Eli5: Why is your hat reflex disabled when you make a Fist with your thumb clenched inside?


Edit: gag reflex

In: Biology

Eli5:What is a hat reflex?

Assuming you meant gag, it isn’t. This is a common misconception, and although you may notice your gag reflex is suppressed upon squeezing your thumb, there is not physiological sensation responsible.

It’s likely the placebo effect, or basically a mental trick you’re playing on yourself. If you squeeze your thumb thinking “I won’t gag because I’m not supposed to” you might be inadvertently relaxing your muscles in the throat.

It may consciously distract you enough to not think about it as much but clenching your thumb in your fist doesn’t disable a gag reflex.

**Short answer**: It doesn’t

**Long answer**:

This supposed anti-gag trick, originally reported by Lifehacker with heavy sexual implications, does not work for everybody. In fact, it does not work for *most* people. Every individual has a different gag reflex to begin with – some are unable to wear dentures or even brush their teeth without gagging – and every individual reports a completely different, usually very inconvenient trick to temporarily suppress their personal gag reflex. This implies that the gag reflex is affected by placebo.

There is little to no scientific consensus on “how the gag reflex works”, at least not to an extent that perfectly and objectively covers every individual.

There is a common performance art called “sword swallowing”. (The sword edges are blunt, of course, but sometimes the tip is still pointy.) Most of these performers simply keep trying to swallow prop swords until they eventually stop gagging. This implies that the gag reflex can be desensitized in at least some cases.