Why do jokes make us laugh?
Haha, very funny! A cheeky chuckle can reveal a lot about human social behaviour.
Asked by: Yarden Alloun, Surrey
Laughter plays an important social function, signalling to the joke-teller that we share their perspective on the world and that we recognise their witty intent. Sometimes these guffaws arise spontaneously from genuine mirth, other times it’s more strategic: we ingratiate ourselves with the joke-teller by letting them know we appreciate their humour. But actually most of our laughter isn’t caused by jokes. We laugh much more often when we’re the one doing the talking, but again we’re using this ‘voluntary laughter’ as a social device, conveying feelings of closeness and playfulness to the people we’re with.
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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.
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