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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 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 sensory wisdom might have been asserted by philosophers of your own country or region too.
Just cover and avoid undesirable consequences!
These 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 organs play very crucial role not just in sensing and communicating with others but also in bridging a vital gap between brain and 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 in animal that could trigger in its brain after watching unsettling, unwanted, unpleasant or threatening activities happening around itself.

Unlike conscious suppression, a similar kind of self-soothing is also done by our brain. At some extent, it can be also observed in animals too. 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.

Blocking eyes in Fear
Unconscious facial touching or covering to avoid signals (getting inside or outside) can be observed in human at large extent. In early childhood, facial touching is more prominent and can be observed very 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.

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.

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 or impulsive feeling caused by conscious restrain of an impulse in social world.

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

I too have observed that we scratch or rub 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 a beautiful 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 an underling and suppressed impulse.

Important 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.

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  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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