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Why do we laugh? A new study looks at possible evolutionary reasons behind this human behaviorSEDI News

A woman in labor is having a terrible time and suddenly shouts: “Don’t! Would not! Couldn’t! Did not! Can’t!”

“Don’t worry,” says the doctor. “This is just a contraction.”

So far, many theories have tried to explain what makes something funny enough to make us laugh. These include transgression (something forbidden), puncturing one’s sense of ego or superiority (joke), and incongruity – the presence of two incompatible meanings in the same situation.

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I decided to review all the available literature on laughter and humor published in English in the last ten years to see if any other conclusions could be drawn. After looking at more than one hundred papers, my study produced a new possible explanation: laughter is a tool that nature may have helped us survive.

I looked at research papers on the theory of humor that provided important information on three areas: the physiological characteristics of laughter, the brain centers involved in producing laughter, and the health benefits of laughter. This amounts to more than 150 papers that provide evidence for important features of the conditions that make humans smile.

By organizing all the principles into specific areas, I was able to condense the process of laughter into three main steps: anxiety, resolution, and the potentially all-clear signal, as I will explain.

This raises the possibility that laughter may have been preserved by natural selection during the last millennia to help humans survive. It may also explain why we are attracted to people who make us laugh.

The evolution of laughter

Incongruity theory is good for explaining humor-driven laughter, but it is not enough. In this case, laughter is not about the ubiquitous meaning of things being out of place or incoherent. It’s about finding ourselves in a unique situation that subverts our expectations of normality.

For example, if we were to see a tiger strolling down a city street, it might look incongruous, but it would not be comical – on the contrary, it would be terrifying. But if the tiger rolls itself like a ball, it becomes comical.

The animated anti-hero Homer Simpson makes us laugh when he falls off the roof of his house and bounces like a ball, or when he tries to “strangle” his son Bart, his eyes fluttering and his tongue flapping like it’s rubber. be made These are examples of human experience shifting into an exaggerated, cartoon version of the world where anything – especially the ridiculous – can happen.

But to be funny, the event must also be perceived as harmful. We laugh because we recognize that Tiger or Homer never effectively harm others, nor harm themselves, because their worlds are not necessarily real.

So we can reverse the laughter in a three-step process. First, it requires a situation that seems strange and induces a sense of incongruity (surprise or panic). Second, the anxiety or stress that the incompatible situation has provoked must be worked through and resolved (resolution). Third, the actual release of laughter acts as a clear siren to alert bystanders (relief) that they are safe.

Laughter may be a signal that people have used for millennia to show others that a fight or flight response is not needed and that a perceived threat has passed. That’s why laughter is often contagious: it unites us, makes us more sociable, signals the end of fear or anxiety. Laughter is life affirming.

We can directly translate this to the 1936 film Modern Times, where Charlie Chaplin’s comic tramp character obsessively fixes bolts in a factory like a robot rather than a man. It makes us laugh because we unconsciously want to show others that the disturbing spectacle of man reduced to a robot is a fantasy. He is a man, not a machine. There is no cause for alarm.

How humor can be effective

Similarly, the joke at the beginning of this article begins with a scene from ordinary life, then turns into something strange and surprising (a woman behaving inconsistently), but which we eventually realize is not serious and is actually quite comical (double meaning The doctor’s response induces relief), eliciting laughter.

As I have shown in previous studies about the human behavior of crying, laughter has strong significance for our body’s physiology. Like crying—and chewing, breathing, or walking—laughter is a rhythmic behavior that is a release mechanism for the body.

The brain centers that control laughter are the same ones that control emotions, fear and anxiety. The release of laughter breaks the stress or tension of the situation and fills the body with relief.

Humor has been used in hospital settings to aid patients in their recovery, as clown therapy studies have shown. Humor can also improve blood pressure and immune defenses and help relieve anxiety and depression.

The research examined in my review has also shown that humor is important in learning, and that it is used to emphasize concepts and ideas. Humor related to course material sustains attention and creates a more relaxed and productive learning environment. In an education setting, humor reduces anxiety, increases participation, and increases motivation.

Love and laughter

Reviewing this data on laughter also allows for a hypothesis about why people fall in love with someone because “they make me laugh.” It’s not just about being funny. It could be something more complicated. If someone else’s laughter excites us, that person signals that we can relax, that we are safe – and this builds trust.

Two girls standing on the bridge laughing together.
Laughter creates bonding and intimacy.
Nektarstock / Alamy

If our laughter is provoked by their jokes, it affects us to overcome the fear caused by a strange or unfamiliar situation. And if someone’s ability to be funny inspires us to override our fears, we’re more attracted to them. It may explain why we adore those who make us laugh.

Of course, in modern times, we don’t think twice about laughing. We just enjoy it as an uplifting experience and for the sense of well-being it brings. From an evolutionary point of view, this very human behavior probably fulfills an important function in terms of fear awareness and self-preservation. Even now, if we have a brush with fear, we often react with laughter out of sheer relief.


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