Laughter

I’ve written before about how we are mostly unconscious of our many status moves – ways we constantly act to raise and lower our prestige and dominance relative to those around us.  If anything we are in even more denial about status moves involving smiles, and especially laughter.  We tell ourselves we merely laugh in response to things that are “funny” and no, that has no function at all, it is just a harmless evolutionary accident.  Not true at all:

  • “According to a classic study of laughter … in … the shopping mall – they documented 1200 instances of laughter, and found that only 10 to 20 per cent of them were responses to anything remotely resembling a joke. Most laughter was in fact either triggered by a banal comment or used to punctuate everyday speech. … We are 50 per cent more likely to laugh when speaking than when listening, and 30 times gigglier in a social setting than when alone without a social surrogate such as a television. … Our first laughs occur at between 2 and 6 months of age … triggered by surprise in a safe situation (think peek-a-boo). … It encourages babies to explore the world by making them feel happy and safe. When infants begin to engage in rough-and-tumble play, laughter signals that the intentions are not serious. … Through its catching nature … laughter can unify the mood and behaviour of a group. … An “in” joke can exclude outsiders from a clique, for example. Laughter can be used to show who is boss and malicious laughter is an effective weapon of intimidation.” (more)
  • “Right from the start, boys are the laugh-getters, the buffoons and the school clowns who entertain the giggling girls, … in lonely hearts columns, … men tend to advertise their sense of humour and women seek a funny man. Provine believes this shows … female laughter in the presence of men is a signal of submission. … Many studies have shown that dominant individuals, from tribal elders to workplace bosses, are more likely to orchestrate laughter than their subordinates, using it as a means of wielding power either to bond their followers or to divide and rule.”  (more)
  • “Berk showed 14 volunteers 20-minute clips from humorous television programmes … both cholesterol levels and systolic blood pressure fell.” (more)
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