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Each week on Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, explore different aspects of human behavior and the brain.

What's the Role of Laughter In Our Lives?

What’s so funny?

In this week’s show, the Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, analyze laughter until it cracks you up.

Why is it that laughter is such a seemingly uncontrollable response? There's many angles in a discussion on laughter, since there is no definitive way of explaining or understanding such a complex aspect of life. So lets start by noting laughter is a form of social bonding. 

As we’ve previously discussed, humans are an extremely social species. Our interactions with one another are crucial to forming our understanding of our world and ourselves.

Laughter is a nonverbal form of social communication that can signal many different kinds of cues to a group. It’s a way of noting a shared experience, like those in movie theaters or at comedy shows. It can be a sneaky way to express a thought that straddles between appropriateness or taboo, since laughter is often used to mask any potential discomfort of those expressions with humor.

Laughter is also a reward. We enjoy the company of people who make us laugh and we seek to elicit a response of laughter from people because it’s a sophisticated social skill to be able to arouse the laugh response in a group. We admire people who make us laugh and we reward them by showing our admiration with our laughter. Rarely, if ever, would anyone want to stop someone from laughing. Laughter is an expression of pure enjoyment.

We can sometimes achieve a sense of catharsis from laughter. In some cases, laughter comes in response to a tragic memory after enough time has passed to reframe the narrative associated with the experience in a humorous light. Humor is a tool that we’ve evolved to use in order to psychologically protect our egos.

These are just some of the many ways that we can think about laughter – so have fun continuing to ponder all the ways that laughter adds value in life. 

Rebecca McInroy is an award-winning show creator, host, and executive producer for KUT, KUTX, and KUT.ORG.
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