Psychology/Sociology

Why Do We Laugh? Discover the Secret of Laughing!

You may have noticed that we have entered a subject that may seem strange to many people. We are talking about a question that seems to have a very simple answer but has a rather tricky explanation. Maybe when we read this question, “Because we find something funny. ” or “ When we are tickled, our nerves are activated . (or break down) ” came to our minds. But have we really questioned why we laughed before? Let’s listen to the opinions of scientists who work on laughter, especially Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson!

Why Do We Laugh Laughing

Is Laughing an Essentially Malicious Action?

First of all, the act of laughing that we talked about in this article is different from smiling. For example, we smile when we see something cute. Laughing is a little different. Smiling is more connected with the higher consciousness, so we are more likely to understand the reason for our smile with a cause-effect relationship. However, making sense of laughter requires a slightly more difficult process. The question of “Why are we laughing?” is not only asked by today’s scientists. It is hard to believe, but names such as Aristotle and Plato also sought the answer to this question, but they found an answer on their own without much difficulty. To them, our laughing was basically a malicious act. Our laughter meant that we despised and humiliated someone. In other words, it actually meant that we saw ourselves as superior to others.

This idea was also accepted by Descartes, who lived centuries after them. This first idea about the reason for laughing is known as the Supremacy Theory.” According to Simler and Hanson, authors of The Elephant in the Brain, there were two main problems with this theory. The first problem was that this theory did not explain why we laugh when we are tickled. The second was that when we look at someone in a pitiable state, we don’t show the same ” cynical ” attitude. For example, most of us don’t laugh when we see a homeless person but rather sympathize and empathize.

Why Do We Laugh People

So, can we call this theory completely wrong?

No, “Supremacy Theory” is not entirely wrong, although it is incomplete. Sometimes, we really laugh for this reason, but that laugh is provided by the superconscious rather than body language, which is a little different from real laughter.

The Second Theory: The Relaxation Theory

The second theory comes from a little more recent history. According to this understanding, which is known as the “ Relief Theory ” and primarily supported by Sigmund Freud, laughing is entirely physiological. The human mind laughs in order to cope with a negative situation and to discharge the nervous energy that has accumulated in it.

However, Freud’s thought here contains a concept that does not exist. There is no such thing as neural energy in our brains. Our brain consists entirely of chemical and electrical processes. In this case, there is no such thing as neural energy, and there never was. You might say that Freud misnamed the energy, but his thesis might be correct. True, it was a probability, but this probability has also been described by modern science as epinephrine and cortisol, which can be considered equivalent to Freud’s concept of neural energy. There is no such thing as the release of these hormones through laughing. It has been proven by modern science that it is not as Freud described it, that is, the process of laughing is not just physiological.

Why Do We Laugh 2

Third Theory: Conflict Theory

Before we get to modern science, let’s take a closer look at our last theory: ” Conflict Theory “. This understanding was put forward by philosophers such as Kant and Schopenhauer. This understanding advocates one thing that modern humor uses, and that is surprise. For example, when a figure like Jerry Seinfeld or Michael McIntyre tells you a story, while the story is entirely logical, He suddenly makes a plot twist, and you laugh. This theory is seriously valid because it is largely based on laughter. We can say that it is much more valid than the other two theories.

So why do we actually laugh?

It’s an undeniable fact that tickling laughter is different from laughing at a stand-up show. While we laugh at sentences that we find funny in one, we laugh completely involuntarily in the other. There are even people who get angry when tickled, but continue to laugh.

The First Condition of Laughter: No Danger!

You can guess that a person in danger would not laugh even if tickled. In this case, it is likely that he will not move a muscle, even to the funniest joke. In other words, the first condition for laughing is to see yourself out of danger. Of course, this is not enough. Imagine you are sitting at home by yourself. You’re not watching anything funny, you just sit there. How often do you laugh? Maybe you think of something funny and laugh once, but you laugh a lot more when you’re with a group of friends you’re comfortable with. This is because laughing is a social act, even if we don’t realize it. Just like making eye contact, laughing is actually a message our body gives out. Prolonged eye contact may mean that we love communication with that person, or that we are trying to convey a good or bad message depending on the severity of the gaze. If someone is looking away from you, their body may be telling you that they are not comfortable with you. Just like that, laughing also says something.

Now, let’s think about a mother and her baby. The mother approaches her baby and plays a peek-a-boo game. In this case, the baby will laugh, right? So what is this laugh? In fact, this signals his mother, ” Go ahead .” The baby is satisfied with the scene he sees and the experience he has had, so he says continue. In adulthood, this meaning continues, but a new meaning is added to it. Babies don’t know that the world is an unsafe place. They have no instincts to protect themselves. Therefore, they realize that laughing and crying are only related to the current state of pleasure. If they cry, it’s “Stop!”  but if they laugh, it’s the opposite: “Go ahead!”. This also applies to us. Even if we don’t realize it, when we laugh while someone is telling us a joke, that person understands that we like it and continues to provide us with the situation that gives us pleasure. If we don’t laugh and pout the other way around, he probably won’t finish his joke. In short, when we laugh, we convey that everything is okay. It is precisely this “Everything is fine” message that will put the message of safety next to pleasure.

Why Do We Laugh Dog

Second Reason to Laugh

Now, let’s go to the animal kingdom together. We’ve all seen dogs and cats playing games among themselves. So, how do animals play? They act like they’re fighting too much, right? They push each other, bite each other, and sometimes the game ends with the other hurt. So, actually, physically, the game and the fight are not significantly distinguishable. How do animals understand? The answer is really simple: Body language. Dogs indicate that they want to play with their paws and heads. In fact, if you are calling a dog to play, it will often be enough to imitate him before. If they don’t make this game call and display their direct fight-like behavior, a real fight may occur due to miscommunication. That’s why both sides show each other that they want a game. Thus, they show each other that no matter how fight-like their actions are, it’s okay, and it’s just for fun.

This is not different in humans. Sometimes, you see two people wrestling, and they are both laughing. In this case, both parties know that the other does not intend to harm them. Likewise, when one party jokes with the other with offensive humor, there will be less resentment if they continue to laugh. This is why people’s laughs carry messages such as “Keep going” and “We’re just playing games, there’s no danger.”.

What about stand-up shows? Why do we laugh at these? Our brain knows that a funny show is prepared for us beforehand in such shows. So you are ready to laugh because you know that you will not be harmed. Sometimes, even the performer himself laughs for the same reason. If we take you out of context and put you in the same event, it will not be laughter. Take, for example, the act of falling. When you open funny videos and see someone fall, you laugh, but if someone you care about falls next to you, you don’t laugh until you know they’re okay. So, the first condition is the feeling of security. Humor comes after this feeling. Humor doesn’t make you laugh, humor becomes an excuse when you’re ready to laugh.

No Problem, Everything is OK

That’s the essence of the whole article. Although man manages to hide the animal structure that comes from his essence with his intellectual identity, that structure works very actively inside. Eye contact, involuntary touches, sweating, and laughing, which is the subject of this article. All of them are meant to give a message, and laughter reflects the most beautiful feeling of trust. Lots of smiles…

References and Further Readings

Simler, K., & Hanson, R. (2020). Elephant in the brain: Hidden motives in everyday life. Oxford University Press US.

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Tufan Özdemir

Hello there! I'm Tufan Özdemir. I am a philosophy student at METU. Philosophy has been a big part of my life and my life. For this reason, most of my articles on this site are on philosophy.

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