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The sound of a baby laughing is addictive and for many babies, and their parents too, being tickled is the funniest thing in the world - but do they really enjoy it?
When we are tickled, it is not 'real' laughter. Research has shown that when we are tickled, it is not the same as proper laughter brought on when something is funny. Unlike real laughter, tickling does not prime us for more laughter like a series of jokes might. Comics have a warm-up act to get us laughing; once we've started laughing, we're more inclined inclined to laugh at the main act that follows. But tickling does not have this effect and does not set us up for more laughter. Instead, it is just the outward appearance of pleasure without the actual pleasurable feeling.
A few studies have shown that babies are actually uncomfortable with tickling both behaviourally and psychologically. They fuss and show increased heart rate. Some researchers have said that there is no positive data on tickling and that parents should not tickle at all! However, babies are good at communicating dislike and surely if they were not enjoying the tickling, they would let us know with a cry or a scream? Some say that tickling is an important part of bonding between parent and child. It's the beginning of forming social relationships. Their laughter encourages us to continue tickling, so we should.
So perhaps we should tickle a bit, bond a bit, laugh a bit and remember that it might be more fun for us than them, so keep it to an acceptable level!
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