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It's funny.  Laugh. Science Idle

The Science of Humor 344

Hugh Pickens writes "The sense of humor is a ubiquitous human trait, yet rare or non-existent in the rest of the animal kingdom. But why do humans have a sense of humor in the first place? Cognitive scientist (and former programmer) Matthew Hurley says humor (or mirth, in research-speak) is intimately linked to thinking and is a critical task in human cognition because a sense of humor keeps our brains alert for the gaps between our quick-fire assumptions and reality. 'We think the pleasure of humor, the emotion of mirth, is the brain's reward for discovering its mistaken inferences,' says Hurley, co-author of Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind. With humor, the brain doesn't just discover a false inference — it almost simultaneously recovers and corrects itself. For example, read the gag that's been voted the funniest joke in the world by American men. So why is this joke funny? Because it is misleading, containing a small, faulty assumption that opens the door to a costly mistake. Humor is 'when you catch yourself in an error, like looking for the glasses that happen to be on the top of your head. You've made an assumption about the state of the world, and you're behaving based on that assumption, but that assumption doesn't hold at all, and you get a little chuckle.'"
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The Science of Humor

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  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @09:41AM (#38181442)

    Humor is when you catch yourself in an error

    But The Funniest joke in the (english speaking?) World reckons that people from different cultures find different styles of humour to be more/less funny.

    So there appears to be a conflict here. You'd expect everyone's brain to be wired to catch the same sorts of errors or false inferences, yet if there's a cultural component to humour that contradicts the "error" theory.

  • by ArsenneLupin ( 766289 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @10:02AM (#38181554)

    yet if there's a cultural component to humour that contradicts the "error" theory.

    Indeed. Vast categories of jokes make fun of a group (different race, different cultural background, certain hobbies, certain lifestyles, etc.), including this one by the way. The stereotype this plays on is "hunters are stupid rednecks who shoot first and think later". Hunters would probably find the joke less funny but probably the "researchers" didn't define a category for them, so it didn't how up on their stats...

  • Re:wow (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 27, 2011 @10:07AM (#38181570)

    I didn't expect the Spanish inquisition!

    NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition. Our chief weapon is surprise! Surprise and fear, fear and surprise. Our two main waepons are...

    I'm sure you know the rest :)

    All the same, I'm not surprised at the North Americans not enjoying puns. They seem to like "long" stories either. Too much phoenetic spelling gives rise to less attention on the basis of the words, although with the Canadians, it is a little surprising.
    A comedian friend of mine has said that although Irish, UK and most European audiences will take delight in a story style joke, the Americans have to be forced to understand that *short line delivery* it's a joke, laugh now.
    Perhaps there could be quiite a few psychological studies undertaken on why "Americans and Canadians preferred jokes where there was a strong sense of superiority".

  • by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara@hudson.barbara-hudson@com> on Sunday November 27, 2011 @10:12AM (#38181598) Journal

    yet rare or non-existent in the rest of the animal kingdom

    The reason we don't see it so much in the animal kingdom is two-fold:
    1. We're lousy observers, bringing our presumptions with us;
    2. There's fewer opportunities.

    To make the claim that it's rare or even non-existent (in other words, you don't even know) with zero proof (and something that's contradicted by observation of animals at play or interactions of animals and their owners) is just plain junk.

  • Re:Stereotype jokes? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rosy At Random ( 820255 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @10:14AM (#38181612) Homepage

    That feels like a different kind of humour - not at one's own expectations being subverted, but at an Other's perceived shortcomings being exploited in a status re-affirming way.

  • by Rosy At Random ( 820255 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @11:04AM (#38181874) Homepage

    Then there's the question of what my girlfriend thinks is funny when she gets hyper. Answer: everything, pretty much; it's like she's on laughing gas and she usually just ends up repeating a word (or corrupted variation of it) over and over while giggling uncontrollably. It's like a short-circuit to the funny circuits of her brain, and perhaps could reveal something about the neurology of humour if analysed.

    PS if you're reading this, sorry, I love you :D

  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @11:07AM (#38181882) Journal

    In particular, hard-core religious people seem to have none whatsoever.

    Try walking into a Christian bookstore and asking for their humour section (often there isn't one, or it's pretty sparse, or it's in the children's section). If there isn't one, you can make remarks like "What? Christians have no sense of humour?".

    FWIW, I'm a Christian, and I was actually looking for this book: []

    Seriously though, it may be because those "hard core" ultrareligious sorts live in fear (which IMO is suboptimal). It's not funny if you feel unsafe.

    Safe and secure. That's why good guy friends can slap each other on the back, throw insults and do all sorts of other stuff - they know they are safe, genuinely no harm is ever intended. And that's why children are laughing if daddy throws them up in the air, and of course catches them. That's often the difference between a funny prank and a malicious act. If the victim feels safe and is safe, it's funny. If it's not, it's not funny.

    maniacal giggling whilst ripping your still-living victims organs out can be considered humorous.

    They say beauty is only skin deep, but I love you from the bottom of your heart. Hey be thankful I didn't I "love" you from the heart of your bottom... What's the matter, cat got your tongue? Ooops, looks like she did.


  • When's the last time you saw an animal do something just for fun? From squirrels teasing dogs (they do it in the wild all the time, and I used to have a pet squirrel that would jump on my Newfie's tail, then his head, then hop back to my shoulder or go running around my legs at the knee, just to tease him.

    Sure, the dog could have just waited until the squirrel stopped and then killed him, but he never did.

    Same squirrel - I'd be typing away, and every once in a while he'd quickly hop on the keyboard to insert a few extra characters. Then he'd stand there and look at me, and I'd poke him lightly in the nose trying to get him to understand "don't do that!" He understood - he also understood that he could get away with it.

    The more intelligent birds do it too. Get yourself a pet crow - crows also are tool-makers, as are several other animals, so it's not surprising to see that they can also be intentionally funny. Humour, even slapstick, is the way we deal with aggressive impulses less destructively. All humour has an element of meanness in it, from teasing to outright "nasty show" stuff.

  • by Paul Slocum ( 598127 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:52PM (#38182414) Homepage Journal
    "In particular, hard-core religious people seem to have none whatsoever."

    I think maybe you're confusing the "Pharisees" of today with real followers. Most people who go to church stubbornly ignore the bulk of what Jesus said. I've probably read more religious philosophy than anything else, and in my study and personal experience I've found the opposite of what you're saying -- that the few people who really live The Way have a very active sense of humor. A few examples off the top of my head are CS Lewis, Ghandi, and Neem Karoli Baba.
  • wit (Score:5, Interesting)

    by martyb ( 196687 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @12:53PM (#38182422)
    "Wit is intellect, dancing."

    Sorry that I don't know the author, but I've found much wisdom in those few words. Perhaps it explains why puns and double entendre(sp?) are so popular?

  • Re:Two things (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Guppy ( 12314 ) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @10:02PM (#38185990)

    There's a famous story about the African Grey parrot Alex. One of the researchers was cooking a Cornish Hen, at which Alex exclaimed "Oh No, Paco!" (Paco being another parrot). Upon being told it wasn't Paco, Alex then laughed in a very human style.

Kill Ugly Processor Architectures - Karl Lehenbauer