Why Do We Laugh?

Did you know that rats laugh when you tickle them, and that ordinary people commonly laugh at pitches higher than the highest soprano’s singing range? Did you know that there is a grammar to laughter?

I’ve been curious about the origins of laughter as a human behavior for years. The most interesting thing I’ve read on the subject was Robert Provine‘s book Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. Provine conducted observational studies that showed that laughter is a complex social behavior, and that conversational laughter is not a random, spontaneous response to amusement, but a specific social signal that occurs only at certain points within the grammar of speech and in certain social contexts. He also speculates about the evolutionary origins of laughter and its significance in the evolution of language.

Radio Lab, a show I just became aware of a couple of weeks ago, recently aired an episode on laughter that featured Provine’s theories as well as others.

Here’s the audio of the program:

And for more information, check out Provine’s book. Perhaps I’ve made it sound a bit dry here — it’s not. It’s quite entertaining and accessible.

Video courtesy of jeansergio


~ by lolarusa on March 14, 2008.

One Response to “Why Do We Laugh?”

  1. What a wonderful little video – I can’t keep from laughing, too. You always post such interesting things! – Morna

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