Post No.: 0240
The reason why humour and laughter evolved is still debated. But we are definitely far more likely to laugh when in the company of others, suggesting that it’s primarily a social activity and signal. Laughter is often contagious, and so it seems to be a form of social communication – for bonding and possibly to say that some threat was actually a false alarm.
It diffuses tensions and conflicts and so reduces stress – it means that things are all right. For example, we’ll tend to laugh if someone slips onto their heinie but no damage is done, but not if someone falls over and cracks their skull open(!) Yikes forever. Or if you bump into someone and you can both laugh about it then it means that everything is okay – and the laugh can be genuine or faked to appease the other party (nervous laughter may be to signal one’s embarrassment in order to try to lessen the punishment for one’s actions) in the hope that they will laugh the incident off too, because the laughter must be mutual for there to be peace and rapport. If only one side laughs, whether out of mockery of, or submission to, the other side, then it might escalate tensions instead.
We’ll laugh not necessarily because we don’t like a person who falls over but maybe because they experienced a temporary loss of dignity, which might make us feel good about ourselves, without the empathy of feeling their physical pain because they’re physically fine. Young children particularly like slapstick and pratfalls. Slapstick also benefits from not having a language barrier so can be understood all over the world.
Children exhibit a natural anarchy and a love of nonsense! They are practically born joking! Growing up just generally inhibits us. Clowns contravene the everyday laws of purity and propriety, and kids generally find clowns funny because they are precisely scary yet hysterical in equal measure. They’re supposed to be dark, satirical and mischievous – the tricksters. (And so when older kids or adults don’t/no longer find clowns funny, they’re just dark and creepy or at best tragic.)
Whenever fear or pain and funny collide – you’ll find the spirit of the practical joke! Once again, we laugh when we find out that some threat was actually a false alarm. Laughing is a huge and sudden release from stress and tension. Pee, poo and other bodily functions, muck and dirt where they shouldn’t be, and simply making a mess (e.g. pies in the face and slime), are favourites amongst young children. Gunge and squirted water possibly represent excretion, contamination and breaking the house or social rules.
From the ages of ~3-6, kids love pure nonsense and infantile absurdity. They like the deliberate misuse or misunderstanding of names, or the exchanging of names or genders. They major in raw imagination, surreal creativity and funny and fanciful stories. Rude words seem very amusing too – potty-mouthed kids are exploring the limits of what they can get away with. (Children do often say the funniest things!) Repeatability doesn’t diminish its value for children this age. Tickling and peek-a-boo also get gradually replaced with sudden and random acts of violence like whacking adults with toys!
From the ages of ~6-7, nonsense becomes regarded as ‘childish’ or merely ‘silly’, and an interest in formal joking riddles emerges (of the ‘Christmas cracker’ variety). The answers to these have an internal logic and tend to have a single inevitable (correct) answer. These answers are still quite surreal rather than cerebral though. Repeating a joke won’t work now because they’ll know the answer and the surprise will be lacking. They’ll laugh a lot at watching people fall over now too – there’s a close link between violence and humour, between pain and pleasure. They’ll even learn to laugh at themselves – often following up an accident with a deliberate pratfall to turn a potential embarrassment into a funny situation.
Humour may be used to help kids to turn pain into laughter, lighten the effects of mistakes, and ridicule the grown-ups whose power they envy. Their jokes, playful violence and pranks may possibly reveal an anxiety regarding their physical shortcomings (constantly being told by adults that they’re not big or old enough to do certain things yet) and their fuzzy frustration and impotence in an unfair world where the adults control and decide everything? Many kids’ jokes play with contrasts of scale, child and adult references, or display an impudence or disrespect of their elders, with a certain deliberate naivety (e.g. deliberate misunderstandings – much to the frustration of parents when they’re trying to teach them something!)
Jokes can help children (as well as adults!) to wriggle out of trouble. Some people controversially think that some children’s jokes have undertones of sexual curiosity and sexual fear too. They may certainly start to explore such taboo subjects at this age. Humour and laughter is also simply a part of playing, and playing is a part of learning and exploring.
Kids don’t understand that laughing is for social bonding purposes yet hence they’ll only laugh when they think a joke is personally funny rather than laugh to feel part of a group. Yet they’ll recognise that making others laugh will get them attention and status in the playground. They’ll often intentionally lead their victim to self-humiliation, in public!
Children are still looking at the world through fresh eyes – they’re less constrained and more curious (hence those incessant ‘why?’ questions). They’re more spontaneous and creative. They’re not quite as ‘brainwashed’ yet by norms or preconceptions so they can free-associate easier. As the connections between objects, their names, and their functions become solidified though, and our obedience to social rules becomes more absolute, we unwittingly restrict our creative options and childlike imagination. We must therefore search for and try to keep a little child inside of us. (Well not literally obvs(!)) Woof!
Men and women can like different jokes and use jokes for different reasons. Men often use humour more as a way to score points against other men if women are present, or just to bond if they’re just with other blokes. Humour for women is generally more a way of creating social attachments. These generalisations are grossly broad (like your mum!) but most men prefer sharp wit while most women will laugh if someone simply says something silly to them. But it’s culture first, gender second, that more strongly shapes an individual’s sense of humour; and cultures periodically change, hence what’s deemed most funny can change with the times and places too (e.g. the funny market in the UK and North America, at least, currently prefers more ‘leftwing’ than ‘rightwing’ humour compared to in the past).
A ‘GSOH’ (good sense of humour) in a man is generally more important to a heterosexual woman than it is in a woman to a heterosexual man. Men like to laugh with other men and like to make women laugh. Women like to laugh with anybody, although they don’t tend to like obscene jokes as much as men.
These are once more only generalisations, and individuals can indeed have vastly individual tastes in humour, and people with the same tastes in humour tend to gravitate towards each other. So it’s probably less about having or not having a sense of humour but about having a similar sense of humour – it’s harder to be the best or closest of friends without having a similar sense of humour because laughing together is a huge aspect of achieving a rapport between people.
I’ve got some more to write about on this subject but that’s all for now for this post. It’s not the longest but it’ll do. (That’s what she said… No wait?)