The itch is special

The New Yorker has an excellent article on the neurology of the itch, that curious cutaneous sensation that seems to be handled quite differently from other bodily sensations by the brain.

I warn you, the article is quite icky in places, with a particularly stomach churning case study in one place, but I was quite fascinated to find out that the sensation of the itch seems to rely on itch dedicated nerve cells, distinct from the nerves that transmit pain.

It prompted me to look up some of the literature on the cognitive neuroscience of itch and it turns out there’s quite a healthy number of research studies that are suggesting there may be distinct brain networks for processing itch sensations.

One of the most interesting things is that itch seems to be one of the sensations most sensitive to psychological state. For example, I guarantee you’ll feel more itchy just reading the article (and probably already reading this).

The New Yorker does a great job of relating this work to wider cognitive science discoveries in perception and the neurology of body image, even touching on the fact that people with phantom limbs can feel itches.

Link to New Yorker article ‘The Itch’ (via Frontal Cortex).

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