Tickling Ribs and Tickling Minds - The Giggle-Inducing Science of Humor

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Tickles can be hard to resist, and scientists have devised numerous explanations as to why. Some theories may seem absurd.

One theory suggests that laughter at a joke involves shifting back and forth between our initial assumptions (based on scripts) and alternative explanations provided in a cartoon or joke. Damage to the frontal lobe may impede this frame shifting process.

What Makes Us Laugh?

Laughter and humor in general are natural human behaviors, with its evolution having occurred throughout time. Although different laugh-related noises have emerged over time, laughter remains universally present among humans and even some primates such as apes. Laughter serves multiple social functions such as expediting courtship, improving conversational flow, synchronizing emotional states and strengthening social bonds.

No matter the context, laughter is usually an involuntary reaction. According to Freud's theory of laughter as an outlet from life's stresses and strains, while scientists have shown its infectious nature; one study concluded that participants became tense after watching others laugh but their muscles relaxed as soon as they heard their own laughter.

Researchers have spent decades exploring what makes us laugh using various methodologies ranging from surveys to fMRI brain imaging. Researchers have generally determined that our ability to recognize humor involves a cognitive process known as incongruity resolution; our ability to do so increases when encountering situations that violate our expectations yet don't pose an immediate threat.

However, this theory has its limitations. It doesn't explain all aspects of what makes us laugh and its contribution to human evolution is unclear. Other theories attempt to address these concerns by outlining specific triggers of laughter such as feeling superiority or relieving tension or experiencing incongruity that create laughter triggers.

Thomas Veatch provided an exhaustive explanation for humor in a book published in 2021. He suggested that humor emerged as a means of social connection and collaboration in long-extinct human groups, theorizing that primitive laughing known as Duchenne laughter brought members of these groups together during periods of safety or satiation. Jokes and laughter can strengthen social bonds even today and laughing may have even evolved to facilitate courtship, foster cooperation among groups or help individuals cope with everyday difficulties.

Physiological Responses to Humor

Laughter - whether generated internally or generated externally - is a complex physiological response. Laughing activates multiple brain circuits, including those for controlling muscles, understanding context and modulating positive emotions such as the motor cortex, frontal lobe and limbic system.

No surprise that laughter makes us feel good, particularly at something funny! Studies show how laughter may even help protect us; research suggests it improves perceptions of pain and stress while helping us cope better with unpleasant situations. Furthermore, laughter may improve learning abilities as well as decision-making capabilities.

One study asked participants to complete a difficult multiplication problem by hand, with those who watched a humorous video before starting the task spending twice as long and more frequently correcting it than those who didn't watch any beforehand. Researchers postulated that watching humor videos activates parts of our brain which help manage stressful or unpleasant situations.

Most theoretical models of humor suggest that two incongruous or incompatible elements must be present to trigger laughter, with their sudden resolution leading to amusement or laughter. One striking aspect of laughter is how it engages all parts of our bodies at once - particularly those parts we find particularly ticklish - such as when your ribs meet. One such area where laughter often strikes can be the gap in between your ribs where people can easily be tickled all over their bodies.

Darwin suggested that our ticklishness may stem from our need to form social bonds; however, this theory falls apart when considering that some people find being tickled unpleasant or even repellent. Furthermore, studies indicate some individuals simply possess inherently high levels of ticklishness with no correlation between sense of humor and ticklishness levels.

If someone doesn't laugh in response to being tickled, that might not mean they don't find it amusing; rather it could mean their brain didn't expect to be tickled; In this instance both somatosensory cortex (which processes touch) and anterior cingulate cortex (which processes happy things) become less stimulated; whereas when you tickle yourself these areas become activated as your mind anticipates being tickled - something known as knismesis.

Social Responses to Humor

Humor often arises in social situations and often emerges through interaction among individuals. While we may laugh at an object or situation from a distance - for instance when watching a comedy film - most comedy comes from interaction among humans themselves. Humor has been linked with feelings of trust, increased positive emotions, reduced anxiety and depression levels as well as helping individuals recover faster from stress while even increasing tolerance to pain tolerance.

Human societies have evolved a sense of humor to foster human interactions by using laughter as a form of communication. Laughter serves as an indicator that something is considered humorous rather than serious, helping us feel less threatened by events outside our direct control or out of our experience.

Theories on the roots of humor suggest it arises from disruptions to regular patterns of daily life, surprise, or absurdity; and most people seek it out as part of a pleasant personality and life experience. Therefore, health and risk messages could benefit from including humor as an attention-getting tactic and gain more support and attention from listeners.

Humor's primary function lies in its ability to help us view situations from various perspectives simultaneously. Humor provides a lens through which to view life that allows for cognitive flexibility and multitasking - leading to creativity and innovation.

Humor plays an integral part in building relationships and forging rapport through common ground. Humor allows us to express and strengthen values, beliefs and ongoing commitments with others through humor. This can be especially valuable in the workplace where humorous statements or jokes could help a group come to a consensus on an issue at hand.

Humor can also serve to clarify beliefs and social norms through benign violation. For instance, in one study involving fraternity pledges engaging in teasing games between themselves, researchers discovered that even untrained observers could accurately assess who produced dominant laughs as opposed to submissive laughs during a teasing game between fraternity pledges.

Psychological Responses to Humor

Humor is an intricate phenomenon. Researchers are still trying to unravel exactly why people laugh and the purpose of humor. One theory suggests it might help cope with potentially unpleasant stimuli; Ohio scientist Clarence Leuba first introduced this hypothesis during World War II after tickling his children and discovering they laughed spontaneously; thus supporting this theory as not being learned but instead instinctive and natural response to tickling.

Psychological research also indicates that humor may provide a distraction from unpleasant emotions and experiences, like Norman Cousins who used humor to cope with arthritis pain. Furthermore, researchers have studied the correlations between humor and anxiety and depression levels but their effects vary between individuals; sometimes humor helps lower stress levels and lift spirits while other times it simply does not.

Studies have demonstrated the power of humor to significantly reduce psychological and physiological responses to stress, by shifting one's attention to positive aspects of a situation rather than dwelling on negative ones. Other research centered around how humor impacts one's self-esteem and emotional well-being.

One study demonstrated that people who reported feeling happier reported possessing an enhanced sense of humor. Other research has associated humor with positive psychological traits and reduced negative emotions like fear, anger and sadness.

Some theories of humor center around paradox and solving logical problems, suggesting that in order to find something funny it must first seem absurd and then violate expectations; another theory asserts that jokes should veer off from life's ordinary rules in some way without going too far off-track.

No matter the source, humor brings joy. Even as we chuckle at poor puns or watch cute YouTube videos, our brains are hard at work processing the amusement and pleasure associated with humor. While this activity may seem simple, scientists are beginning to understand its role in our daily lives and its complex complexities.


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