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.