"tickle machine" at work on Alan.
a collar or putting on a necklace, you probably brush your
fingers against your neck every day without taking notice.
But the sensation of a friend's fingers will most likely make
you squirm and laugh. What's the difference? Why can't you
popular explanation holds that tickling is a social interaction,
so by definition, you can't do it alone. In "A Ticklist Question,"
Alan Alda visits with psychologist Christine
Harris, who uses her tickling "machine" to turn that conventional
wisdom on it's head. A blindfolded Alan has the sole of his
foot tickled by Harris' tickle machine, rating the sensation
a 7 out of 7 on the Tickler scale. The machine (actually a
well-hidden grad student) shows that people can be tickled
even by what they think is an inanimate object. Therefore,
Harris reasons, tickling has little to do with social interaction.
tickled often laugh even while trying to escape
is also investigating another popular notion - that tickling
makes us laugh because we think it's funny. As all stand-up
comics know, laughter begets laughter; that is, it takes a
few jokes to get an audience really going. Harris argues that
if tickling and humor are related, hearing funny jokes before
being tickled should enhance ticklishness. In her experiment,
Harris found that people "warmed-up" with a funny video were
no more ticklish that those who had watched a nature documentary.
What's more likely, she concludes, is that tickling creates
nervous rather than humorous laughter. Hence the reason why
even people (like Harris) who hate to be tickled will laugh
when someone strokes the bottom of their feet.