Naked Neuroscience

Naked Neuroscience - BNA sponsored episode

Fri, 19th Jul 2013

Tickling your brain: why do we laugh?

A girl smiling or laughing. (c) Eric McGregor

Rats being tickled, a visit to the laughter clinic, and a toddler's favourite joke. We uncover the brain basis of funny!

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Why do we laugh? 

Perhaps to express (or to "release" or "disarm") cognitive dissonance. People mostly laugh at "funny" situations or at jokes, and there's almost always some cognitive dissonance in a funny situation). However, laughing is also a known response to nervousness, stressful situations, even extremely stressful situations, although such "laughs" might only be a chuckle or two or just holding the "face" of a laugh (as when stumped or puzzled), but it may also be quite extensive, as in hysterics.

Any pleasure/bonding derived from laughing in groups might come from the realization that everyone in the group suffers the same cognitive dissonance from the same situation and that they trivialize that dissonance. Notice how people tend to question someone about why they didn't laugh when everyone else thought it was "funny".

Also consider the other definition for "joke" — something not to be taken seriously. So, in this way, we mean ... yes, it doesn't make sense (ie, some cognitive dissonance exists), but don't take it seriously. We "laugh" things off. Lmnre, Wed, 31st Jul 2013

Bob Mankoff on the anatomy of a New Yorker cartoon Lmnre, Sun, 1st Sep 2013

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