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The Evolution of Humor

Page history last edited by Alex Backer, Ph.D. 15 years, 2 months ago

Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it. 

E. B. White


Humor is a deeply ingrained human behavior. It triggers reflex reactions across the globe. Clearly, it evolved for a reason. So what is humor for?



A theory for the evolutionary origin and selective advantage of laughter and humor is proposed. In brief, I propose that laughter evolved to signal to third parties that all is well with a situation that might otherwise seem disturbing, signaling the cause of the laugh as friend, and that humor co-opted this mechanism, with jokers developing signals (jokes or funny acts) that elicit laughter to gain the approval by others conferred by a laugh, which signals that the laugher considers the joker a friend.


Requirements of a successful theory of humor and laughter

Any theory of humor must explain:

* Why we laugh

* Why we tell jokes

* What came first, jokes or laughter?

* Why humor plays an important role in seduction, and women are attracted to funny men

* Why so many jokes revolve around laughing at someone

* What is funny

* Why tickling makes people laugh

* Why children are tickled by their parents

* Why the same actions by a friendly parent that trigger tickling do not tickle when done by a stranger, or by the tickled herself

* The paradox of tickling: why those tickled experience laughter and pleasure in being tickled, yet try frantically to escape it

* Why laughter is contagious 

* Why men are more likely to be comedians than women


Read the answers at .


Read more of Alex Backer's Science articles here.


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