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
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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!



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

Male Privilege and Female Leadership

TOMATE PARTIDO (Acción Periférica)

Left Hand Rotation via Compfight

So I curate a Leadership Blog at a graduate school

This means sometimes I write for it myself, and sometimes I find great guest writers who write for us or allow us to repost previously posted articles.

I scope out the inter webs for insightful and practical articles for anyone in a leadership position…from a small group leader, to a parent, to an influential thinker and writer, to a minister, to a business owner. Anyone who influences someone else is in a position of leadership.

[BTW-send me your links of leadership articles or pitch me your ideas. I’d love to have new voices posted at the Deeper Leader blog!]

There’s a lot of information out there, but there’s a big blind spot too.

I’ve noticed something. Not too many male leaders list women authors, leaders, and thinkers in their blogrolls or refer to them in posts. You don’t see that women influence them. What about Christian male leaders? It seems twice as bad.

Michael Hyatt’s “Intentional Leadership” blog is a favorite of mine. I LOVE it. But have you noticed that not one video on his homepage sidebar features a female leader? Does he even realize the omission? Should he maybe be more intentional on this part….I think yes!

(and so should I! I need to question who I read and why. I have a blind spot too.)

Let’s mind the gap.

As I prepare articles to begin announcing our 1st annual Women in Ministry: Conversations with Leaderships forum (June 12) I realize the glut. It’s massive.

So, what’s up?

• Is it that men don’t give it much thought? (an innocent blind spot that is likely borne of “male privilege“?)

• Is there a hidden bias or disregard for female leaders, and even among female leaders themselves?

and do men feel less manly if they read women authors? Any of that going on?

• Do men think, “Sure, I support women, but women leaders speak mainly to women and not to me”?

Let’s ask some hard and honest questions while at the same time not blaming, dividing and separating from each other. Let’s move the conversation forward!

I, for one, am going to assume the best from my male writers and friends. I’m going to put my trust and hope in the idea that if we bring the imbalance to greater attention and awareness maybe we can chip away at the disparity and both genders will be richer for it!

• What about you?

Are the top ten blogs or books you read written by a balance of men and women? If, so why or why not?

Are you taking the time to learn from someone else’s purview?

• How do we do better at offering others the chance to hear insights from the whole breath of the human species? 

• What can we do about the blind spot?

LINK UP & Join Forces?

If you’d like to participate in the conversation, write an article and leave the link in the comments section. I’ll put the word out about your post too!

Andi Cumbo is tackling this and a few others. Will update soon!

What a Woman is Worth with Tamara Lunardo

Tamara Lunardo has only been blogging for a couple of years, but thanks to her openness on some touchy (and important) topics, her audience has grown rapidly. Sometimes Tamara uses salty language or speaks about the realities of life…and sex, and it turns out Christians have a huge fascination with that sort of thing. Go figure!

Enjoy a snapshot of our time together, were we discuss her community project through Civitas Press called What a Woman is Worth. Through a collection of essays, this book (due out in a few months) confronts disparaging views of women and affirms the female gender to do whatever God has uniquely gifted them to do. You go, girl! Be assured this video is all very PG, honest.

16 other videos interviews are at the YouTube channel (you can subscribe to the channel and never miss out on the latest enlightening chat).

Alise Wright is staring down Fear

I had a great chat with Alise Wright and we talked about her upcoming book project Not Afraid. Plus, we talk a bit about a few other things like marriage equality and Mark Driscoll’s new polemic book “Real Marriage” (and I may need to offer some bonus video material on that insightful stuff); can men and women be friends (best of friends, even when they are married to other people); and Alise’s upcoming personal work in keeping with her calling.