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Humor

Humor, the capacity to express or perceive what's funny, is both a source of entertainment and a means of coping with difficult or awkward situations and stressful events. Although it provokes laughter, humor can be serious business. From its most lighthearted forms to its more absurd ones, humor can play an instrumental role in forming social bonds, releasing tension, or attracting a mate.

What Makes Us Laugh

There are as many different functions and styles of humor as there are versions of the old joke, "How many ____ does it take to change a light bulb?" So why do we crack up at some jokes while others fall flat? Scientists have proposed competing explanations for why some things are funnier than others, but it seems clear that humor often involves the violation of expectations. Culture, age, political orientation, and many other factors likely also play a role in what people find funny.

What makes something funny?

Some who have sought to explain humor point to the fact that many jokes or funny events contradict one’s sense of how things are supposed to be. The theory of benign violations proposes that something is funny when it seems both wrong or threatening and essentially harmless—as when a comedian says something shocking but clearly unserious. (What counts as benign depends on the perceiver of the joke.) Other theories of what makes things funny focus on the role of tension-relief, suddenly “getting” how incongruous details fit together, and other factors.

Why are some people funnier than others?

In addition to being skilled in toying with people’s expectations, people who are funnier than most may exhibit qualities such as a willingness to take risks when making jokes and a sensitivity to how their attempts at humor are perceived. More gifted comedians might also be more intelligent, on average.

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Am I Funny?

Not everyone can be a great comedian, but many of us are the jokester of the family, the class clown, or the funniest friend in the group. Given the appeal of a quick wit and a robust sense of humor, it’s natural to wonder whether you are among the funny ones—and whether there are ways to become funnier.

How can I be funnier?

Some tips for becoming a funnier person include practicing joke-telling, taking comedic risks (knowing that some jokes will fail to get a laugh), and, of course watching, listening to, and reading the work of comedians.

Do women prefer men with a sense of humor?

Humor ability is among the traits women have indicated they most desire in a romantic partner, and they appear to prioritize it more, on average, than men do. Funniness may be attractive in part because it advertises a potential mate’s intelligence.

The Benefits of Humor

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Laughter is pleasurable in itself, but humor serves other important functions, too. Being able to laugh may cushion the emotional blow of a trying experience and lighten up a tense atmosphere. As a shared experience, humor can help bring friends, family, and romantic partners close together.

Does humor relieve stress?

Humor can make stressful situations better. In addition to the positive feelings that joking and laughing stirs, some have proposed increased feelings of social support and an improved ability to rethink distressing situations as potential reasons for a stress-buffering effect.

What are the social benefits of humor?

Humor can have a variety of social benefits, from defusing tense situations to strengthening social bonds between new or long-time friends (it’s sometimes called a “social lubricant”). A sense of humor may even serve as a kind of “social radar,” helping one detect and connect with like-minded people.

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