Science Questions

Why do we laugh?

Fri, 26th Jul 2013

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Tickling your brain: why do we laugh?


Stephen Qwill asked:

Why do we laugh? Has it helped with human evolution?


Hannah -   Weve hopefully all enjoyed a giggle or two during our lifetimes, but how we express what's tickled our fancy varies.  Some people let out hearty bellows, some chuckle and shake their shoulders with mirth, whilst others laugh silently inside.  And what we find funny may differ too.  Smut makes some smile, others love a good prank or pun, and some just laugh loudly at it all.  

Weve had a lot of questions in from you about laughter and why, and how Ticklehumour evolves.  And to answer some of your questions, I caught up with Professor Sophie Scott from University College London.  First up, she tackles this...

Steven -   Hi, Naked Scientists.  Steven here, regular listener, love the show.  I'm wondering, why do we laugh?  I know that we laugh as we find something funny, but what are the underlying reasons?  Has this ability to laugh made an impact on the survival of the human race?

Sophie -   If you ask humans, What makes you laugh?  They will talk about jokes and will talk about humour.  If you look at when we laugh then we laugh when were with other people.  We laugh when were with our friends.  So, you're 30 times more likely to laugh if you're with somebody than if you're on your own and you'll laugh more if you like those people, or if you want them to like you.  

Actually, if you look at laughter from that sort of social perspective, its exactly the same in us as in chimpanzees, as in rats.  Its a basically old mammal behaviour for facilitating social bonds, maintaining them and sort of insuring that groups of people cohere together by laughing together.  They have a tremendous advantage for us.  Think its about comedy and actually, laughter is mostly about social bonds and who we like.  We laugh with the people we like.



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