The Scientific Indian

Laughing out loud

Yesterday evening our three year old niece was playing with our four month old daughter Nidhi. She (niece) would leap towards Nidhi and shout. At first, Nidhi seemed slightly fearful of this leaping figure. At around the third try, Nidhi started laughing loudly to everyone’s surprise. Our niece, encouraged by the success of her antics, started a regimen of vigorous jumping. A positive feedback loop of leap-n-laugh ensued, much to our amusement.

This was the first instance when Nidhi was laughing out loud in such a sustained manner. Her father – like all fathers do – found this heart-warming. He has pondered about this and now thinks he has somewhat fathomed that laughter. Here’s what he thinks (inevitably, he has used the illumination provided by Evolution to muddle his way through. He may have gone off in a completely wrong direction. Tell him if it is so): A leaping figure that moves quickly towards you has, for most of human evolutionary history, turned out to be a predator. If not a predator it is atleast something we’d rather not have leaping at us. Fear is our friend. This fright-response is most certainly pre-wired into our brains. When our fear turns out to be unfounded, it’s a moment to rejoice. It tickles us to be shown wrong in a pleasant way. That evening, when our niece jumped at her, Nidhi grasped what a joke is.

Humor or ‘getting a joke’ is (in this case) the sudden release of tension, the happy realization that perceived danger is false. This is no predator coming to eat me! Oh, look, it’s my sister! Ha..ha..ha.. When what we thought to be a life threatening situation turns into a pleasant evening of playfulness, laughter attends the proceeds.

It is delightful to be in the company of laughing children. A baby’s laughter is one of the most pleasing sounds to our ears. Perhaps, that’s so because it is the most non-threatening of all laughter.

Laughter is, of course, more than just a release of tension (besides, I am not sure why we should laugh when a perceived danger turns out to be false. Why don’t we just, say, go to sleep or rub our eyes vigorously instead of laughing). Humor is a complex and fascinating subject that involves cultural and neurological basis of perception.

I’ll leave you with this:

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 shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says “OK, now what?”

-Winning joke submitted towards LaughLab project by Gurpal Gosall.

Checkout some audio of jokes at Sarah Angliss’ site.

Your serious thoughts on humor are welcome, or perhaps, you’d rather tell a joke: science jokes, scholarly jokes, everything with good taste is welcome.


  1. #1 Prashant
    April 18, 2008

    It really is quite amazing when infants get into bouts of laughter. Sometimes it is the littlest of things that gets them going with no stopping it until they themselves run out of it.

  2. #2 R N B
    April 18, 2008

    Here’s a joke:

    man thinks his prayer is what saved him

    Anything that offends the grown-ups can also be funny.

  3. #3 jillumadrasi
    May 2, 2008

    my 2-year-old nephew saw a picure of his own butt and thought it was hilarious. wouldn’t stop laughing.

  4. #4 Basil Hall
    July 28, 2008

    An explanation of laughter can be found by accessing my paper: Laughter as a displacement activity: the implications for humor theory. through the URL above. Just scroll down to the blind men and the elephant (A new perspective on laughter and humor)
    It appears that laughter has evolved from a vocal fight or flight displacement response. Comment would be appreciated)


  5. #5 Basil Hall
    July 28, 2008

    Sorry, It seems the URL is not published. It is:


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