In terms of what we find funny, there seems to be three general categories of what makes us laugh. The incongruity theory suggests that it is humorous when logic is turned on its head, as when a joke or story takes an unexpected turn, or when non-sequitors are used, as with the old joke:
How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?
Two — one to hold the light bulb, the other to fill the bathtub with brightly-colored kitchen objects.
The superiority theory (aka Schadenfreude) focuses on laughter that arises at someone else's mistake or misfortune, as when a cartoon character slips on a banana peel or has an anvil drop on them out of the sky. The relief theory, briefly described above, posits that laughter arises as a relief to pent-up emotions or passing danger.
Neurologically, laughter seems to be produced via a circuit that runs through many regions of the brain. One study showed that within four-tenths of a second of exposure to something potentially funny, an electrical wave moved through the cerebral cortex, the largest part of the brain. The left side of the cortex analyzed the words of the joke, the frontal lobe, associated with social emotional responses, became very active, and the right hemisphere dealt with the intellectual analysis needed to "get" the joke. The limbic system, which lies just beneath the cerebral cortex, controls many functions associated with mood, friendships, and love, and also seems to be central to the production of laughter. Once the joke was understood as funny, the motor aspects of laughter initiated.
Physically, many facial muscles contract when someone laughs. In extreme circumstances, the tear ducts are activated. Additionally, the epiglottis half-closes the larynx, so that air intake occurs irregularly, making you gasp. Laughter also provides an enjoyable workout for the muscles of your diaphragm, abdomen, respiratory tract, and back. Researchers estimate that laughing 100 times is equal to ten minutes on the rowing machine or 15 minutes on an exercise bike. Not a bad way to fit in a workout!
While it's happening, laughter increases blood pressure and heart rate, but it reduces stress hormones like serum cortisol, growth hormone, and catecholamines. In addition, laughing boosts immune responses. After the laughter, overall blood pressure is lowered, and there is an increase in vascular blood flow and in oxygenation of the blood. Muscles are more relaxed, and there is an inhibition of the biological fight-or-flight response.
It's unclear why it can be so hard to stop laughing once you start. But, since laughing can be pretty beneficial for your body and for your social connections, in the midst of a laugh-attack you can celebrate the fact that something contagious is actually good for you.
If you see two people laughing at a joke you didn’t hear, chances are you will smile anyway — even if you don’t realize it According to a new study, laughter truly is contagious: the brain responds to the sound of laughter and preps the muscles in the face to join in the mirth.
“It seems that it’s absolutely true that ‘laugh and the whole world laughs with you,’” said Sophie Scott, a neuroscientist at the University College London. “We’ve known for some time that when we are talking to someone, we often mirror their behavior, copying the words they use and mimicking their gestures. Now we’ve shown that the same appears to apply to laughter, too — at least at the level of the brain.”
The positive approach
Scott and her fellow researchers played a series of sounds to volunteers and measured the responses in their brain with an fMRI scanner. Some sounds, like laughter or a triumphant shout, were positive, while others, like screaming or retching, were negative.
All of the sounds triggered responses in the premotor cortical region of the brain, which prepares the muscles in the face to move in a way that corresponds to the sound.
The response was much higher for positive sounds, suggesting they are more contagious than negative sounds — which could explain our involuntary smiles when we see people laughing.
The team also tested the movement of facial muscles when the sounds were played and found that people tended to smile when they heard laughter, but didn’t make a gagging face when they heard retching sounds, said Scott. She attributes this response to the desire to avoid negative emotions and sounds.
Older than language?
The contagiousness of positive emotions could be an important social factor, according to Scott. Some scientists think human ancestors may have laughed in groups before they could speak and that laughter may have been a precursor to language.
“We usually encounter positive emotions, such as laughter or cheering, in group situations, whether watching a comedy program with family or a football game with friends,” Scott said. “This response in the brain, automatically priming us to smile or laugh, provides a way or mirroring the behavior of others, something which helps us interact socially. It could play an important role in building strong bonds between individuals in a group.”
Scott and her team will be studying these emotional responses in the brain in people with autism, who have “general failures of social and emotional processing” to better understand the disease and why those with it don’t mirror others emotions, she said.
Japanese's longevity could be also connected to smiling (besides them diet), even if not heartedly meant, since the brain recognizes the mechanical action as everything being fine, which triggers releasing of dopamines...
"The Heaven's Lights are fed by the energy generated inside the furnaces of Hell; I AM One Conductive Wire! "
Breaking news about breaking wind: the world's oldest joke is a one-liner about flatulence, researchers say.
Academics have compiled a list of the most ancient gags and the oldest, harking back to 1900BC, is a Sumerian proverb from what is now southern Iraq.
"Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap," goes the joke.
Randy pharaohs, thirsty ox-drivers and barbers also feature in the list.
The oldest British joke dates back to the 10th Century, and uses the traditional question and answer format to suggestively poke fun at Anglo-Saxon men.
"What hangs at a man's thigh and wants to poke the hole that it's often poked before? A key."
Pharaohs and emperors
"Jokes have varied over the years, with some taking the question and answer format while others are witty proverbs or riddles," said Dr Paul McDonald, who led the study by academics at the University of Wolverhampton.
"What they all share, however, is a willingness to deal with taboos and a degree of rebellion."
As today, world leaders make good foils for ancient humour, particularly Egyptian pharaohs, as shown by this 1600BC joke:
"How do you entertain a bored pharaoh? Sail a boatload of young women dressed only in fishing nets down the Nile - and urge the pharaoh to go fishing."
One Roman jape dating back to the 1st Century BC details the Emperor Augustus touring his realm and coming across a man who bears a striking resemblance to himself.
Intrigued, he asks the man: "Was your mother at one time in service at the palace?"
The man replies: "No your highness, but my father was."
....interesting...i love when infants do it...
Now that is quite strange iron bro...I was comnig back from the hospital on the bus this afternoon ( uk ) and I was watching a young mother tickle her youg baby and the baby was chuckling away beautifully, it made me wonder why, however I dont think I have really addressed the tickling issue...Yesbro that is what gave me the idea for the thread, We alsolaugh sometimes when we are sad or frightened... Its a very complex reflex
Touch is an extremely powerful thing. The reassuring caresses, squeezes and hugs exchanged between lovers and friends generate powerful physical and emotional responses. Euphoria, relaxation, conviviality, lust -- they all come from something as simple as one person's hand holding another's. A gentle kiss can create physical arousal. Under other circumstances, however, a touch can be menacing and threatening. An unwanted touch from a stranger can lead to feelings of exploitation and anger in the person who's been touched inappropriately.
Humans clearly respond to touch, both physically and emotionally. Some areas on our bodies are more sensitive than others, however. Consider being touched by another person's finger lightly on the top of your thigh, a few inches above the knee. Not much of a reaction, is there? But imagine that same finger making its way slowly toward your ribcage, just above where it meets your underarm. Perhaps you've just drawn your arms closer to your sides to protect this sensitive area from being tickled by the hypothetical finger. Do you have a smile on your face? Are you giggling?
If so, don't be too surprised. Tickling and laughter (or a smile at the thought of tickling, perhaps) fit together like a hand in a glove. When we're tickled in the right circumstances and in certain areas, we can't help but to laugh. No, really -- laughter is an involuntary response to tickling
Physiology of Tickling
Beneath your skin lay millions of tiny nerve endings that alert the brain to all manner of touch and exposure to things like heat and cold. It's this sense that allow us to keep from burning our hand off if we put it on a hot stove or to know we should put on a coat and another layer of clothing when it's freezing outside.
When these nerve endings are lightly stimulated -- for example, by another person's fingers or by a feather -- they send a message through your nervous system to your brain, which analyzes the message. The effect of a light touch that results in a tickling sensation is the result of the analysis of two regions of the brain. The somatosensory cortex is responsible for analyzing touch; for example, the pressure associated with it. The signal sent from the skin's sensory receptors also passes through the anterior cingulated cortex, which governs pleasant feelings [source: Blakemore]. Together, these two create the tickle sensation. This sensation seemingly results from a light touch: As anyone who's ever been tickled too hard can attest, too much pressure can cause tickling to go from pleasurable to painful.
We know these two regions are associated with tickling through the use of functional MRI (fMRI) studies. This technology also revealed why we can't tickle ourselves: The cerebellum, located at the back of the brain and responsible for governing movement, can predict a self-tickle and alerts the rest of the brain that it's coming. As a result, the intensity of the sensation is muted [source: Uhlig and Derbyshire].
Why would the brain do this? It may have something to do with sensory attenuation, the process by which the brain filters out unnecessary information in order to concentrate on the important stuff [source: Queen's University]. A predictable light touch from your own fingers appears to not be worth your mind's attention, so your brain discards the information before it has a chance to enter your consciousness.
The fact that you can't tickle yourself supports the idea that tickling is a product of socialization
Social Aspects of Tickling
For more than a century, people believed that humor and tickling are inextricably intertwined. After all, if tickling didn't help develop good humor, then why would we laugh? Biologist Charles Darwin and physiologist Ewald Hecker posited that humor and tickling are related partly because both require a good mood to be effective (called the Darwin-Hecker hypothesis). Darwin certainly contributed vast amounts of knowledge to science during his lifetime, but he missed the mark with this particular hypothesis. As it turns out, humor and tickling aren't related.
Studies that have sought to test the Darwin-Hecker hypothesis have consistently shown techniques that improve humor, like watching stand-up comedy clips, don't make a person more or less prone to ticklishness. When we laugh during a tickling episode, it's not because we find it funny. Why do we laugh, then?
Evolutionary biologists and neuroscientists have explained (to a point) why we laugh when we're tickled. Simply put, we're showing our submission to an aggressor. The areas of the human body that are typically the most ticklish are the same ones that are the most vulnerable to injury. Humans have evolved to live in social groups and one function of these groups is to pass on knowledge from one generation to another. Through tickling, one person is teaching another to defend himself from attack.
Visualize what you did earlier when that hypothetical finger came at your underarm. Your arms drew close to your side as a defense mechanism. When tickled, a person will also try to fend off the tickler and squirm in an effort to escape. "Tickle attacks [are] the most benign form of human conflict," writes neurologist Robert Provine [source: Provine]. By evoking an involuntary laughter response, the tickle attack remains innocuous, with neither side taking the conflict too seriously.
Darwin wasn't totally off-base in his hypothesis, but the part about tickling being related to humor missed the mark. He also posited that we're ticklish in places where we aren't usually touched by others. People may be ticklish in spots that commonly produces a tickle reflex to varying degrees -- or not at all. Others may be ticklish in places where most other people aren't.
The soles of the feet and the underarms are two of the most common ticklish places on the body. But the feet's ticklishness fits nicely with Darwin's theory, since the soles of the feet are accustomed to diffuse pressure from the rest of the body when we're standing or walking. You probably won't get much of a response if you try to tickle the sole of another person's foot by pushing the open palm of your hand against it. What's more, the soles of the feet have a high concentration of Meissner's corpuscles, highly sensitive nerve receptors located close to the skin's surface. These nerve endings make the feet extra ticklish.
As we saw on the last page, the most common ticklish spots are also often those most vulnerable to attack, at least around the upper body. Your underarm contains the axillary vein and artery, and it also allows unimpeded access to your heart, since the rib cage no longer provides protection to the chest cavity at the underarm. The same goes for another ticklish spot, the neck. Without protective bones in either place, it would make sense that we would reflexively react to another person touching those areas. The neck contains all kinds of vital material. It houses two of the most important arteries in the human body -- the carotids, which supply the brain with blood. The trachea, which brings air into the lungs, is also located in the front of the neck.
Ultimately, we can't say for certain why people laugh when they're tickled, just as we're not entirely certain why people are ticklish in the first place. As long as there are older siblings and parents around, though, one would think that this unfunded and informal experimentation will continue unabated.
BBC. "Nervous system layer." Accessed June 3, 2009. http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/ ... ouch.shtml
Blackmore, Sarah-Jayne. "Why can't a person tickle himself?" Scientific American. August 4, 2003.http://www.scientificamerican.com/artic ... son-tickle
Mintz, Thomas MD. "Tickle - the itch that moves." Psychosomatic Medicine. 1967. http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/cg ... /6/606.pdf
Provine, Robert R. "Laughing, tickling, and the evolution of speech and self." Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2004. http://www.chsbs.cmich.edu/hajime_otani ... Extra1.pdf
Queen's University. "The science of tickling." January 19, 2006. http://www.physorg.com/news10056.html
Tierney, John. "What's so funny? Well, maybe nothing." New York Times. March 13, 2007.http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/13/scien ... ted=1&_r=1
Uhlig, Robert and Derbyshire, David. "Proof that you can't fool your brain with a tickle." Telegraph. September 11, 2000. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/ ... ickle.html
Yoon, Carol Kaesuk. "Anatomy of a tickle is serious business at research lab." New York Times. June 3, 1997.http://www.nytimes.com/1997/06/03/scien ... wanted=all
Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, "My friend is dead! What can I do?" The operator says "Calm down. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a silence, then a gun shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says "OK, now what?
As chosen by the History Channel, not me
Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson were going camping. They pitched their tent under the stars and went to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night Holmes woke Watson up and said: "Watson, look up at the stars, and tell me what you see." Watson replied: "I see millions and millions of stars." Holmes said: "And what do you deduce from that?" Watson replied: "Well, if there are millions of stars, and if even a few of those have planets, it’s quite likely there are some planets like Earth out there. And if there are a few planets like Earth out there, there might also be life." And Holmes said: "Watson, you idiot, it means that somebody stole our tent."
UK's funniest joke
A woman gets on a bus with her baby. The bus driver says: "That's the ugliest baby that I've ever seen. Ugh!" The woman goes to the rear of the bus and sits down, fuming. She says to a man next to her: "The driver just insulted me!" The man says: "You go right up there and tell him off – go ahead, I'll hold your monkey for you."
And Lost In Translation
An Asian man walks into a New York Currency Exchange with 2000 yen. He receives $72.00 in American currency. The following week, the same Asian man walks into the same currency exchange. He again exchanges 2000 yen. This time, he receives $66.00 in American currency. The Asian man doesn't understand why he received less money, so he asks the clerk, "Why less money when same 2000 yen"
The clerk replies, "Fluctuations." As the Asian man prepares to leave, he turns, looks at the clerk and angrily says, "Fluck you Amelicans, too!"