2 Ağustos 2014 Cumartesi

The Reasons of Laughter


Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç recently said that “Women should not laugh in front of everybody.” So, it might be a good time to think about the reasons for laughter.

Laughter is explained as one of the most important cures for our health by many doctors. We laugh at different kind of situations in different ways. Most of the people like other people who smile and laugh more. Janet Spencer’s article “Why We Laugh?” explains the reasons of laughter in a cognitive way.[1] According to Spencer, there are different factors which make us laugh depending on several reasons. We do not only laugh when there is a humorous situation, we can also laugh when we fear. The text explains why we laugh starting from the age of a young infant to the years of adulthood.  There is a specific relation about the complexity of laughter as a phenomenon and the age of a person. When a person grows up, he or she will find more causable, more sophisticated reasons to laugh. Furthermore, there are differences between women and men about the subjects, situations and jokes, which they laugh at. Women do not like jokes, which depend on sex and aggression.  On the contrary, these jokes are the most laughable jokes for men.

According to Spencer, the first reason that made us laugh is pleasure. When there is more pleasure at the end of the situation, we laugh more.  We find laughable events in our early lives.  First of all, smile is earned at the eight days of age. This smile depends on the pleasure of food, warmth and comfort, Spencer’s piece claims. This claim is acceptable according to New Theory, which basically asserts that one of the basic reasons of laughter is pleasure. But, also there are some other reasons, which make an infant to laugh. In early months, the infant’s world is very different from our world. Its simple psychology involves sensory stimulation through skin, eyes and ears but does not include perception of objects according to New Theory. When an infant begins to laugh at three or four months, the psychological shift is not conceptual or perceptual, it is rather sensory. Martin Grotjahn also states that as an early infant begins to smile and laugh, the more advanced is his development as the other issue of laughter.

The second reason of laughter is to express mastery over anxiety, as it was claimed by Dr. Levine from Yale University. The example about this is tossing a child into the air. When a child feels the comfort or when a child realizes that he will be caught, then he enjoys the situation. In addition to that, this case is a shift in sensory stimulation according to New Theory. Feeling comfortable is the key point in this example. As the baby is tossed upwards, he or she feels movement and the support. If baby feels the security or if the conditions are right, the shift in feeling does not bother the baby. It will experience the shift as pleasurable and laughable. On the other hand, if this game continues for a long time or increases the intensity, the baby might feel uncomfortable although he laughed at the beginning.                                                        

Adult laughter is based on different reasons as the text mentions. We do not always laugh at humorous things. Sometimes we can laugh at our fears or feeling of achievement could be the reason for a smile. In that case, relaxation is very important. The sample which the text mentions, is about giving a first dinner party. If a new bride will give a first dinner party, it will be a very stressful incident for her since she does not know if everything will be good. Before the party, she might be really nervous. If party finishes in a good way, then the bride wants to release herself from nervousness. So, she laughs. The Relief Theory explains the laughter as a "relaxation" or "the release of a nervous energy". When our fear or anxiety is high, we laugh more than an ordinary situation because it is about the degree of nervous energy. To illustrate, when we are about to fall while we are walking down the street, at first we feel fear. We have nervous and fearful energy. Then, regaining our balance will make us feel relaxed and we'll start to laugh. In this case, there is a change from fearful tension to relaxed security. When we gain our balance, we laugh because of releasing our nervous energy.

The other reason of laughter is based on the ideas of some political philosophers. Plato and Freud have different ideas over this subject. The text claims; “Freud recognized that we all repress certain basic but socially unacceptable drives, such as sex and aggression”. This case is also true for the Relief Theory. All cultures have some restrictions on sex and violence. We cannot talk about these subjects easily. Because of these social restrictions and taboos, we suppress our feelings. According to Relief Theory, when somebody talks about forbidden thoughts such as sex or breaking a taboo, we laugh due to the release of our suppressed energy about sex. Freud thought; “Sex and the hostility were the only drives whose repression led to laughter”. Therefore, when we make these jokes, we attend to these thoughts and express these feelings in order not to continue to suppress them.

Besides, Plato thought that the laughter is a form of derision. He did not agree with the idea of conventionalized laughter as in comedies. He expressed that it is harmful to portray people as laughing in literature. There should be a balance between being serious and laughing. Laughter could be harmful to a person’s character. According to Superiority Theory, “laughter is an expression of a person’s feelings of superiority over other people.” Plato claims that self-ignorance also makes people laugh. In this theory, there are two characters. One of them is the joker and the other is the joked. The powerful one always makes jokes and the joked has to laugh not only because it is humorous, but also one feels superiority. This case is also seen in the relations of men and women. Because in most of the societies, men have superiority over women thanks to male-dominated patriarchal culture.

While Superiority Theory is based on emotions involved in laughter, Relief Theory focuses on the discussion why laughter takes the physical form and what its biological function is about. According to the text, anxiety could be one of the reasons of the laughter. Dr. Levine emphasizes that if we laugh, it could be about expressing good feelings that we can cope with or we could laugh at some situations, which we cannot cope to reassure ourselves that we can. Sometimes we can laugh when we have even bad news. According to New Theory, we can show different reactions when we are faced with shocking situations. If a person is unable to accept an incident or face with the situation, his nervous system takes over with behavior, which expresses not horror, but rather amusement. It is about the rejection of the reality. Besides, since the laughter breaks our tension, we sometimes laugh in order to feel relaxed. Relief Theory explains this situation. Understanding the main point of the joke is also very important. If the punch line hits the person, he will laugh more. For instance, when a person listens a joke, he or she feels certain energy. If the story takes an unexpected situation with a strong punch line, the emotional energy will suddenly become superfluous and demand release. The release of this energy is called “laughter” by the Relief Theory.


Ozan Örmeci





[1] Date of Accession: 02.08.2014 from http://wenku.baidu.com/view/05a4f429915f804d2b16c16d.html

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