An more often a function of the human

An Evolutionary Take On Humor

 Despite the common assumption that most times
people laugh is in response to a joke,

laughter is more often a function
of the human need to feel a sense of connection to others, a way

of feeling like one belongs.
Studying its origin in primates can lend some meaning to the ways

humans differ from their
predecessors, and can help in the deciphering of the structure of non-

human primate societies and how the
lack of formal, human humor but the presence of laughter

can be used to maintain bonds
within a group of individuals. Laughter as a social tool evolved far

before the human concept of comedy,
functions separately from it, and is very important in

maintaining social order as a practice
that evolved with humans and became more specialized

over time. Laughter behaviorisms
are present in many species, including fennec foxes and rats,

but in a more strict sense of the
word, is a phenomenon particular to the primate world, an

inherited practice from the
ancestors of humankind that has evolved over time along with the

species itself(Ross, Owen,
Zimmerman, 2010).

 The origin of laughter is not with humans, but
with a predecessor we share with

chimpanzees. Thus, studies of
laughter in chimps can be used as insight into another species’ use

of laughter, especially since the
linguistic component that can be dominant with humans is

lacking. There is a notable
difference between the surface characteristics of chimp laughter and

human laughter—chimpanzee laughter
appears more like panting and less like the concept of

laughter that first comes to one’s
mind—but both are a vital part in maintaining connections

between individuals and
particularly in chimpanzees, are important to convey a message that

play behaviors can continue. It is
a positive behavior, encouragement to keep playing and a

signal that everything, for the
moment, is okay. The variations in this vocalization range from

squeaks and pants to more
human-like iterations, the most human-like being that of

orangutans(Ross et al., 2010).

Orangutan squeaking is less
frequent than the noises made by

other apes, but it is a sure
response to tickling, although the vocalizations are not as lengthy.

 Laughter is not exclusive to the great apes,
and has been found in studies involving

tickling rats(McGraw & Warner,
2014). This kind of vocalization is much more like chirping

than human laughter, but is still
valid in the sense that it is evoked from play behaviors and




This particular vocalization was
measured at 50 kilohertz and is distinct from chirps that

were made when a rat was playing
with a larger rat that had an unfair advantage and made the

experience unpleasant. 50 kilohertz
chirps were reserved for positive experiences, and seemed to

signal happiness for the rats in a
way different from any other sound the rats made, as it was

consistently found to have positive
associations. Even still, when the rats were tickled, they

would very clearly display their
pleasure by seeking out the gloved hands tickling them and

darting towards the hand rather
than away. These behaviors were accompanied by the chirps, and

may not be a typical example of
laughter, but still fits the concept in the context of rats and the

way rats are built physiologically.
In another study, rats were given a choice to pick from

recordings of rat noises, and
overwhelmingly, they preferred the 50 kilohertz chirping sounds—

another instance where these sounds
signaled positivity.







Clearly, this sound is a sign of
pleasure  and enjoyment, and is one of
the more obscure permutations of laughter in species other than humans and apes
that have been discovered.

The way laughter is present in the
great apes, particularly orangutans, is the most similar

to the way it is present in humans,
and has the most relevance in terms of where the practice of

laughter in social contexts
originated. Acoustically, there are ties, though in terms of the apes,

laughter vocalizations are less
present in the exhale, and tend to have less regular vibration of the

vocal chords. The differences are
evident, but in both cases, laughter is present in play behavior

and as a response to tickling.
Through analysis of the acoustic frequency and qualities of the

squeaks and other tickle-induced
sounds produced by member species of the great apes, the

conclusion drawn is that the split
between the apes and humans caused laughing behaviorisms to

evolve differently, though they can
have similar contexts and are societally very prevalent in


 Laughter develops at an early age in humans,
though it is debated exactly how early—

some say as early as 5 weeks, and
others say it is not present until between 6 and 8 weeks

(Askenasy, 1987). Adversely,
smiling makes an appearance much earlier, and is a precursor to

laughter. Even as early as
preschool, laughter is a social function. A study conducted by

Kennerdine in 1931 found that over
90% of the times preschoolers laughed was in the presence

of others, meaning that it plays a
significant role in communication that is not necessary when

the children are alone.







Engaging in humor allows them to
build connections and to communicate

more effectively, and is important
even at those early ages when the conversations children are

having are not the same as ones
they will typically have when they grow older, in subject topic,

style, or dynamic.

As children grow up, they seek out
people that make them laugh. Bonds are formed more

easily when enjoyment between individuals
is made clear, and humor can be like a language in

that way—when people are smiling
and laughing genuinely, it means that everything is okay. It is 

very gratifying when one says
something intended to procure laughter and it succeeds, and the

positive feedback is why the
practice prevails (Treger, Sprecher, Erber, 2013). Positive

reinforcement as a response to
human behavior is a way to be sure it will stick around. This is the

way that laughter is important,
since it is gratifying to both parties, it plays into the need for

approval of both parties and is
doubly effective. The gratification granted by such interactions is

a bonding agent that tips the scale
in favor of those who know how to use humor effectively.

 The principle of reciprocal liking is
important in this case, because humans respond more

positively to people they like, and
if they perceive someone likes them, they are more likely to

generate positive feelings towards
that person and return the sentiment. It is a positive feedback

loop that paves the way for people
to form relationships based on perceived positivity from

others. Additionally, using humor
in particular can help greatly to establish liking and form

closer bonds with other people
(Treger et al., 2013). It is one of the tools people use in the

pursuit of feeling connected to
others, and establishing closeness in a way that over time, can

inspire trust. Thus, even humor has
another layer that is not immediately apparent, and is linked

to the way laughter is important in
building relationships.




Three main theories have been
developed in regards to humor and why people find things

funny, and there is not one in
particular that is seen as more accurate than the others. First is the

superiority theory, which posits
that when others are placed at a disadvantage or encounter

misfortune, it is funny. The second
theory is the benign violation theory; when one’s dignity is

violated in a way that is clearly
not a threat, and is ultimately inconsequential, people will laugh.

The third theory is the incongruity
and incongruity resolution theory, which in its essence is the

idea that when someone is expecting
a certain outcome and gets another instead, it will make

them laugh. Such is the idea behind
anti-jokes, which take well-known jokes, knock-knock jokes

included, and flip them on their
head by giving a too serious answer that is distinctively not what

one is expecting. A common example
of an anti-joke is: “What is blue and smells like red paint?

Blue paint.” They are a form of
comedy entirely their own, and though not everyone enjoys

them, their startling but logical
answers are often laughter-provoking.















Not every person will enjoy every
joke—comedy is subjective—but in certain cases,

people will laugh at jokes that
they do not even understand. It is a facet of social conformity that

has been studied since the 1940s
with many originators and much dispute as to which person was

the one who invented the test, and
it involves the human need to belong and be accepted within a

group. One participant would be
placed with a group of actors who would chat briefly to loosen

them up, and then one of the actors
would tell a joke that was clearly nonsensical, and the group

would laugh as though they
understood. The style of joke told would come to be known as a “no

soap, radio” joke, because that was
the punchline in each joke though the beginning could vary.

Most of the time, the participant
would laugh along with the group, and if probed about why they

laughed, sometimes they could even
come up with a logical explanation for why they laughed,

even though it was just a nonsense
joke. Studies such as this show how the content of humor

takes a backseat to the social
component of telling jokes and engaging with other people in ways

that are meant to make them laugh.
It is the bonding that is important, not the content.














Laughter in the form of comedy is
not the most important necessarily, though it is often

the first kind to come to mind when
one thinks about the instances in which laughter would

occur and has nuances that should
not be overlooked, subtleties about its evolution that are not as

well known as the concept itself.
It is much more rooted in a need to belong and a need to

maintain bonds as social beings,
and developed with the human species but not as a practice

unique to humans. It was the most
obviously present in the great apes, however; others, like rats,

exhibit behavior that has a similar
function to laughter. It may not be a universal experience

among all creatures, not much is,
but it is a multifaceted concept with more functionalities than

meet the eye. It has nuances that
can be explored through concepts within the realm of social

psychology, and has applications in
other fields of psychology as well, in terms of the way laughter affects people
and the people they spend time with.?