Can just talking and reading about bedbugs make you feel itchy? That’s a question New York Magazine set out to find the answer to in a recent post on its “Science of Us” blog. The author asked Psychology Professor Robert Provine the question and this was his response:
Itching and scratching, like yawning, laughing, coughing, and vomiting, is contagious. Simply seeing someone scratching is enough to trigger your own bout of clawing, in a vain effort to rid yourself of pests, real or imagined. You don’t need to actually be bitten by a bedbug, louse, or flea — simply seeing their image, thinking about them, or reading about them — as you are doing now — may trigger a seesaw bout of itching (the stimulus), and scratching (the response).
This hair-trigger, contagiousness and hyper sensitivity to itchy stimuli makes sense. Your neighbor’s pest may jump ship and infect you. Better start scratching, just in case. Unfortunately, scratching causes more itching, locking you into an escalating cycle of itch and scratch.
Provine is author of Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccuping, and Beyond. To read the full blog post in New York Magazine, click here.