Most people cannot tickle themselves. However, some individuals with schizophrenia may be able to do so, possibly because they are less aware of the consequences of their movements.

Schizophrenia is a condition that can affect a person’s thinking, speech, movement, and perception of the world. Research has been ongoing on the ability to tickle oneself. Much of the research has found that this may be an aspect of schizophrenia.

Researchers believe this may have links to neurological processes that enable most people to predict the result of their own movements. However, in those with schizophrenia, this process acts differently.

This article further explores the ability to tickle oneself and how it connects to schizophrenia.

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In a 2016 study, researchers examined 27 students with high levels of schizophrenia-type traits, known as schizotypy, and another 27 with low levels of these traits.

Schizotypal traits affect those with schizophrenia, but they also occur to varying degrees across the general population. Schizotypy is a medical term for a collection of traits that include disorganized or disturbed thinking and difficulty with interpersonal relationships.

In the study, all the participants experienced tickling when due to an outside source, but only some could tickle themselves.

The results showed that those who could tickle themselves were more likely to have previously experienced unusual perceptions, such as supernatural experiences. They were also particularly likely to have felt as if they were under the power of an outside force.

In 2017, another team carried out a similar investigation. They asked 111 students without a diagnosis of schizophrenia to complete a questionnaire that would indicate levels of schizophrenia-type traits.

Next, a machine tickled the students on the palm of their hands. Some participants operated the machine themselves, so they expected to be tickled. For others, the operation was automatic, so they did not expect the tickling.

Participants whose questionnaire scores reflected stronger schizotypal traits were more likely to find the sensation intense, tickly, or pleasant when they operated the device themselves. In contrast, people with lower scores did not experience the same levels of stimulation.

Read about the difference between schizotypal personality disorder and schizophrenia.

When people decide to move, the brain sends signals to the part of the body giving instructions to move, called an efference. Scientists believe that, in most people, the brain also receives a copy of this signal. This is an efference copy.

The efference copy informs the person’s brain that the movement will happen. So if, for instance, someone is going to tickle or pinch themselves, their brain has already received this information, and the tickling or pinching sensation is reduced or annulled. This process is called corollary discharge.

One theory is that, in those with schizophrenia, the corollary discharge process does not work properly. The brain does not produce or send a copy of motion commands in the usual way. As a result, the tickling is less expected, and the person feels it as a tickle.

Is there a link with other schizophrenia symptoms?

Some scientists have suggested that changes in the corollary discharge process may explain other aspects of schizophrenia. For instance, this process may also help people understand the concepts of self and non-self.

Confusion between these concepts may explain why many individuals with schizophrenia feel that some outside force is controlling them.

It could also explain why people with schizophrenia have auditory hallucinations, or “hearing voices.” The person may, in fact, be hearing their thoughts.

A similar example is dreams, which people often see as if they are happening externally but are actually in their minds.

Schizophrenia is a complex disorder with a range of possible symptoms. The symptoms of schizophrenia can vary between individuals and over time.

These symptoms include:

  • Psychotic symptoms: These affect the way a person thinks, behaves, and experiences life. They can include:
  • Negative symptoms: These refer to:
    • a loss of motivation
    • low energy
    • difficulty showing emotion
    • withdrawal from social life
    • difficulty carrying out daily tasks
  • Cognitive symptoms: A person may have difficulty focusing, remembering things, and working out solutions to problems. These can affect day-to-day activities, speech, the ability to work, and other areas of life.

Read about the stages of schizophrenia.

Treatment will depend on the individual and how schizophrenia affects them. A person may need to try several options and discuss with a healthcare or mental health professional what works for them as time goes on.

Treatment options include:

  • antipsychotic drugs to help manage psychosis
  • psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and behavioral skills training
  • support and education for the individual and their loved ones to develop coping and helping strategies
  • coordinated special care, where a team works with the individual on a plan that may involve medication, psychotherapy, help with education, employment, accommodation, and other areas

Some people may also need help to manage substance use or alcohol use.

Read more about treatments for schizophrenia.

Below are answers to common questions about schizophrenia.

What is it like to live with schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a complex disorder that can affect many aspects of everyday life. How a person experiences the condition will depend on factors such as the severity of symptoms, how they respond to treatment, and the support they receive.

Learn tips for living with schizophrenia.

What triggers schizophrenia?

A person may develop schizophrenia because they have certain genetic factors or their brain has specific structural features.

However, other triggers may also contribute to the onset of schizophrenia. These triggers can include living in poverty or a stressful or threatening environment, exposure to some viruses, and nutritional problems before birth. Childhood trauma may also play a role.

Read about the risk factors for schizophrenia.

Mental health resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and resources on mental health and well-being.

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People with schizophrenia are more likely to feel a tickling sensation when they tickle themselves than those without schizophrenia.

Experts believe this may be due to changes in a neurological process known as corollary discharge, by which most people predict the feeling of tickling before it happens.

A greater understanding of how this process works and its effects may help researchers learn more about why people experience schizophrenia and how to address it.