Posted by & filed under Neuroscience, Social Influence, Social Psychology, Social Psychology.

Description: You probably don’t remember if this has ever happened to you but, what do you think you would do if, when you’re sitting in a lecture, one or two of the people sitting in front of you reaches up to their neck or their ear with her head and scratches? Think about your answer to this question and then watch the short video linked near the top of the article linked below and pay attention to what you do while watching it.

Source: When an Itch Goes Viral: Watching someone else scratch often lead you to do the same, Gary Stix, Scientific American.

Date: May 1, 2016


Links: Article Link —

The use of the word viral to describe what you observed in the video embedded in the article linked above and to describe what you may have done yourself while watching it is actually quite appropriate. We could, perhaps, also refer to some form of behavioural empathy as a possible explanation for why other people scratch when they see someone near them taking on an itch directly.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What sorts of forces do you think might be involved in driving this unconscious social behaviour? Is it just something that we do, or is there some potential, perhaps evolutionary, value in it?
  2. Can you think of some ways in which we might experimentally test the hypotheses you generated in response to the first question above?
  3. Does it make sense to suggest that while many itches are actually caused by some condition of the skin or other subcutaneous layers of the active scratching an itch may have psychological components as well? If so, what might these be?

References (Read Further):

Sutherland, Stephani (2016) The Maddening Sensation of Itch, Scientific American. May2016, Vol. 314 Issue 5, p38-43.

Schut, C., Grossman, S., Gieler, U., Kupfer, J., & Yosipovitch, G. (2015). Contagious itch: what we know and what we would like to know. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 9.