Laughter: The Mini BRAIN SCAN

It’s another installment in the HUMOR SERIES.

If you’re new here or late to the series, get started on these previous articles:

1 Intro: Laughing from birth

2. Step 1: Tickle Rats

3. What makes something funny may surprise you

4. Jokers ARE wild: Subversive Humor
Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 7.32.26 AM

 

How humor works like a mini BRAIN SCAN

(Secular) Biologist Robert Lynch, who also performs as a comedian, sees humor as an adaptive, learned trait; and one that helps us connect with others who share our values.

His theory about humor?
“You laugh because you believe it is true,” says Lynch, and his experiments seem back up his theory, at least partially.

A joke, in other words, is like a little brain scan: When we laugh, we reveal what’s inside us. -Robert Lynch

In an experiment Lynch conducted, a variety of people were video-recorded while watching an edgy comic who joked about gender inequality. The volunteers were then given a psychological test that measured their unconscious gender attitudes. Those with mid-20th century gender views of women being responsible for home and children and men bread-winning laughed harder at that joke than those with more progressive views.

 

In another experiment, people Lynch terms “self-deceivers” found much less humor in an entire joke reel, in general.

 

I’m guessing that because Lynch used this “self-deceivers” language to identify reluctant laughers, he probably laughs at just about everything. Naturally, if scientists are self-deceiving they are doing something wrong. Something unreasonable?

I’m betting that to Lynch “self-deceivers” are “other people”. Otherwise, he would term them “discerning” or “wise” or “judicious” or “pensive” or “still thinking about it” or maybe just “unsure”.

So, I wonder if he’s just a bit off the mark.

Could the phenomenon of less laughs be a combination of a few things he hasn’t accounted for?

• Could less laughter be a result of natural personality or temperament traits?

• Fewer habits of deep introspection?

• Previous experiences that predispose infrequent laughers to think quietly instead of giggle aloud?

• Or a mismatch in values? (What sorts of jokes were told? We don’t know because he doesn’t say.)

The subjectivity of laughter producing humor seems to be at play a bit more than his experiments can account for. And that’s no joke.Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 2.51.54 PM

I do agree with Lynch on this point:
We can conceal our true opinions, but in the moment of unguarded laughter, we reveal our true preferences.

Lynch says that the trait of a sense of humor is desirable and its presence or lack thereof helps us select a mate: A sense of humor is always listed in the top five traits people look for when mate-hunting.

Plus, humor helps us bond with those in our group, or determine who’s outside our group. This does seem clear.


 

And lest we forget, (the non self-deceived?) Lynch likes to work the crowd at open mic comedy nights. Does this scientist have a formula?

Yes. Sort of. Basically.

Here’s how he does it:

He finds common ground and builds on it. First he works at locating something held in common. Then, he points out a shared opinion or value, and underscores something that rings true to listeners.

It might start with some simple commonality like the geographical location of the place, a sports team preference, or the clientele in attendance.

He’s also snarky. If you like that style you might be amused.

“It’s great to be in New York City again. The coral reef created by sinking subway cars off Manhattan has a 58% higher rate of stabbings than a natural reef.” (or something like that. blah blah blah…you can watch the video on his theory here.)

If I’m writing a joke, often what I do is I look at things that I think are true, that people tend not to admit to, or maybe reluctant to admit to, including myself. -Lynch


Of course, I don’t hold the similar belief that the reason for laughter happened ad hoc and by chance, as Robert Lynch contends. That idea seems more like a punchline to me.

“Why did the cave man laugh? I’ll tell you in ten million years…”

(yes that was mine)

Sure, we adapt using humor, and we always well, but I doubt the source of humor was landed on by sheer mistake or mutation + time. HA-but that’s a good one. You almost had me, Lynch!


 

What may be the case is something that isn’t so stupefyingly accidental or self-deceiving. Something reasonable.

Namely, that One beyond our comprehension designed and equipped us purposefully with a sense of humor and in a way that we can better socially bond in positive ways…because we inherently need each other.

In a future post, I will go a bit further and pose a kind of theory for the purpose of humor and the reason for laughter based on some work from different researchers and my own educational background.

 

The takeaway:
If you want to know what someone is really like and what they really think, pay attention to what and whom they laugh at. Laughter is a kind of brain scan.

And examine what makes you laugh.

Dig deeper and find out more about yourself and what needs improving.

 

I hope you’ve liked this series.

Tell me which has been your favorite post so far.

Come back for “funny friday” and the rest of the series!

xo

-Lisa

For the latest info on my humor related projects sign up here.

Humor Series: Funny to Whom?

funny-old-lady-smoking

Have you heard this one?

Three Humor Science researchers walk into a bar. ….um. Wait. That won’t work. Let me start over.

Get a scientist to talk about humor studies and you get a quick reminder of how science can squeeze the life out of anything.

Dissection is destructive. But no more!

It’s time to find out in a better way:

1. What do people find funny and why?

2. How can YOU become more humorously winsome?

3. How can science and an understanding of human nature and spirituality help us find out?

That’s what this series will be about, and I promise that it won’t be as dull as it’s been when scientists have the mic.

If it’s successful, a long form project will go a lot further and get a lot funnier. That’s up to you.


 

Here’s the story of how it all started:

A friend of mine asked me to speak at a senior residential home on the topic of community. No problem. I speak at plenty of places on plenty of topics. I wrote my bullet points and picked out an outfit…and then things went bad.

The problem?
I didn’t know she was billing me as “hilarious”.

I found that part out only a few days beforehand. I went into a quiet panic. The kind where your hands get clammy and your sweat smells like bad coffee. You run out of TUMS at times like this.

I’d planned on being friendly and informative, not uproarious. I was going to present material and involve them in cute bonding activities, not split their sides in gales of laughter. My friend had been walking around assuring residents that I was the funniest thing going.

Now what?

Maybe, I could stick a joke in there somewhere:

“Have you ever peed your pants laughing? What a silly question–you’re old people. You peed your pants getting out of bed today. Is bladder incontinence a laughing matter? …Depends.”

Depends is right. This wasn’t going to work.

What if they hated me?  Some of them are in chronic pain. Some are grouchy. Some have little patience for sassy youngsters. These people carry canes and some smell like pee.

I could get the beating of my life! And I would deserve it.


 

The terror of bombing at the place drove me to research the topic of humor scientifically.

My purpose was to help these folks have a good time, not offend them.

What resulted was a quest and many discoveries. I had to find out if funniness can be learned, if public speaking can be improved with a formula, if laughter can be predicted, and if old people laugh at jokes about physical deterioration and, if so, under what conditions.

Well, it turns out the last bit is sort of tricky. More on that in future material.

 

On getting funnier

My research dug up a very good find and it might help you too:

One of the ways almost anyone can get funnier to more people is to appear harmless more broadly.

Does that seem counter-intuitive?
Yes, there are foul-mouthed, raunchy comics aplenty and seem to get lots of laughs, but they are not typically funny to the greatest numbers of people compared to plenty of other things (pies in the face, mistaken identity antics, prat falls, kittens jumping in surprise), and there is a scientific reason why.

What more people (on average) actually find funny hinges on giving them something that is funny at a further comedic distance. This explains why Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld, and Bill Cosby (before all that drugging women stuff was found out) have huge followings and continued success, and Roseanne Barr gets more annoying as time goes by.

 

What is Comedic Distance?

Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.

-Mel Brooks

In this quote, Mel Brooks underscores what humor researchers are finding empirically true. Distance matters a lot.

If your child falls off the playground slide and bangs himself up, it’s scary. If some man in a cowboy hat suddenly gets kicked in the crotch by an aggressive llama, it’s laughable.

The Kitten vs. Stern Proof

This is why videos of kittens doing silly things trump in spades the popularity of Howard Stern and his radio show antics. The hoards of memes, shares, and overall fans of funny kitten videos means that invariably, kittens kick Howard’s butt. Big time. Kittens won’t squash your dearly held values. Kittens won’t say something gross about bodily fluids. (Kittens are not funny to everyone, but they are funnier on the whole than a raunchy DJ or vulgar comedian. No contest.)

The difference between kittens and Howard Stern is this: Something “dangerous” isn’t personally threatening when kittens are involved.

Comedic distance (whether physical, chronological, or emotional) creates an amusing incident. The surprise pays off and people are thusly amused. If not, that you can get booed.

For me, I played off that my normal Thursday afternoons are spend with prison inmates and that I was REALLY happy for the upgrade.

I was then heckled by a woman who said,

“Don’t be so sure.” (She has it in for a few of her neighbors. It’s been ugly.)

To which I replied, “Well, you are all much better dressed.”

Resounding laughter. A win!


So, see if you can figure out why the photo above is funny (to most people)?

Answer:
The woman has made it to 100 years old and she’s done it her way.
Sure, smoking is dangerous, but apparently not much, in her case.

Having fun?

I hope you are enjoying this series.

Do you have questions about humor theory or getting funnier?
Let me know.

xo

-Lisa

Here are the previous articles in this series:

1. Finding things funny…from birth

2. Humor Studies: Step 1 – Tickle Rats

For the latest info on my humor related projects sign up here.

Triple Dog Dare

So, I was thinking….
I have a lot of fun with my blog, but
Do people who want to gear their lives around prayer, also have crazy personalities, and really enjoy a good laugh? (like me) Are these things mutually exclusive? I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but Christians are not a terribly funny bunch. Okay, let me rephrase that.

Prayerful Christians are usually on the serious side. No, not all, but plenty of them.

I realize I fall into a very narrow minority. I’m an odd mix of God-aware and straight off the silly truck.

This is where Triple Dog Dare comes in.
You would not believe how hard it is to start the ball rolling to get people unified and interested in prayer, but humor? That covers a lot of people. It’s transcends culture, geography, age, and clothing preferences.

On Facebook, I’ve started a page, and I’m letting out all the stops. That’s some kind of euphemism for going hog wild, which is something hogs do all the time when they aren’t laying around in a contemplative fashion in the soil.

Triple Dog Dare is about having fun, sharing humor, and enjoying a great time laughing. “Killjoy” is never an adjective used to describe me. I’ll be posting a lot of photos that are ridiculous and comedic or ludicrous (or other things described with the endings of “ous”)- and stuff that probably doesn’t fit the theme here so perfectly. (It’s possible that I pushed it with the Crucifixion Pastry. For some reason some in the lesbian community really enjoyed that one, but I still don’t get why. oh well.) I’ll be sharing the tid bits of my ordinary life that somehow have a way of being extraordinary bizarre (in a good way), and hilarious. Won’t you please join me?

Why did I call it Triple Dog Dare?
If you’ve ever seen the movie “A Christmas Story,” it’ll make sense. See if this link to the video clip works. About once a week, I’ll Triple Dog Dare fans with some creative jape. Then we’ll see what results, hopefully in video, photos, and tales of adventure.

Will this blog get more serious? I have to admit, I have not a clue. It may get more focused, but I see some intertwining as a distinct possibility. Let’s see this new extension as all part of organic growth. I have an overactive Muse.
So-Click & link up as a Facebook fan, and let’s get started!

 

Triple Dog Dare page (facebook)

 

Random question:
Which do you usually prefer laughing or praying?
Have you ever done both at once? If so, explain :)

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