Laughter is NOT inspired by funny remarks or behavior, rather, it's inspired by a universal response to social situations. People laugh when they're interacting with each other. Regardless of the "hilarity factor" of the conversation, they'll laugh, but not when they're alone. Laughter is heard 30 times more frequently in social settings than when people are alone. Oh sure, we'll smirk, talk aloud to ourselves, smile and maybe giggle, but laugh right out loud? Nope, not when we're by ourselves.
Laughter and humor are related, but different. Laughter long pre-dates humor as modern humor has cognitive and language components.
Laughter is universal among humans. Other universal emotions include disgust, sadness, happiness, fear, anger and surprise. Several others are being considered, but there's no consensus at this point. All of these emotions have accompanying facial expressions and four out of the six reflect negative feelings.
Because laughter is universal and has a simple structure as far as dynamics in the brain, it's an easier system from which to explore brains and its behaviors.
But, proto-laughter is the source from which all human laughter has evolved. Imagine that...
Laughter is the vocalization of primates at play.
We humans rely on cooperative behavior and that level of cooperation is not seen in other species (fun fact: Recently, it was learned that snakes cooperate with each other when hunting!). We laugh to communicate that we don't intend harm. We also use laughter to elicit positive reactions.
Laughter is contagious. Just hearing someone laugh is enough to cause someone to laugh. People who are deaf from birth laugh at the same points in a signing conversation as those hearing people who are engaged in speaking conversations. Laughter is just that powerful.
The "voiced" laugh has a "sing-song" quality to it such as the "ah-ha-ha-ha-HA-HA-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha". The "unvoiced" is more like a noise such as the "snort" laugh.
People respond more positively to "voiced" laughter than the "unvoiced" because it sounds more "meaningful" and friendlier. It's more enjoyable to listen to because of its musical composition versus being a "noise".
"Voiced" laughter is a much more reliable means of determining a positive mood than the "unvoiced" laugh. After all, a genuinely "voiced" laugh suggests happiness and non-aggression whereas a snort?!? Well, what does THAT mean?? We can't be sure, so it may cause anxiety.
Observations have proven that "speakers are 46% more likely to laugh then their audiences and punctuate their own talk with laughter". Their laughter isn't a response to someone else's humor. It's likely that their laughter is stress-related. Speakers also demonstrate "pre-laughter" which is the "laugh-type" behavior before an actual laugh. Only 10%-15% of prelaughter comments are even remotely funny and are often actually dull, lacking in any humor whatsoever. Hmmmm...I'm wondering if this speaker-laughter is "mazing" behavior which is a stalling technique employed to buy time to think of what you're going to say next. Social speakers are full of "like", "ya' know" and other "stalling" phrases.
People often use laughter as "punctuation" and insert it into specific places "in the vocal stream". Observe your own speech. You don't say, "I'm moving, haha, now". You say, "I'm moving now, haha".
An article I read analyzed the humor of radio host, Howard Stern. The article indicated that Stern "provides listeners with a sense of belonging and make them feel as though they are 'in on the joke'". The "in jokes" are a way for the group to identify one another as belonging together and understanding/agreeing on what is funny. This process develops trust and causes those in the group to abide by the group's norms.
When I read this, I thought about the devotion to the Seinfeld show that I observed when I worked at a county mental health clinic. I was a seasoned professional by the time I began working there in order to get the required "post-doctoral" hours necessary to sit for a licensing exam. The other clinicians were younger, for the most part, and even if they weren't, they were new to the profession. As a result, I was given most of the difficult cases.
As a working mother, I didn't have time to watch television and felt excluded from their conversations. The show seemed to bond them together and they had no problems noting that I was "out of it".
I was concerned for their ability to develop into mature clinicians if they acted this way, in a professional setting, in their early 30's. This "clique" may have been, in part, a result of the unique humor of that series. Or, maybe they just didn't like me. I was older, held a Ph.D. and was a mother. We just didn't share the same interests. Oh well.
- Their comedy must complement, but not distract from the material. If it's all about their "show", it will interfere with learning.
- An amusing teacher's comedy will reduce anxiety, boost participation and increase their students' motivation to focus on the teacher.
- Humorous items on tests may relieve tension and students perform better.
Humor's primary psychological role is to serve as a buffer to relieve physical stress. It is an emotional response designed to stimulate a physical effect that leads to a decrease in stress hormones such as serum cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline).
If a teacher uses humor to reduce stress, increase participation and they impress their students as being interested in those students mastering the concepts, a witty teacher is seen as a more competent communicator and being more responsive to their needs than a humorless teacher. Again, their humor must be appropriate and serve to brighten the mood and make the information memorable. If the humor is not attuned to the students' knowledge, does not improve the classroom environment and fails to reduce the students' anxieties, learning may be negatively impacted.
Join me on Facebook at Dr. Claudia McCulloch