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Why we laugh, why we don’t, and why it matters
John Charles Simon
Laughter can reset downward shifts in status—that of others, but also our own. After we display a shortcoming, our own laughter often inspires a matching sympathetic response.
We’ve all experienced times when someone’s laughter brought about joyous relief, and others when it provoked pain and sorrow. A theory explains this apparent duality.
Win-win social interactions are highly prized but difficult to achieve. It’s easy to sympathize with characters who fall short of their objectives.
The social bonds we create and maintain throughout life are key to our success. Gaffes, indiscretions, and mix-ups are hiccups that often inspire laughter.
Cognitive limitations and misfires influence our emotional state and, ultimately, our physical and reproductive success. These vulnerabilities often inspire laughter.
Laughter is prompted by a wide variety of stimuli, among them countless examples of cognitive failings. Mental lapses, such as misspelled words, are often highlighted in humor.
Negative emotions are as adaptive as positive ones, but when they're misapplied or too strong, others may see them as vulnerabilities.
Emotions motivate us be healthy, attractive to potential mates, and good parents. But when they are mismatched to the situation at hand, they may be interpreted as vulnerabilities.
Performance comedy fits a predictable pattern. Put likable characters, with identifiable goals, before sympathetic audiences; then they strive, struggle, succeed, fail, and repeat.
The Mutual Vulnerability Theory of Laughter is a powerful tool for understanding human nature, including our preoccupation with status—our own as well as that of others.
We all have basically the same corporal vulnerabilities, so we should expect the highlighting of such shortcomings to be the most universal means of inspiring laughter.
The research of Dr. Brené Brown reveals how feelings of vulnerability influence our interpersonal relationships. A fuller understanding of laughter helps illuminate why this is so.
Philosophers have pondered the motivations for laughter for millennia. Today they are joined by scientists, therapists, businesses, educators, and humorists.
Our laughter isn't simply a reflexive response. It actively signals a perceived shift in our status relative to others.
John Charles Simon speaks, writes, and consults on a range of topics, including laughter, humor, their origins and evolution, and the central role each plays in our lives.