Culture

Junk Explained: Can You Really Pinch Your Thumb To Stop Your Gag Reflex?

While so many people claimed the trick worked, we spoke to a doctor who debunked the gag hack.

can you stop your gag reflex? tiktok thumb trick

First we had men dipping their balls into soy sauce to test their tastebuds, and now we have women squeezing their thumbs to hit pause on their gag reflex.

This massive trend on TikTok follows people seemingly successfully “turning off” their gag reflex with a few simple hand movements. But where exactly did this trend start and why are so many people shoving their hands down their throats?

Where Did The “Gag Reflex Challenge” Start?

A few people on TikTok have suggested that a simple squeeze of the thumb can stop one’s gag reflex. First, user @gremlin_rat made a video suggesting that squeezing your thumb, pressing on your chin firmly, or pinching the skin between your thumb and index finger had the magical ability to turn off your gag reflex.

“It’s not funny because I almost swallowed my fork during lunch,” she said after demonstrating the necessary movements. “I lowkey want to see people duet this now.”

While some people did duet her video to show the trick working, it was 15-year-old Avery Flynn‘s tutorial that blew everyone out of the water. After recreating her most popular TikTok of “eating” makeup products, people quickly pointed out how she didn’t gag after what looked like her inserting a whole makeup brush down her throat.

In response, Avery created a tutorial on how she “turned off” her gag reflex to make the video. Despite captioning the video with “don’t actually do this” and “it’s a joke”, over five million people watched the tutorial and were seriously convinced by the tricks.

After trying out Avery’s tips, her comment section was flooded by those shocked to find it actually worked. “Okay, wait. Why did this actually turn off my gag reflex though?,” @s0ft_peachh commented to 94,000 likes. Another comment with over 80,000 likes read: “WHAT? IT ACTUALLY TURNED OFF MY GAG REFLEX.”

The top comment, with over 120,000 likes, simply said: “My bf bout to be real confused.”

The sentiment was similar on Twitter, where @hoemoticon‘s tweet sharing the video gained over 400,000 views in just 24 hours. “Now how the hell she just find a cheat code on getting rid of your gag reflex?,” @hoemoticon wrote.

Once people started sharing that the trick had actually worked for them, videos of the hack in action started popping up online.

But while those who tried the gag reflex hack believed that their gag reflex was suddenly switched off, what exactly is the science behind it?

What Is A Gag Reflex And Can It Be Turned Off?

Sydney GP Dr Brad McKay spoke to Junkee about whether there was any truth in this TikTok trick — and essentially, no there isn’t.

Everyone has a gag reflex. It’s an involuntary reaction of the body when something comes into contact with the roof, side or back of the throat. The muscular contraction of one’s throat is the body’s way to prevent food or fluid entering our airways.

Dr Brad McKay explains that there’s variation in people’s gag reflex throughout the population. “Some people only have a weak gag reflex while others are hypersensitive,” Dr McKay told Junkee. “You can’t turn off your gag reflex like a switch, but you can modulate it.”

Research proves that states of anxiousness or calm can increase and decrease the intensity of your gag reflex due the physical reaction to an overstimulation of the nervous system. But this TikTok method relies on acupressure points to control the gag reflex.

The method of using acupressure points — which are based on acupuncture points and the unproven theory of life force flowing through meridian lines — is not a new one. In 2011, LifeHacker reported that the thumb squeeze tactic can act as a distraction, as supported by a 2008 study. The focus on placing pressure on another part of the body is said to help take your mind off your throat thus relaxing it.

However, Dr McKay says that the entire TikTok anti-gag method is just an elaborate placebo — that is, your brain simply convincing you something is working because you want it to.

“Pressing on your thumb and chin to ‘switch off’ your gag reflex, is basically an elaborate placebo, which may work as a mild distraction and trick some people into relaxing while they eat a banana,” Dr McKay told Junkee. “Overall the TikTok method is a safe, cheap, quick, easy, and totally useless therapy.”

So there you have it, happy gagging y’all!