Have you ever tip-toed through the tulips? If so, the tulips probably tickled your toe tips! If you've ever had someone run a feather or fingertip across the bottom of your foot, you know how incredibly ticklish your feet can be. But why is that? Along with your underarms, your feet are two of the most ticklish spots on your body. Scientists who have studied tickling will tell you that the areas of your body that are the most ticklish are usually also the most sensitive. These sensitive areas of your body act as a defense mechanism to help protect you from injury. For example, your foot is very sensitive. This is because of the many nerves found in your foot. How many nerves?
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Knismesis vs. Gargalesis
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Darwin wasn't totally off-base in his hypothesis, but the part about tickling being related to humor missed the mark. He also posited that we're ticklish in places where we aren't usually touched by others. People may be ticklish in spots that commonly produces a tickle reflex to varying degrees -- or not at all. Others may be ticklish in places where most other people aren't. The soles of the feet and the underarms are two of the most common ticklish places on the body. But the feet's ticklishness fits nicely with Darwin's theory, since the soles of the feet are accustomed to diffuse pressure from the rest of the body when we're standing or walking [source: Mintz ].
Neighbourly Advice According to Ed. Ed, my old neighbour, in Saskatchewan loves to tickle his grandchildren. His grandchildren keep a cautious eye on him in case he might grab them and tickle them. Some of his grandkids are incredibly ticklish, and Ed has never understood, until now, how being tickled may not be what others want to experience.
Lightly trailing a feather or a finger over the instep of someone's foot usually causes several predictable reactions: The person laughs, giggles or becomes irritated, instinctively draws his foot out of reach and does his utmost to avoid being tickled a second time. Michael Nirenberg of the America's Podiatrist website says having ticklish feet is a good thing for a variety of reasons. Researchers who have conducted experiments on ticklishness still don't have all the answers as to why humans and other animals, such as cats, rats and monkeys, are ticklish or what exactly goes on between nerve endings and the brain during tickling. Because nerves on the foot's sole have both touch and pain receptors that carry information about either sensation along neural pathways to the brain, it's difficult to separate the two when talking about ticklishness, says the American Scientist website. The pain and pleasure of having your feet tickled is linked to these pain and touch nerve tracts. Add to that the anticipation of the tickle, and the whole business invokes a "tonic top-down regulation of neural activity," as reported in MIT's "Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience"—which means the brain is primed and ready to react before the feather touches skin. It also explains why a person can't tickle himself: The surprise factor is absent because the tickler is in control of tickling of his own body part and knows it. The term knismesis refers to a feather-light touch on the skin's surface that provokes irritation rather than pleasure or laughter. Gargalesis, on the other hand, describes the more enjoyable experience of tickling a foot or other body part in a playful, non-threatening manner that results in genuine laughter, according to a article in the "Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.