Why Do We Laugh?

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Why do we LOL? Is ROFLing an innate piece of human behavior? Does our tendency to LMAO say something about us—something that separates us from the non-kekekeing species who share our planet?


For SciencelineWilliam Herkewitz explores the evolutionary history of laughter, a story that shows us that maybe we’re not quite so unique as we’d like to think. It’s not just that we laugh at funny things. The roots of this behavior, scientists think, go back much further and actually play an important purpose.

Herkewitz finds that various theories abound, but that the current “best guess” says that humans laugh to tell other humans not to get too fussed over something that could otherwise be regarded as scary or dangerous.

If you’re an ancestral human, says Ramachandran, and you come across what you think is a dangerous snake but actually turns out to be a stick, you’re relieved and you laugh. “By laughing, you’re communicating: ‘All is OK,’” says Ramachandran.

Ramachandran believes the “false alarm” signaling purpose of laugher explains its loud sound and explosive quality. If you want to signal something to a larger social group, they better hear it. His theory also helps explain the contagiousness of laughter — a curious quality exploited by the laugh tracks of TV sitcoms. Strangely enough, hearing the sound of laughter, on its own, is enough to elicit more laughter in others. “A signal is much more valuable if it amplifies and spreads like wildfire in the group,” says Ramachandran.

People also laugh to show pleasure, to bond with other members of the group. And in this regard, humans’ laughter isn’t special.

Written By: Colin Schultz
continue to source article at blogs.smithsonianmag.com

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  1. We laugh because it distracts us from the fact that life is a joke on us perpetrated by a few slimy little molecules who don’t give a rat’s ass if we’re not having a nice day. Also, it can be a good way to trick someone into dropping his guard long enough to put a dagger between his ribs.

  2. In Inuit culture if someone breaks a leg, everyone laughs. Perhaps this as way of showing toughness, or perhaps just they have a high threshold for what counts as non-trivial.

    In some humour, there catastrophe theory effect, where all of a sudden the context of what you understand changes and snaps into a different context, the simplest case would be a pun where a word suddenly shifts to an alternative meaning.

    A kind of humour popular in my teens required every statement to have at least three different meanings. Laughter was more an appreciation of cleverness.

    Even dolphins have a sense of humour. I watched them try to trick trainers into getting off balance and falling in the pool. I also watched them do caricatures, including me.

  3. I’ve been studying human apes for most of my life and while I don’t disagree, i wonder if there’s something even more important to humans.

    laughing at a joke for example, seems to have more of a “eureka” response than signalling everything’s ok. the reveal of a joke is funny because assumptions built up are suddenly overturned. the audience makes a discovery.

    I suspect this could have been useful to early humans, possibly struggling to find food where an important discovery is instantly communicated to the group. it may seem odd to people who’ve never laughed at finding a turnip or pool of clean water but for a hunter-gatherer tribe this could be vital.

    modern humans do behave like this sometimes, sometimes working for hours or days on a difficult philosophical or mathematical problem feel the same euphoric relief on discovery, or like Archemedes, loose all inhabition and run laughing through the streets.

    The only true mystery to me is why they laugh when i roll over in my sleep and fall off the sofa. there is no discovery made, no confirmation of safety and nothing funny going all at all. vex me right up

    • In reply to #7 by Eamonn Shute:

      I can see how laughter is useful, but would natural selection actually favour the “laughter gene”? How would it increase your reproductive success?

      a sense of humour is very sexy

      although that doesn’t explain why there are still people who do that thing where they snort

      • Dear kitty kat. Scottish ‘Glesga’ comic Billy Connolly? Sexy? I think this is one of his . . . . . .”Two horses are sitting in a pub enjoying a pint of beer. . . . In walks a Glasgow Policeman with his Alsatian dog. . . .The dog puts his paws up on the bar and says to the barman, “A PINT OF LAGER FOR HIM ‘N A BAG OF CRISPS FOR ME.” The policeman drinks his pint and crisps eaten, both of them walk out. One horse turns to the other and says, “THATS AMAZING. . . A TALKING DOG.” ;) m In reply to #8 by SaganTheCat:

        In reply to #7 by Eamonn Shute:

        I can see how laughter is useful, but would natural selection actually favour the “laughter gene”? How would it increase your reproductive success?

        a sense of humour is very sexy

        although that doesn’t explain why there are still people who do that thing where they…

        • In reply to #9 by memetical:

          Dear kitty kat. Scottish ‘Glesga’ comic Billy Connolly? Sexy? I think this is one of his . . . . . .”Two horses are sitting in a pub enjoying a pint of beer. . . . In walks a Glasgow Policeman with his Alsatian dog. . . .The dog puts his paws up on the bar and says to the barman, “A PINT OF LAGER FO…

          Thank you for mentioning Billy Connolly. Not very attractive is he? are you aware he married Pamela Stephenson?

          Defence rests

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