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why do we laugh? to survive, my friends – new research suggests

Even though a human (or even a chimpanzee or a rat!) laughs more than 15 times a day— I bet you don’t actually *know* why we all laugh. Where it comes from? Research suggests that, during the evolution of the human brain, we learned how to laugh way before we could speak.

Think of babies — those cute toothless smiles precede their ability to say a single word.

Laughter is a complex behavior, selected by nature over the millennia to obtain an advantage useful for human life (Davila Ross 2009).

It is more than safe to say that laughter plays a crucial role in our lives. Yet, until relatively recently, we didn’t know why laughter exists. It is a form of communication  — sure, but… How did this omnipresent — yet mysterious — social phenomenon come to be?

A recent study published in New Ideas in Psychology produced one new possible explanation: laughter is a tool nature may have provided us with to help us survive.

Carlo Valerio Bellieni, neonatologist and pediatrician at the Siena University Hospital, decided to review all the available literature on laughter and humor published in English over the last 10 years to find out if any other conclusions could be drawn.

This amounted to more than 150 papers that provided evidence for important features of the conditions that make humans laugh — and survive. That’s where the relief theory comes in.

The emergence of laughter and other primal vocalizations was at first intimately tied to how we felt: we only laughed when aroused in a positive way, just as we cried only when distressed, or roared only when angry.

The key development came with the ability to vocalize voluntarily, without necessarily experiencing some underlying pain, rage, or positive emotion.

This increased vocal control, made possible as our brains grew more complex, was ultimately vital in the development of language. But it also allowed us to consciously mimic laughter providing a deceptive tool to artificially quicken and expand social bonds—and so increase survival odds.”
Jordan Raine, The Conversation

Also, fight or flightI often mention it. Laughter could be a signal we have used for ages to show others that they can feel safe without a fight or flight response — the perceived threat has passed, so we laugh.

Laughter is like a mental mini-break. “It recharges our brains that are constantly working and accumulating all sorts of information and sometimes it just needs a happy surprise. This is particularly important in stressful times. Scientists call this releasing cognitive energy, or as Hank Green says in SciShow, comic relief.

That’s why laughing is often contagious: it unites us, bonds us, makes us more sociable, and yes (!), laughter signals the end of fear or worry. Comic relief may not be the best medicine, but sometimes, laughter can sure “save” your life, or at least a shitty day.

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