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The Funny Business of Tickling

Friday, February 13, 2009 - 09:35 AM

Some hard-working psychologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara found that although tickling generally elicits laughter, it’s not always funny or pleasant. Here’s an excerpt from a New York Times article about that study:

The basis for the newly published study is what is known as the warm-up effect, the scientific underpinnings for the phenomenon of the warm-up comedian. If a person finds something funny, researchers have previously shown, the next thing encountered will seem that much funnier because of an already giddy state.
So one group of students was tickled for 10 seconds, or until the tickling became intolerable, and then shown videotapes of stand-up comedy routines and clips from ''Saturday Night Live.'' A second group watched the comedy video first and then was tickled. A control group watched a patently unfunny nature video, then was tickled.
Researchers postulated that if humor and tickling are related, and the warm-up effect applies to both, then subjects should laugh more when tickling follows humor or humor follows tickling. But that was not the case. Tickling, the study suggests, does not create a pleasurable feeling -- just the outward appearance of one.

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Comments [10]

Bradley N. Bursha

I love getting tickled and I love tickling other girls and I loved it since I was little

Feb. 07 2011 04:48 PM
VanyaWhoever

I've known this since I was little. I HATE being tickled. Try to tickle me, and you'll get kicked in the face. It's happened.

Mar. 13 2010 01:36 PM
Chad Brenneman

Both of my children (ages 4 and 2) seem to like being tickled. Sometimes they ask to be tickled, in fact. Are my children defying the statistics, or is this something that most people grow out of? I like to be tickled and my wife does not, by the way.

Mar. 18 2009 04:37 PM
John Rezell

I uncovered another interesting effect of tickling through my youngest daughter. From her earliest stages on, she loved to climb into my lap for a tickle-fest. When she was 4 years old, she wanted to take gymnastics with her sister, two years older. The coach said she usually wouldn't take 4-year-olds, but gave her a tryout. The coach said she had never seen such strong stomach muscles on a 4-year-old. A few nights later, during a tickle-fest, I could feel those muscles and connected the dots.

Mar. 18 2009 11:22 AM
Mandy Heddle

So what does this say about the experiments where researchers went in and tickled mice?

Mar. 13 2009 06:39 PM
B

Seems that to me 'tickling' only exists in anticipation. The distinction between tickling and being poked and proded? I remember how in order to go through several physical examinations by doctors, I had to train myself not to bat their hands away. Laughter is quite often for humans the physical release that accompanies discomfort.

Mar. 10 2009 01:09 PM
Wedge

"Tickling, the study suggests, does not create a pleasurable feeling — just the outward appearance of one."

well, I could have told you that. (yes I know one data point does not equal the entire world but here's my data point.)

I am EXTREMELY ticklish. I was at the hospital in labor with my son, and the anesthesiologist who was prepping me for an epidural poked around my sides to find my hips (as this helps ihm locate the right vertebrae). I leapt 2 feet in the air, and was thereafter sensitized to touch; anytime he touched my back, I went into spasms of laughter. It was not pleasant, and not a good state to be in when someone is about to stick a HUGE NEEDLE in between your vertebrae!

Feb. 26 2009 05:02 PM
Bryan J Busch

I did my own survey of about 70 people once and found that 10% of people genuinely enjoyed being tickled and found it good, wholesome fun.

79% of the people felt nervous when being tickled. They may laugh as a result, but they don't like it.

If you try to tickle me, you'll probably get an elbow in the face.

Feb. 23 2009 09:37 AM
Nicole

I just don't want to believe this is true, no matter how much this confirms my husband's claims that he does not like it when I tickle him. I have a feeling tickling persists because it is pleasurable for the tickler, not the ticklee.

Feb. 21 2009 09:38 PM
jerry

Strange research in how they would switch cause and effect without controls.

"Tickling, the study suggests, does not create a pleasurable feeling — just the outward appearance of one."

Shouldn't that experiment be: Control group watches movie, Experimental group is tickled and then watches movie?"

"If a person finds something funny, researchers have previously shown, the next thing encountered will seem that much funnier because of an already giddy state."

Shouldn't that experiment be: Control group A watches documentary and then watches SNL. Experimental group B watches a comedy and then watches SNL. Experimental group C is tickled and then watches SNL.

(I will ignore obvious joke about SNL is more like tragedy than comedy.)

Feb. 13 2009 01:05 PM

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