Feb. 12 - 'Contagious' itching is a sign of neuroticism, according to a study by psychologists in Britain. The researchers say some people are more prone than others to feeling an itch when seeing someone else scratching themselves. Jim Drury went to find out more.
In many people, the sight of someone scatching brings out a primal urge to reciprocate. Until now, psychologists have believed that the desire to join in comes from an innate sense of empathy.. But Professor Jamie Ward says his research proves otherwise. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY AT UNIVERSITY OF SUSSEX, JAMIE WARD, SAYING: "We've found that that wasn't the case, actually, that those people who were more empathic were perhaps less likely to do this and it suggests that they have a mechanism for switching off the sharing of feelings when those feelings might be quite negative or hurtful and what we find is that people who are more neurotic, which is defined as a tendency to experience more negative emotions were more likely to have contagious itching." The University of Sussex Professor co-led a study into the so-called 'itch matrix' and says his team found three regions of the brain linked to subjective itching. After filling in a questionnaire volunteers were filmed watching videos of others scratching. The results surprised Ward. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY AT UNIVERSITY OF SUSSEX, JAMIE WARD, SAYING: "You might imagine that when you see scratching that you would just activate the parts of the brain involved in producing the motor actions, that the thing that's contagious is the actual act of itching. What our research shows is that it isn't just the action of scratching that's contagious, it's the actual feeling of scratching or the feeling of itchiness so we activate parts of the brain that are involved in representing the body and also involved in the emotional parts of the brain." The team think the findings could help treat people suffering from chronic itching where there's no underlying dermatological cause. Ward says more research is needed but believes that one day psychological solutions could be applied to problems that are no more than skin deep.