Jen Pendergast on Flickr.