" Laughing Matters,"
psychologist and neuroscientist Dr.
Robert Provine examines the physiological basis of laughter.
In his book LAUGHTER: A Scientific Investigation, Provine
proposes that the rhythmic expulsion of air that humans universally
recognize as laughter is a primitive form of communication.
But just what are we communicating when we laugh?
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an unseasonably warm night in Boston's historic North End,
throngs of people loiter on the sidewalks waiting to get into
the city's finest Italian restaurants. But down at the end
of Hanover Street, people line up for a comedic, not culinary,
is the oil in the social machine
ImprovAsylum has been home to some of Boston's most talented-
and most spontaneous- performers since 1998. Tonight, a largely
twenty-something audience has come to be entertained.
men and three women take the stage, weaving audience suggestions
into surprisingly polished sketch comedy. When asked to supply
a profession, the audience comes up with "postal worker."
Two performers posing as amateur video jockeys then supply
song genres to two other performers, who spontaneously generate
such gospel non-classics as "Fed-ex A Prayer to God," in which
one actor rhymes "post" with "Holy Ghost."
The appreciative audience laughs supportively. It's the natural
response- but why?
laugh 30 times more often with other people than when
Many of us assume laughter simply communicates that we find
something funny, but Provine's year-long study actually reveals
something more. By tracking wild laughter in its natural habitat
-shopping malls, restaurants and bars, and on the street-
Provine recorded some 1,200 samples of conversational laughter
and determined which types of statements got the most laughs.
Rarely were these sentences humorous, nor were they even intended
to be. Far from punch lines, the most laugh-getting phrases
were more along the lines of "nice to meet you," or "see you
guys later." From this, Provine concludes that laughter is
the oil in the social machine, helping human interactions
run more smoothly. And his data reveal something striking
about just who adds that oil to the engine.
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