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Meera Seth's picture

"What's So Funny? Well, Maybe Nothing"

In a recent New York Times article (3/13) entitled "What's So Funny? Well, Maybe Nothing", John Tierney explores the significance behind seemingly casual laughter and the evolution of this (re)action of laughter in human behavior.

Neuroscience researcher Robert R. Provine studied laughter in the context of watching stand-up comedy on tape opposed to laughter in the context of casual conversation and social interaction. Provine found that while few participants laughed at the prerecorded stand-up routine, the individuals (especially women) engaged in casual conversation with friends or acquaintances laughed much more. According to Provine's study of thousands of first-hand interactions, 80 to 90 percent of laughter followed such non-humerous lines as "I know" or "I'll see you guys later."

Laughter is an honest social signal because it's hard to fake," Provine claims. "We're dealing with something powerful, ancient, and crude. It's a kind of behavioral fossil showing the roots that all human beings, maybe mammals, have in common."

It seems that laughter is much more than a mere human reaction to humor. Rather, in many circumstances, it could be labeled an evolutionary trait in all of us. We are not at all conscious of our laughter. According to Provine's discoveries and similar recent research, such an outward behavior is, more or less, automatically manifested. Having said this, can we control this kind of behavior, supposedly hardwired and imprinted within us from birth? If not, is each individual a helpless victim of her genetic code?


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