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Why Do We Laugh?[edit | edit source]

Laughter is part of the universal human vocabulary. All members of the human species understand it. We don't have to learn to speak it. We are born with the capacity to laugh.

One of the remarkable things about laughter is that it occurs unconsciously. You don't decide to do it, while we can consciously inhabit it. Very little is known about the specific brain mechanisms responsible for laughter. But we do know that laughter is triggered by many sensations and thoughts, and that activates many parts of the body.

The first laughter appears at about 3.5 to 4 months of age, long before we’re able to speak. Laughter, like crying, is a way for a preverbal infant to interact with the mother and other caregivers.

Contrary to folk wisdom, most laughter is not about humor; it is about relationships between people. We found that most laughter does not follow jokes. People laugh after a variety of statements such as “Hey John, where ya been?” “Here comes Mary,” “How did you do on the test?” and “Do you have a rubber band?”. These certainly aren’t jokes.

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We don’t decide to laugh at these moments. Our brain makes the decision for us. These “laughs” are bits of social glue that bond relationships.

Curiously, laughter interrupts the sentence structure of speech. It punctuates speech. We only laugh during pauses when we would cough or breathe. No one has actually counted how much people of different ages laugh, but young children probably laugh the most. At ages 5 and 6, we tend to see the most exuberant laughs. Adults laugh less than children, probably because they play less. And laughter is associated with play.

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