You know how seeing someone scratching makes you feel itchy, too? That’s perfectly normal, a new study says, especially for those who tend to be on the neurotic side.
Research published online in the Proceedings of the Na- tional Academy of Sciences offered evidence of the neurotic basis of contagious itch. In the study, conducted by psychologists in Britain, 51 adults watched videos of people either scratching their upper bodies or merely tapping those areas with their fingers.
Participants reported if they felt an urge to scratch, and, if so, how strong it was, when viewing each video. The vol- unteers were videotaped as they watched, so researchers could document how often they scratched themselves.
A majority (64 percent) scratched themselves at least once while watching images of others scratching. And while participants scratched during both sets of videos, most of the scratching (59.5 percent, or 132 scratches) took place while or just after people viewed a scratching video; 90 scratches occurred in association with the tapping videos. This indicates that itching may be more “socially contagious” than yawning (which 40 to 60 percent of people will do when they see someone else yawn) and laughing (47 percent), the study notes.
MRI brain scans revealed that seeing someone scratch triggers activity in the parts of the brain that are activated when someone has an itch.
People in the study whose personality profiles included a high degree of neuroticism were more likely than less neurotic participants to report feeling itchy watching others.