Asked by: Milly Kinghorn, Aberdeen
A recent theory holds that humour evolved because it encourages us to perform the arduous task of fact-checking our assumptions about other people’s intentions and perspectives. By this account, mirth is the reward we get when we debunk one of our presumptions and see things suddenly in a new light – jokes are ‘super-normal stimuli’ that exploit this system.
Once it evolved, humour became a social signal – we assume funny people are intelligent and friendly, and men and women alike prefer witty partners. On average, however, men tend to be more concerned that would-be partners will find their jokes funny, whereas women are more attracted to people who make them laugh.
Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.