10 Fun Facts about Laughter

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Laughter, by Robert Provine
Have you ever wondered which gender laughs more? Do we usually laugh because something is funny? Robert Provine, author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, can answer these questions. Provine is a professor of neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the first researcher to conduct a full-scale investigation of laughter, taking what is a seemingly lightweight topic into the realm of serious science.

Over a span of ten years, Provine and his research assistants hit the malls and streets to document over 2,000 cases of naturally occurring laughter. From their many observations, they compiled some fascinating data about laughter, including the these 10 fun facts:

    • Laughter is an instinctive behavior, produced and recognized by people of all cultures.
    • Most laughter is not about humor, it's about relationships between people. We are 30 more times likely to laugh in a social situation than when we are alone (without the presence of t.v., books, radio).
    • Laughter usually follows comments in conversation rather than intentional jokes.
    • The speaker tends to laugh more than the audience.
    • In groups, women laugh more than men. Women also laugh more at men more than men laugh at women.
    • Laughter tends to occur in short bursts of vowel-like sounds such as "ha-ha," "ho-ho," or "he-he," which are repeated every fifth of a second.
    • Most people can't laugh on command. Laughter is not something we produce consciously.
    • Laughter is contagious. The sounds of laughter often trigger laughter. The Tanganyikan laughter epidemic, for example, immobilized an entire school district during 1962.
    • Laughter is believed to have its origins in rough and tumble play, evolving from the panting behavior of our primate ancestors (when tickled, chimpanzees and gorillas pant).
    • Laughter usually doesn't interrupt a sentence structure of speech. We really only laugh during the pauses we make for coughing or breathing.

For an in-depth discussion of the science behind laughter, watch Cracking the Laughing Code, Provine's lecture at the Chicago Humanities Festival.

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Shari Countryman


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