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Saturday 18.11.2017 | Name days: Doloresa, Aleksandrs

Laughter is more about relationships than humour, research suggests

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A recent study suggests that most conversational laughter is not a response to jokes or humorous stories. Laughter is more about relationships than humour.

Laughter is a rich source of information about complex social relationships, if you know where to look. Learning to “read” laughter is particularly valuable because laughter is involuntary and hard to fake, providing an uncensored, honest account about what people really think about each other, and you.

On average, men are the best laugh getters. These differences are already present by the time joking first appears, around six years of age. Based on this evidence, it is no surprise that your school clown was probably a male, a worldwide pattern. Laughter is sexy. Women laughing at men are responding to more than their prowess in comedy. Women are attracted to men who make them laugh (ie, “have a good sense of humour”), and men like women who laugh in their presence.

Moreover, people laugh about 30 times more when they are around others than when they are alone – laughter almost disappear among solitary subjects not exposed to media stimulation. People are much more likely to smile or talk to themselves than they are to laugh when they are alone.

When we hear laughter, we become beasts of the herd, mindlessly laughing in turn, producing a behavioural chain reaction that sweeps through our group, creating a crescendo of jocularity or ridicule.

The use of laughter to evoke laughter is familiar to viewers of television sitcoms.

Psychology researchers jumped on the new phenomenon of “canned” laughter, confirming that laugh tracks do indeed increase audience laughter and the audience’s rating of the humorousness of the comedy material, writes The Observer.

Laughter epidemics, big and small, time after time are registered universally. For example, consider the bizarre events of the 1962 outbreak of contagious laughter in Tanganyika (now Tanzania). What began as an isolated fit of laughter in a group of 12-to 18-year-old schoolgirls rapidly rose to epidemic proportions. Like an influenza outbreak, the laughter epidemic was so severe that it required the closing of at least 14 schools and afflicted about 1,000 people. Fluctuating in intensity, it lasted for around two and a half years. A psychogenic, hysterical origin of the epidemic was established after excluding alternatives such as toxic reaction and encephalitis.

Laughter yoga, an innovation of Madan Kataria of Mumbai, taps contagious laughter for his secular Laughing Clubs International. The laugh clubbers gather in public places to engage in laughter exercises, seeking better fitness and a good time. Kataria’s revelation was that only laughter is needed to stimulate laughter – no jokes are necessary.

In general, laughing with brings the pleasure of acceptance, in-group feeling, and bonding. But laughing at is jeering and ridicule, targeting outsiders who look or act differently, pounding down the nail that sticks up, shaping them up, or driving them away. Being laughed at can be a very serious, even dangerous business..

In our politically correct, feel-good, be-happy time we are shielded from – and underestimate – the dark side of laughter that was better known to the ancients. If you think laughter is benign, be aware that laughter is present during the worst atrocities, from murder, rape and pillage in antiquity to the present. Laughter has been present at the entertainments of public executions and torture. On street corners around the world, laughing at the wrong person or at the wrong time can even get you killed.

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