Why you can’t tickle yourself

It’s a well-known fact that it’s almost impossible to get a laugh by self-tickling. The scientific reason behind this is that the human brain anticipates unimportant sensations, such as your own touch, so when you try to tickle yourself, the cerebellum predicts the sensation and this prediction cancels the response of other brain areas to the tickle.


In an analogical manner, it’s sometimes hard, even impossible, to anticipate what impact our own words or actions will have on others until somebody lets us know retrospectively. In other words, we can’t directly sense the feeling other people get from our words or actions; we need to be told.

Some say that they use words because they just fit (a particular genre, for example). Those who say so should probably check out this blog. Particularly in written communication, every expression or even an exclamation mark has its purpose as it can dramatically change the meaning of the message if used inappropriately or carelessly.

silhouette-2480321_960_720But no matter how hard we try and how careful we are when communicating, words slip out of our mouths (or rather keyboards) and accidentally convey a negative message that is buried deep inside. And although it’s rarely our intention to deliberately hurt others, sometimes, the words we use and the way we use them reveal our deeply rooted biases and prejudices – those which do harm once they emerge from within.

Some tricks can be learned and applied to circumvent this; after all, a lot has been written on how to improve communication skills. However, if there are some truly negative thoughts and beliefs residing deep inside our mind, such tricks may prove quite ineffective. The people at the receiving end will see through the trickery since self-conceit and contempt can be detected from miles away no matter how well-disguised they are.

Apart from minding every single word we use, we need to do constantly and patiently scrutinize our beliefs from all possible angles and if we come across something rotten, we should at least be honest with ourselves (and others). Trying to hide or fake things doesn’t help.

The people at the receiving end may be immensely helpful in this respect and we should listen very carefully to what they have to say. If someone misinterprets our ideas, for example, and gets upset, it may not be their fault. It may be the wrong choice of a word or phrase on our part. So we should cherish the honesty of the reader since it may help us uncover the motives we were totally unaware of. In other words, it’s by ‘tickling’ us that the people at the receiving end help us experience some important aha moments and become sensitive to other people’s feelings. We can rarely make it on our own.



About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
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6 Responses to Why you can’t tickle yourself

  1. Marc says:

    As somebody quite insensitive, I was reminded of the importance it is, especially when communicating across cultures (even in the family) to think about the likely response you’ll get. But, sometimes hard words need to be said. It is a dilemma, isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      You know, Marc, I’m not sure. Saying hard words equals judging. Who gives me the right to judge? Who am I to have the right to cast aspersions?


    • Kamila says:

      In social interactions, I find it best to react naturally. I find the advice in the book The Four Ageements very useful to go by and also to analyse what is happening or what happened. With a bit of practise you find any situation or conflict falls into one of the patterns described. The book is extremely popular in the Czech Republic so I’m sure Hana knows it, too. Also I’m currently reading about Transactional Analysis, which is similar, but research-based. Games people play etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Marc says:

        Ooh, thanks so much. On my list!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hana Tichá says:

        Thanks for mentioning this book, Kamila. Although it’s probably what some would call pseudo-science, it’s been immensly helpful for me. I particularly loved this message: the desire to win an argument, for example, is just the need to steal some energy from that person. But that’s not what we should strive for no matter how right we think we are.These days, although I can’t say I can avoid conflicts, I’m more aware of the dynamic of argumentative situations.
        Anyway, Transactional Analysis’s been added to my must-read list. Thanks.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Marc says:

    Hard words *sometimes* are the kindest choice.

    Liked by 1 person

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