1.6 Why are certain repetitive activities more pleasurable than others? 17
an addictive and pleasant activity. Why does it comfort and
help to relax? Why is it soothing?
Actually, some years ago I formulated a rather embarrassing
conjecture that the attraction to bubble wrap popping is genet-
ically determined. Bubble wrap triggers in humans archaic in-
stincts linked to an ape-like behavior: grooming (and even more
importantly, mutual grooming) and destruction of lice. In apes and
monkeys, mutual grooming is an important part of social bonding,
which explains its soothing, comforting, relaxing effect.
In my search on the Web for a confirmation of my conjecture I
have not managed to get further than numerous websites devoted
to virtual bubble wrap popping. A search on the words “bubble
wrap” is not the best way to find anything meaningful on the Web:
almost everything sold on the Internet is mailed in bubble wrap
packaging. As a result, GOOGLE produces 9,090,000 hits for “bub-
ble wrap”. I offered the problem to my colleague Gregory Cherlin,
who was more Internet savvy and carried out a successful search.
Here are his principal findings:
Gene HOXB8 controls normal grooming behavior. Disruption in
mice leads to obsessive grooming behavior. Here is a summary
of information from the National Institutes of Health website
This gene belongs to the homeobox family of genes. The
homeobox genes encode a highly conserved family of tran-
scription factors that play an important role in morpho-
genesis in all multicellular organisms. Mammals pos-
sess four similar homeobox gene clusters, HOXA, HOXB,
HOXC and HOXD, which are located on different chromo-
somes and consist of 9 to 11 genes arranged in tandem.
This gene is one of several homeobox HOXB genes located
in a cluster on chromosome 17. HOXB8 knockout mice ex-
hibit an excessive pathologic grooming behavior, leading
to hair removal and self-inflicted wounds at overgroomed
sites. This behavior is similar to the behavior of humans
suffering from the obsessive-compulsive spectrum disor-
der trichotillomania.
There is quite a range of grooming-related disorders in humans
Primates indeed do love to pop bubble wrap [445, p. 8].
Meanwhile, my own search for bubble wrap popping on Google
Scholar led me to the book under the telling title Teens Together
Grief Support Group Curriculum [429]. I have not seen the whole
book, but, apparently, page 57 contains sufficiently revealing words:
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