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March 16, 2013

Subtle clues given by Itching skin

Perhaps, you might know that Mahatma Gandhi (Father of Indian nation) asserted a maxim - "Hear No Evil. See No Evil. Speak No Evil." with the help of a statue/sculpture of three monkeys covering or closing their ears, eyes and mouth with their palms. I think that similar kinds of maxims, idioms or paraphrases related to this kind of sensory wisdom might have been coined, invented or asserted by philosophers of your own country or region too.

The maxim "Hear No Evil. See No Evil. Speak No Evil." has its origin in 17th-century carving of three Japanese macaques or snow monkeys (a common local species) over a door of the famous Tōshō-gū shrine in Nikkō, Japan. However, it was Mahatma Gandhi's genius idea to use a statue/sculpture of three Indian monkeys to spread this maxim in India population. These monkeys are popular as Gandhi's Three Monkeys in India.

Just cover and avoid undesirable consequences!

These three monkeys are consciously trying to avoid unpleasant input or signals reaching to their respective sensory organs. However, in case of covering mouth, it's about suppressing unpleasant words getting out of it that might hurt others and lead to conflict. Three sensory organs play very critical role not just in sensing and communicating with others but also in bridging a vital gap between the brain hungry for inputs and the outside world.
Rat rubbing its lips

That's why zoo keepers, animal handlers or biologists cover the eyes of captured animals while transporting them, drugging or tagging. By doing this, they try to suppress hostility or aggressive behavior animal that could trigger in its brain after watching unsettling, unwanted, unpleasant, terrorizing or threatening activities happening around itself.

Unlike conscious suppression, a similar kind of self-soothing is also done by our own brain. At some extent, it can be also observed in other creatures too and especially in mammals. We can see a rat rubbing or touching its lips in the face of a danger. However, we human do it more often and widely than other animals.

Unconscious facial touching or covering to avoid signals (getting inside or outside) can be observed in humans at large extent. In early childhood, facial touching is more prominent and can be observed easily and frequently. As we get older and find obvious facial and body touching as an immature (childlike) act, we try to refrain or avoid it in public.

Blocking eyes in Fear
However, our brain starts sending signals to respective body part(s) and we experience tingling or itching sensation right beneath the surface of skin of that particular body part(s). It's an entirely unconscious or involuntary and rapidly happening process which ends with rubbing, using our own body parts like hand or external objects.

More we try to suppress the impulse of letting out, acting upon, expressing or reacting in the ways that are not socially suitable or acceptable, more our brain adds the sensation of tingling or itching to skin of the respective body part. However, it just only just the skin of our face but other body parts too tingle or itch.

If you simultaneously pay attention to your impulses and sensation of tingling or itching of skin of any body part, you would probably be able to decode what exactly you are trying to suppress consciously at the very moment you want to scratch or rub neck, scalp, forehead, lips, chin, eyes, eyebrows, ears, nose, nostrils, upper back, front side of neck, back side of neck, legs, forearms, palms, genital area etc.

Only reason behind the tingling or itching sensation is purpose of our brain to force an individual to scratch or rub the body part to act like a 'wise monkey'. Brain itself tries to sooth the distress feeling caused by conscious restrain or suppression of an impulse, especially in the presence of people.

Through self-rubbing or scratching, our brain soothes itself quickly by making the person to act for it. It's an impulse soothing mechanism evolved by itself. Rapid, relentless and continuous rubbing or scratching of skin of body parts in repetition releases the stress relieving hormones in the blood.

I too have observed that we scratch or rub the body part even if we expect or like corresponding sensory input or desire (to act). For example, a waiter can be observed rubbing his palms rapidly in expectation of a good tip from customer or a young woman can be observed rubbing a small patch of skin exactly below her right eye after watching an attractive man.

As we know that left hemisphere controls the right side of body and right hemisphere controls the left side of body, the side of our body we scratch or rub is directly related to the positive or negative polarity of the underling, unacceptable and suppressed impulse. It secretly reveals so much that many people simply don't take into account. It makes a huge difference in reading body language instantaneously.

Self-soothing is also called as pacifying and self-soothing touches are called as pacifiers. Self-soothing or pacifying is considered as the very primitive act of complex the human brain to pacify underlying mental impulses in the real-time.

[Special Note: I've done a pilot study about this on my own. If somebody is really interested in decoding the 'wise monkey' act of brain, an elaborate research can be conducted for sure. With the help of fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scanning, we could monitor neural activities in different brain parts that leads to the self-rubbing and scratching.]

Related Articles:
1) Body Language Brain 2) Importance of Touch 3) It’s Written All Over You...


  1. Hi there,

    It's a very unique and interesting post about self touch.
    I myself studied it and wrote about it in my site. I always wondered about the reasons behind why do we have that need to touch ourselves in times of tension.
    Overall it seems like a self defeating behavior - we reveal our deceit and discomfort when we do so.

    Perhaps more research needs to be done to get a better picture. Anyway, a very nice post, keep it up!


    1. Hi Sinay,

      It's not about only tension but an impulse. However, it's not tightly associated with deception too.

      I think that sub-cortical or more ancient structures in brain might be involved in this.



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