The Science of Why We Laugh

Laugh­ter is uni­ver­sal. And yet strange when you think about it. One moment we’re doing noth­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly note­wor­thy. The next moment we’re con­vuls­ing and mak­ing these loud stac­ca­to guf­faws. Odd that.

So why do we laugh? It’s a ques­tion that Robert Provine, a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land, Bal­ti­more, has been study­ing for 20+ years, try­ing to under­stand laugh­ter’s social, neu­ro­log­i­cal, and evo­lu­tion­ary roots. In the video above, he gives you a sense of the “side­walk” research he con­ducts, and some of the con­clu­sions he has drawn–e.g., laugh­ter is often not a reac­tion to some­thing fun­ny per se; it’s some­thing that helps build social rela­tion­ships with oth­ers. And it’s a reac­tion that’s hard­wired in the brain.

At the video’s end, Provine tells us that the study of laugh­ter has just begun. But, if you’re inter­est­ed in what we know so far, see his two books: Laugh­ter: A Sci­en­tif­ic Inves­ti­ga­tion and Behav­ior: Yawn­ing, Laugh­ing, Hic­cup­ping, and Beyond, an explo­ration of neglect­ed human instincts.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Cleese Explores the Health Ben­e­fits of Laugh­ter

Char­lie Chap­lin Finds Com­e­dy Even in the Bru­tal­i­ty of WWI: A Scene from Shoul­der Arms (1918)

Chris Rock Cre­ates a List of His 13 Favorite Standup Com­e­dy Spe­cials

How to Cope with Trump. Laugh

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.