About this author
Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
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April 1, 2003

What's So Funny?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Last week comedian Ellen Degeneres, asked a packed crowd at Davies Symphony Hall, "How do lazy people work up the motivation to procrastinate?" ...And the crowd broke into hysterical laughter that literally stopped her show.

What is humor and how does laughter make us human?  Steven Johnson tackles this important question in his second of two articles in April's Discover magazine.  One fascinating fact he brings to light comes from the leading humor researcher, Robert Provine, who describes in his recent book Laughter that humans are 30 times more likely to laugh when you are with other people than when you are alone.  So if you didn't laugh at Ellen's joke, try it with a larger group of people. 

Laughter sits on the edge of primary and social emotions, a place where once your tummy is full and you don't have bodily needs, humans, especially the young, will engage in the type of vigorous social engagement that creates humor. 

Some great minds over the ages have engaged the perplexing significance of laughter, including Freud in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, Darwin in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, and more recently, Jared Diamond in Why is Sex Fun?

Recent neuroscientific research suggests that there might even be dedicated "play" circuitry in the brain equivalent to the more extensively studied fear and love circuits.  Let's hope so, because just as advancing neurotechnology will enable us to down regulate fear it might just provide us with a safe and sane way to up regulate our potential for laughter.  We could all sure use it.

In the meantime, try these outlets: Ellen's Random Thoughts, Laughing Yoga (great combo!), The Humor Project, daily humor emails, international humor blog, or if you really need it...hire a certified laughter leader.

Don't forget to check out the Top 100 April Fool's hoaxes of all time!  It is April 1st after all :)

Comments (1) | Category: Mental Health Issues


1. Jokes Page! on September 28, 2004 3:54 PM writes...

Hey, i heard this today ;-)

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 takes 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 gunshot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says: "OK, now what?"

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