In this post, we’ll unpack all you need to know about humour, defining exactly what it is, its adaptive role in evolution, the science behind it, the benefits of it and more.
What Is Humour?
Humour is a type of mental stimulation that tends to elicit the emotional response we refer to as laughter. More simply, it’s what makes us laugh.
The difference between humour and laughter is that the former is a perceptual process while laughter is a behavioural response. While humour is the cause, laughter is the effect.
The Evolutionary Perspective
From an evolutionary perspective, humour evolved as a tool to create and deepen social bonds. It achieved this by expressing playful intentions as well as signalling whether a situation was threatening or not.
For our ancient ancestors, those that formed stronger social relationships, those that could create laugh-like sounds and finally those that could identify laugh-like sounds in others were more likely to survive long enough to reproduce and pass on their genes.
Modern studies also show that people who are perceived as humorous as assigned more positive characteristics.
The Science Of Humour
Humour is the juxtaposition of truth and falsity. In other words, it occurs when we recognise that our expectations have been violated in a non-threatening way.
Someone who judges a violation as non-threatening will be amused. Someone who judges a violation as threatening will be offended.
Laughter decreases the levels of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) and increases the levels of pleasure hormones (dopamine, oxytocin and endorphin).
Research conclusively shows that laughter aids memory, strengthens the immune system, defends the body against illness and ultimately extends life expectancy.
In short, humour heals.
Humour is a form of stimulation that triggers the laughter reflex. The common pattern that triggers it is the perceiving of two consistent but mutually incompatible frames of reference.
It strengthens memory, strengthens the immune system, defends the body against illness and ultimately extends life expectancy.