Laughter is part of the universal human vocabulary. All members of the human species understand it. We’re born with the capacity to laugh.
Laughter is social and contagious. We laugh at the sound of laughter itself.
One of the remarkable things about laughter is that it occurs unconsciously. You don’t decide to do it. While we can consciously inhibit it, we don’t consciously produce laughter. That’s why it’s very hard to laugh on command or to fake laughter. (Don’t take my wword for it: Ask a friend to laugh on the spot.)
Laughter provides powerful, uncensored insights into our unconscious. It simply bubbles up from within us in certain situations.
But we do know that laughter is triggered by many sensations and thoughts, and that it activates many parts of the body.
When we laugh, we alter our facial expressions and make sounds. During exuberant laughter, the muscles of the arms, legs and trunk are involved.
We also know that laughter is a message tthat we send to other people. We know this because we rarely laugh when we are alone (we laugh to ourselves even less than we talk to ourselves).Laughter is social and contagious. We laugh at the sound of laughter itself. <
The first laughter appears at about 3.5 to 4 months of age, long before we’re able to speak. Laughter, like crying, is a way for a preverbal infant to interact with the mother and other caregivers.
Contrary to folk wisdom, most laughter is not about humor; it is about relationships between people.
We don’t decide to laugh at these moments. Our brain makes the decision for us. These curious “ha ha ha’s” are bits of social glue that bond relationships.
AN EVOLUTIONARY PERSPECTIVE. We believe laughter evolved from the panting behavior of our ancient primate ancestors. Today, if we tickle chimps or gorillas, they don’t laugh “ha ha ha” but exhibit a panting sound. That’s the sound of ape laughter. And it’s tthe root of human laughter.
When we laugh, we’re often communicating playful intent. So laughter has a bonding function within individuals in a group. It’s often positive, but it can be negative too. There’s a difference between “laughing with” and “laughing at.” People who laugh at others may be trying to force them to conform or casting them out of the group.
No one has actually counted how much people of different ages laugh, but young children probably laugh the most. At aages 5 and 6, we tend to see the most exuberant laughs. Adults laugh less than children, probably because they play less. And laughter is associated with play.
How Laughter Works
Why is something funny? Have you ever wondered about that? Human beings love to laugh, and the average adult laughs 17 times a day. Humans love to laugh so much that there are actually industries built around laughter. Jokes, sitcoms and comedians are all designed to get us laughing, because laughing feels good. For us it seems so natural, but the funny thing is that humans are one of the only species that laughs. Laughter is actually a complex response that involves many of the same skills used in solving problems.
Laughter is a great thing — that’s why we’ve all heard the saying, „Laughter is the best medicine.“ There is strong evidence that laughter can actually improve health and help fight disease.
What is laughter?
First of all, laughter is not the same as humor. Laughter is the physiological response to humor. Laughter consists of two parts — a set of gestures and the production of a sound. When we laugh, the brain pressures us to conduct both those activities simultaneously. When wwe laugh heartily, changes occur in many parts of the body, even the arm, leg and trunk muscles.
If you want to get specific about it, it works like this: Under certain conditions, our bodies perform what the Encyclopedia Britannica describes as „rhythmic, vocalized, expiratory and involuntary actions“ — better known as laughter. Fifteen facial muscles contract and stimulation of the zygomatic major muscle (the main lifting mechanism of your upper lip) occurs. Meanwhile, the respiratory system is upset by the epiglottis half-closing the larynx, so that air intake occurs irregularly, making you gasp. In extreme circumstances, the tear ducts are activated, so that while the mouth is opening and closing and the struggle for oxygen intake continues, the face becomes moist and often red (or purple). The noises that usually accompany this bizarre behavior range from sedate giggles to boisterous guffaws.
Behavioral neurobiologist and pioneering laughter researcher Robert Provine jokes that he has encountered one major problem in his study of laughter. The problem is that laughter disappears just when he is ready to observe it — especially in the laboratory. One of his studies looked at the sonic structure of laughter. He discovered that all human laughter consists oof variations on a basic form that consists of short, vowel-like notes repeated every 210 milliseconds. Laughter can be of the „ha-ha-ha“ variety or the „ho-ho-ho“ type but not a mixture of both, he says. Provine also suggests that humans have a „detector“ that responds to laughter by triggering other neural circuits in the brain, which, in turn, generates more laughter. This explains why laughter is contagious.
Humor researcher Peter Derks describes laughter response as „a really quick, automatic type of behavior.“ „In fact, how quickly our brain recognizes the incongruity that lies at the heart of most humor and attaches an abstract meaning to it determines whether we laugh,“ he says.
What is the purpose of laughter?
One philosopher believes that the first human laughter may have begun as a gesture of shared relief at the passing of danger. Laughter may indicate trust in one’s companions.
Many researchers believe that the purpose of laughter is related to making and strengthening human connections. „Laughter occurs when people are comfortable with one another, when they feel open and free. And the more laughter [there is], the more bonding [occurs] within the group“. This feedback „loop“ of bonding-laughter-more bonding, combined with the common
desire not to be singled out from the group, may be another reason why laughter is often contagious.
Studies have also found that dominant individuals — the boss or the tribal chief or the family patriarch — use humor more than their subordinates. If you’ve often thought that everyone in the office laughs when the boss laughs, you’re very perceptive. In such cases, controlling the laughter of a group becomes a way of exercising power by controlling the emotional climate oof the group. So laughter, like much human behavior, must have evolved to change the behavior of others. For example, in an embarrassing or threatening situation, laughter may serve as a conciliatory gesture or as a way to deflect anger. If the threatening person joins the laughter, the risk of confrontation may lessen.
What makes us laugh?
Laughter is triggered when we find something humorous. There are three traditional theories about what we find humorous:
The incongruity theory suggests that hhumor arises when logic and familiarity are replaced by things that don’t normally go together. A joke becomes funny when we expect one outcome and another happens. When a joke begins our minds and bodies are already anticipating what’s going tto happen and how it’s going to end. When the joke goes in an unexpected direction, our thoughts and emotions suddenly have to switch gears. We now have new emotions, backing up a different line of thought. In other words, we experience two sets of incompatible thoughts and emotions simultaneously. We experience this incongruity between the different parts of the joke as humorous.
The superiority theory comes into play when we laugh at jokes that focus on someone else’s mistakes, stupidity or misfortune. We feel superior to this person, experience a certain detachment from the situation and so are able to laugh at it.
The relief theory is the basis for device moviemakers have used effectively for a llong time. In action films or thrillers where tension is high, the director uses comic relief at just the right times. He builds up the tension or suspense as much as possible and then breaks it down slightly with a side comment, enabling the viewer to relieve himself of pent-up emotion, just so the movie can build it up again! Similarly, an actual story or situation creates tension within us. As we try to cope with two sets of emotions aand thoughts, we need a release and laughter is the way of cleansing our system of the built-up tension and incongruity. Actually, humor, especially dark humor, can help workers cope with stressful situations. The act of producing humor, of making a joke, gives us a mental break and increases our objectivity in the face of overwhelming stress.
Why can’t I tickle myself?
Some scientists believe that laughing caused by tickling is a built-in reflex because even babies do it. If this is true, then you should be able to tickle yourself.but you can’t, can you? Even if you try to tickle yourself in exactly the same way that another person tickles you, you don’t laugh. Why is this? The information sent to your spinal cord and brain should be exactly the same. Apparently for tickling to work, the brain needs tension and surprise. When you tickle yourself, you know exactly what will happen.there is no tension or surprise. How the brain uses this information about tension and surprise is still a mystery, but there is some evidence that the cerebellum may be involved.
Why don’t we all laugh at the same things?