Teasing has multiple meanings. In human interactions, teasing comes in two major forms, playful and hurtful. When teasing is playful and friendly, and especially when it is reciprocal, teasing can be regarded as flirting. When teasing is unwelcome, it may be regarded as harassment or mobbing, especially in the work place, or as a form of bullying or emotional abuse. If done in public, it may be regarded as humiliation.
People may be teased on such matters as their appearance, weight, behavior, abilities, clothing, and intelligence.  From the victim's point-of-view, this kind of teasing is often hurtful, irrespective of the intention of the teaser.
The nature of teasing
The most common form of teasing is verbal bullying or taunting. This behavior is intended to distract, irritate, or annoy the recipient. Because it is hurtful, it is different from joking and is generally accompanied by some degree of social rejection. Teasing can also be taken to mean "To make fun of; mock playfully". For example, Michael teasing Deanna doesn't mean he's bullying her. Example 2: Sam teases people, but does not ever bully them.
One form of teasing is to pretend to give something which the other desires, or giving it very slowly. This is usually done by arousing curiosity or desire and may not actually involve the intent to satisfy or disclose. This form of teasing could be called "tantalizing", after the story of Tantalus. It is generally playful among adults, although among children it can be hurtful, such as when one child acquires a possession of another's property and will not return it. It is also common in flirting and dating. For example, a man or woman who is interested in someone might reject an advance the first time in order to arouse interest and curiosity, and give in the second or third time.
Whether teasing is playful or hurtful, is largely subject to the interpretation of the person being teased. If the person being teased feels harmed, then the teasing is hurtful. A difference in power between people may also make the behavior hurtful rather than playful. Ultimately though, if someone perceives him or herself as the victim of teasing, and experiences the teasing as unpleasant, then it is considered hurtful. If the other person continues to do it after being asked to stop, then it is a form of bullying or abuse.
Another way to look at teasing is an honest reflection on differences, expressed in a joking fashion with the goal of "clearing the air". It can express a comfort with the other which can be comforting. As opposed to being nice to someone's face while making disparaging remarks behind their back, teasing can be a way to express differences in a direct fashion rather than internalizing them.
To tease, or to "be a tease" in a sexual sense, can refer to the use of posture, language or other means of flirting to cause another person to become sexually aroused. Such teasing may or may not be a prelude to intercourse, an ambiguity which can lead to uncomfortable situations. In a more physical sense, it can also refer to sexual stimulation.
Teasing is also used to describe playing part of a song at a concert. Jam bands will often quote the main riff of another song during jams.
"Tease it" is also used as a slang term to smoke marijuana. The word "tease" can also be used as a noun to stand for marijuana.
In a very different context, hair can be teased, "ratted", or more correctly, "backcombed". As the name suggests, backcombing involves combing the hair backwards from end to root to intentionally tangle the strands to create volume. It can also be done excessively in sections to create dreadlocks.
- Kowalski, R. (2000). I was only kidding: Victim and perpetrators' perceptions of teasing. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 231-241.
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