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The Social Origin and Function of Laughter


The Social Origin and Function of Laughter. Classic article by Donald Hayworth

Image courtesy of Marc Kjerland via flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)



Classic article on the social function of laughter, first published in Psychological Review in 1928.



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The Article in Full



No generally accepted theory of the origin and function of laughter has yet been set forth. But the problem has attracted attention ever since men began to write their philosophies. Psychologists, especially, have puzzled over it. Darwin gives it a chapter. Ribot presents the problem at length. Spencer considers it. Woodworth, Judd, Allport and others take up the problem. Books have been on the subject by Sidis, Bergson, Sully, Eastman, Philbert, Raulin, Vasey, Hunt and Gregory. These are only a few of the many distinguished men who have given their attention to the subject of laughter. 


Bergson, in his 'Le Rire' which went through seven editions in the original French and was translated into six other languages, says, "The greatest thinkers from Aristotle downwards, have tackled this little problem, which has a knack of baffling every effort, of slipping away and escaping only to bob up again, a pert challenge flung at philosophic speculation." Théodule Ribot, in 'The Psychology of the Emotions,' admits, "But to connect it with an internal cause, to say why one laughs, is a very difficult problem." And Darwin states, "Many curious discussions have been written on the causes of laughter with grown up persons. The subject is extremely complex." 


Gregory has written the most recent extended work on the subject, 'The Nature of Laughter.' After his comprehensive research, he states, "No specific purpose seems to be appropriated to laughter." One might well sum up the quandary of science in regard to laughter in the words of Allport, "Laughter, which is preeminently a response to social stimulation, has been a subject of speculation among philosophers of all ages. The greatest obstacle to a satisfactory explanation has been that, unlike other basic forms of behavior, laughing does not serve any known biological purpose." 



It is my present purpose to project into the discussion a theory of the origin of laughter on the ground that it is not a biological, but a social function. I do not pretend to give an entirely complete theory of the ludicrous. But my suggestion does bring, I believe, a certain amount of order out of the psychological and philosophical chaos now surrounding the discussion of laughter. 



1. LAUGHTER AS A MEANS OF COMMUNICATION 


Let us approach the phenomenon of laughter from its physiological side. The first thing we note is that a larger amount of air is gasped into the lungs than in ordinary breathing. If spasms of laughter continue, the inhalation of large amounts of air is repeated. Taking a big breath is accompanied by tensing the body. Angell states, "The laugh is the motor activity which inevitably accompanies the explosive release from sustained tension, with its suspended breathing." So two things are noted physiologically before laughter begins, the taking in of a big breath and the tensing of the body. The laugh is initiated with a general relaxation of the body. The mouth is opened for vocalization. The zygomaticus major muscles pull back the corners of the mouth. As the mouth is opened there is an adjustment of the vocal bands for sound production and the air is forced out by rhythmic contractions of the muscles of expiration. Laughter resembles speech in that it is a physiological byproduct of breathing. West explains the fundamental purpose of the original inhalation of a large amount of air.


"If what happens in a given situation is incongruously different from what we expected to happen, we catch our breath instinctively. We react like the caveman who finds the puma in his cave. We prepare our bodies for action. We gasp." In other words, the original gasp for air is for the purpose of supplying oxygen to the muscles for an emergency. It is undeniably true that there is an instinctive act of taking a big breath preparatory to meeting an emergency or performing any vigorous physical act. From the physiological nature of man we can assume that such instinctive taking of big breaths in the face of danger is older than laughter. 


Man has long been a gregarious animal. He withstood dangers, he approached his quarry, he fought his enemies with the assistance of his fellows. In the later development of man this social life developed speech. But before speech developed there was a long period in the history of the race in which there were prelingual vocal signals not unlike those of the other animals today. Children's crying is undoubtedly older than speech. So vocal signals, all anthropologists will surely admit, came before elaborate language. 


In primitive times men were necessarily alert to the many dangers that beset them. Whenever a danger threatened the group its members tensed their bodies and nerved themselves for the possible emergency. This is a wearing, energy-taking attitude. On all such occasions it was an economy for the group to have some signal which could be used by the first one who discovered that the danger was over. Such a signal was likewise helpful in case the group were dispersed, as in a forest. If a member of the group found that the supposed enemy was a friend, or that the alarming noise was only the falling of a rotten limb, or if he discovered the enemy and killed him, a signal would have been valuable for carrying information to other members of the group that the danger was passed—that it was safe to relax. The only means of signalling distant comrades and those with their backs turned, and the easiest way of signalling those nearer, was by vocalization - a process especially available because of having already filled the lungs more than usual in order to meet the emergency. 


My theory is that laughter was originally a vocal signal to other members of the group that they might relax with safety. It is as deeply implanted in the social fabric of human society as is singing among the birds. Whether it is an original part of our equipment (instinctive) or is acquired by learning no one knows, but that makes no difference in the present discussion, because if laughing is not instinctive it is at least a conditioned response acquired early in life. 


Laughter is especially well adapted for signalling, as will be seen on a reconsideration of its physiology. The purpose of the bodily tension and heavier breathing is to meet an emergency. Pulling the corners of the mouth back assists in vocalization because sounds carry further when made with the lips withdrawn as in laughter than when made with the lips passive. The rhythmic contractions of the muscles of expiration vary the sound and thus make a better signal than would sound without variation. The relaxation, always found in laughter, resulted originally from a consciousness of safety. 


No one has before presented the explanation of laughter as developing from a vocal signal that relaxation is safe, but we shall see later that this explanation is only a logical development of the thinking of many others. 


Laughter and smiling are so closely connected that it is necessary to explain the development of the latter. Let me begin by quoting Darwin, whose explanation will surely be accepted, not necessarily because of his eminence, but because of the reasonableness of what he says, "The habit of uttering loud reiterated sounds from a sense of pleasure, first led to the retraction of the corners of the mouth and upper lip, and to the contraction of the orbicular muscles; and that now, through long association and long-continued habit, the same muscles are brought into slight play whenever any cause excites in us a feeling which, if stronger, would have led to laughter; and the result is a smile."


As set forth here laughing preceded smiling in the history of the race. An objection may be raised upon the fact that an infant develops a smile many weeks before he laughs. The answer is: Parts of action patterns may be developed independently and later be consolidated. For example, the infant develops action patterns connected with walking, speech, and sex long before the final, completed movement is developed. Continuing Darwin's explanation, it should be noted that we use facial expression as well as vocalization as a very definite means of communication. It was a natural development from laughter that when primitive man was within sight of his fellows he should come to use the smile as a signal. As the laugh was a vocal signal that everything was safe, so a smile was a derived visible symbol of the same meaning. The transfer of meaning from vocal symbols to visible symbols occurs again and again. Perhaps the most interesting and conclusive example is to be found among deaf children who have been taught, without the assistance of the auditory check, both to speak and to read lips. When talking with a normal person they vocalize, but when talking with other deaf individuals they go through all the external movements of speech without using the vocal folds, and consequently they make little or no sound. So deaf persons, in conversing with each other, abandon the use of sound and use only the derived visible symbols. It seems entirely reasonable, then, that the smile is a derived visible signal, developing from a vocal signal. 


On the first consideration one is inclined to wonder why we smile in the most simple and apparently safe situations, such as when we pass a friend on the street, or as we make some pleasant remark to a child. The answer, according to the present theory, is that through the smile as a derived signal we flash the meaning or information, "Have no fear of me. I like you and will not hurt you. The situation is safe." Laughter and smiling still retain their original meaning. They have wider applications. They have made new adaptations. But fundamentally they have remained the same. This will be apparent as we take up the commonly recognized facts of laughter and see how they harmonize with the theory.





2. THE THEORY OF COMMUNICATION AS RELATED TO THE FACTS OF LAUGHTER 


The most outstanding fact of laughter is that the individual experiences a certain pleasant exhilaration, known as joy. According to the theory of communication it would not be said that laughter originally caused joy, or that joy caused laughter; but rather, laughter and joy had the same cause, namely, a sudden realization of safety. Laughter as a signal came to be automatic. It was a response to a given type of situation, and was retained and developed in the economy of human society because it performed an important function. Since a sudden realization of safety is one of those things which always cause joy, and since a sudden realization of safety almost always produces laughter, it is natural that laughter and joy should frequently be found together. But there was originally no causal relationship between the two. Nevertheless it may be pointed out that through the conditioning process there is some slight arousal of the physiological changes of joy when laughter is produced volitionally, even though such laughter is not caused by any sudden realization of safety. 


This leads us to consider why people enjoy laughing. Kaiser, in his article entitled, 'The Psychology of the Thrill,' has pointed out that the human organism is so built that it craves the 'thrill.' In other words, it delights in a period of tension followed by relaxation. People are willing to go through uncertainty for the joy of being assured that they are safe. So, as a matter of fact, people do not seek laughter, but rather they desire the concomitant of laughter, namely, joy.


Another fact connected with laughter is that in some cases it is more easily excited than in others. It varies between individuals and it varies in the same individual from time to time. Those who are obsessed by fears or who suffer from inferiority complexes do not laugh easily. The explanation is that if the organism is in an aggressive, conquering attitude it will exult with a feeling of safety over threatened obstructions and will communicate this to the rest of the group through the conditioned response of laughter. 


Let me point out that laughter always follows bodily tension and is accompanied by relaxation. Tension and relaxation have been incident to anticipating danger and then realizing suddenly that there is no danger after all. And laughing has been incident to relaxation and expelling the breath merely as a social signal. 


A person will laugh more heartily in a large group than in a small one. There are more to whom one may communicate his realization that the danger is over. And his method of communication must be more pronounced in a large group, else he will be ignored. This is closely analogous to the almost automatic increase in volume of a person's voice when speaking to a large group as compared with speaking before a small group. 


One step further: This theory explains why people who live an isolated life tend to use less and less laughter. Of what good is a means of communication when there is none with whom one may communicate? This is likewise closely analogous to speech. It is harder to talk with one who has been isolated than with one who has lived in a compact society. 


Some might ask, 'Why do we ever laugh by ourselves'? We laugh by ourselves in much the same manner as we talk by ourselves. When we laugh alone it is rather muffled, indistinct, and weak, just as our speech under a similar condition is muffled, indistinct, and weak. But when we laugh in a group it is a clear, definite, strong signal. There are some - perhaps most - people who affirm after introspection that when laughing they recognize it as a means of social control.


Laughter is most pronounced in children, slightly intoxicated persons, and some idiots. In such individuals laughter is not subject to the normal amount of cerebral inhibition. Speech is also more spontaneous in such persons. So they give full expression in the form of laughter on the slightest intimation of social safety. 


Every one has seen individuals laugh with no further provocation than seeing another laugh. This is easily explainable by the present theory. When one individual laughed in primitive times it was desirable to have the signal repeated to more distant members of the group. This is done among all the animals I have observed, as far as their signals are concerned. 


Laughter may be excited by things other than the original cause. Thus some vegetables and fruits, such as onions and bananas, are called humorous. The odor of onions and the slipping on a banana peel are so frequently connected with the ludicrous that they are apt to provoke a smile and on occasions a laugh, even though the immediate situation is not laughable. Funny strips in the papers, certain movie actors, and innumerable other things are so frequently connected with the ludicrous that they set up laughter responses solely through the conditioning process. 


Another fact of laughter is that it is characteristic of play. In fact, it is so characteristic of play that Sully makes it an inherent part of play, although the connection is not clearly established. Certain forms of play do not cause laughter. When play causes laughter it involves some sort of triumph. It is usually the triumph of one individual over another. The nature of play is such that there is not much danger involved, but the triumph is much greater proportionately. Failure is not dangerous except for a certain amount of social humiliation. But success has the rather pale joy of playful triumph made more intense by the general sense of well-being that pervades the whole activity. So, because play is filled with little thrills and triumphs, and because the whole affair is safe, it is easy to see why the signal of laughter should be given frequently and loudly. 


Let us now consider another fact of laughter. Sully observes, "It [laughter] does much, indeed, to tone down the uneasy and half-suspicious attitude which members of any group are apt to take up on first having to do with those of a strange group, especially one of higher rank." 16 One could go even further: humor and its consequent laughter, or inclination to laughter, is used by business men and others as a means of approach to suspicious individuals. In this case it is obvious that laughter is used as a signal of safety in order to encourage subsequent relaxation. 


Many writers have not differentiated carefully enough between laughing at a person and laughing with him. Few things infuriate an individual more than being laughed at. The reason is that the laugher plainly implies his own superiority over the one at whom he laughs. He implies the helplessness of the other. But when we encourage some one to laugh with us at some third party or at some circumstance it binds the two laughers together in a mutual realization of safety. 


It is commonplace to point out the function of laughter in preserving social customs. In this connection Bagehot is quoted as saying that formerly among all people and now among most people novelty is hated and despised, and change is looked upon as bad and wicked. As an example, for a person to appear naked in public is not at all extraordinary among certain peoples. But in the United States it would cause a furor. The individual would be forcibly held until the police arrived. No one present would think of laughing. But suppose, instead of appearing naked, some college boys are seen wearing pajamas in public as part of a fraternity initiation. Social usages are being violated but we recognize that the violation is not vital - that society will still be safe. And we give the signal of our opinion by laughing. Others will probably take up the signal and the college boys will not be disturbed.


It has been noted that there are people who claim to enjoy the ludicrous but who seldom laugh aloud. Such a condition is entirely compatible with the present theory. But in the first place we must say that in this respect they are at least uncommunicative. In the second place it may be true that although there is a pale emotion of joy, it is probably not so fully joyous as the feeling of one who laughs. In the third place, such individuals realize they are atypical and in order to be socially acceptable they are loud in their assertion that they enjoy the comic. So, although laughter did not originally cause joy it is reasonable to believe that the more fully we give ourselves over to laughter the more fully othei conditioned physiological changes will produce joy. 


Sometimes laughter is caused by the sudden telling of bad news or by a great calamity. The death of a dear friend or the burning of a house may cause laughter, and this phenomenon is unexplainable by the persons who laugh. In dealing with this we must first note that it is extremely unusual and has doubtless excited more attention than its frequency deserves. There seems to be no satisfactory explanation. It is possible, however, that the vigor of so great a stimulus might carry the individual hysterically through the entire range of reaction, e.g., the normal occurrence is that a shock is followed by some solution to the problem. 


Eastman states, "We experience thus a confused sense of pain combined with pleasure, or at least the dread of pain with humorous delight." Sully observes, "A child may be seen oscillating between laughter and fear as some new strange sight bursts upon him. This oscillation is the flitting of consciousness from one state to another - a balancing between fear and 'sudden glory.' This alternate state of consciousness occurs in transitions between other mental states as from fear to anger.


Now we come to the consideration of the most important group of facts concerned with laughter: anything which disturbs the feeling of social safety or individual triumph has its corresponding effect on laughter. No one normally laughs unless he and his group are safe. Different groups have different causes of laughter. Social customs, taboos, conventions, habits of life, language—all these things have to do with a feeling of social safety and so determine to a great extent the nature of laughter. In certain situations things are ludicrous which would not be humorous elsewhere. In church, for example, conventions are observed that do not hold other places. Soldiers going into battle may laugh easily. In other words, anything that breaks the tenseness by the suggestion that the situation is safe brings laughter. The repetition of a joke will not ordinarily produce laughter because there is no sudden transition from fear to a realization of safety. But sometimes we do laugh at familiar jokes, either from imitating those who laugh in our hearing, or from the conditioning we received when first we heard the joke. We never laugh if the unknown fear still bulks large enough to perplex us. All of the conditions in this paragraph have to do with the suddenness of, and the amount of difference in, the transition from tension to a realization of safety. 


I have now considered the outstanding facts of laughter as observed in the rather extensive writings on the subject, and have attempted to show how they fit in with the theory that laughter was originally a signal to other members of the group that a danger had been passed and relaxation could be indulged in with safety.





3. THE THEORY OF COMMUNICATION AS RELATED TO THE KINDS OF LUDICROUS SITUATIONS 


At the outset we had best acknowledge that there is no satisfactory classification of the kinds of ludicrous situations. A classification according to subject matter is out of the question because it would include all things in the universe animate and inanimate, together with all kinds of action and all combinations of circumstances. In short, everything can be made the subject of humor. So no classification can be made according to subject matter. Moreover, no classification can be made according to technique of developing humor, for there is only one means by which it may be done, namely, to create a state of tension and then suddenly bring relaxation. Since the subject matter is universal and the technique is limited, a complete classification on either of these bases is impossible. But it is possible to pick here and there a topic that lends itself especially well to successful humor. And it is also possible to isolate a few of the tricks of provoking humor, or certain circumstances under which it is more successful. Some of these will now be considered. 


1. Many authors have held that primitive laughter was a savage laugh of triumph over a conquered enemy. This fits in so well with the theory of the present paper that explanation is superfluous. Sidis says, "The laugher of triumph runs through all the stages of life." So we hear it on the playground, at the card table, in practical joking, and so on ad infinitum. Physical contests are more likely to call forth hearty laughter than mental contests. 


2. The observation of easy triumph provokes laughter, especially if the individual previously considered superior has been easily defeated. This is not primarily a laughter of triumph. Presumably the victory of one or the other makes no difference to the observer. But he is surprised just as one is surprised when any other unlooked for thing happens. Besides this there are undoubtedly other factors involved. He feels a certain superiority over the defeated (this making it partly a laughter of triumph). He has sympathy with the victor, which encourages him to give the victory signal of social safety and make an ally of the victor. 


3. Tickling is one of the most interesting provocatives of laughter. The tickler takes the part of the enemy, or at least he stimulates those portions of the body which are most plentifully supplied with protective reflexes - the sole of the foot, the armpits, the solar plexus, the throat, etc. These portions are those which are most susceptible to irritation by contact. We have an instinctive aversion to unusual touches under the arms. We are careful to protect the solar plexus from a blow, and in the sole of the foot the plantar reflex may be touched off. Such portions of the body surface are the portions most easily tickled. Writers on the subject of tickling have been perplexed by attempting to consider the sole of the foot and palm as being different from the armpits and abdomen, saying that while large blood vessels come near the surface at the armpits and while the abdomen is obviously a vital portion of the body surface, yet the sole of the foot and the palm are not vital. On the other hand I believe these are indirectly vital on account of being the means of flight and combat, and because being extremities they are the most likely to be first touched by an enemy. 


4. Telling a funny story is an obvious attempt at humor. It is an artificial cultivation of a situation resulting in an emotional thrill, and, again referring to Kaiser's 'The Psychology of the Thrill,' it is shown that we seek thrills and enjoy them, hence our enjoyment of the funny story. The funny story is an artistic thing even as is the novel, the movie, or the drama - it is an artificial excitement of the feeling of social safety after a thrill, and laughter is its byproduct. 


5. There is a good deal of humor that does not provoke laughter. In other words, the feeling of well-being associated with individual or social safety is present without an effort to communicate it. This is explained by the fact that in a continuous state of well-being there is no need for pronounced, sudden proclamations of social safety. Then there are types of changes in circumstances which do not come on suddenly and which thus tend to promote a sense of wellbeing without suddenness. But when man is thoroughly enjoying life he is prone to laugh easily, though not in huge guffaws. This quiet, easy laughter on slight provocation serves a purpose comparable to the contented clucking of a hen and the chirping of her chicks, which keep them together and pass the information that all is well. This type of laughter doubtless developed from the explosive laughter following desperate situations. 


6. Incongruity is a frequent source of humor. This is caused by surprise followed by a realization of social safety, and the signal of laughter to our fellows as an accompaniment of this realization. Incongruity covers a considerable portion of our humor. It includes the humor of unusual costumes, bad manners, foreign customs, etc. In all these, laughter is a means of passing information around the group that there is no cause for alarm. 


7. We last come to a type of laughter that has never been isolated as such, namely, laughter that does not grow out of the situation but which is produced volitionally. For example, the bully may subject his associates by laughing at them, implying by his laughter that he is superior. A mischievous boy may infuriate his teacher by laughing at her, intimating that she cannot control him. In order to disarm his customer the salesman may use laughter as well as smiles even though there is little or nothing in the situation to call it forth. Laughter may be used to communicate contempt, to cover up shyness or embarrassment, or to conceal one's thoughts. In all such cases laughter is still manifestly used for communication, but it is produced volitionally, instead of developing out of the situation in a spontaneous manner. 


We have now considered various kinds of laughter and tricks of producing laughter and have found that they all show that laughter could have developed easily and naturally from primitive laughter which informed the rest of the group after a period of tension that they could relax with safety. 


4. THE THEORY OF COMMUNICATION AS RELATED TO OTHER THEORIES OF LAUGHTER 


The theory of communication does not displace very much that has been observed about laughter. If anything, it serves to unite different theories and throw more light on what has been said. 


1. Hobbes' theory that laughter is a 'sudden glory' is certainly a part of the theory of communication, although it is only a small part. And this includes a long list of thinkers and writers who have taken a similar position, including Bain, Bergson, and Groos. 


2. Sully says, " Perhaps the first great laugh was produced by man or his proximate progenitor, when relief came after fear or the strain of battle." Sully might have added, " - as a signal to his comrades that they also might relax with safety." Again Sully says, "Among the causes of laughter, a moment's relaxation of strain—muscular, intellectual or emotional tension - is one of the most common, if it be not universal. The delicious sense of relief ... no doubt be due to ... the escape from pressure of the moment before." 


3. Kant states, "Laughter is an affection arising from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing." It would not have been inconsistent for Kant to have added, " - and this affection is a vocal signal to the rest of the group that it is safe." 


4. Des Cartes expresses his view in language that is difficult of translation, and in the quaint spelling of his time. "La Lascheté est directement opposée au Courage, & c'est une langueur ou froideur, qui empesche l'ame de se porter à l'execution des choses qu'elle feroit, si die estoit exempte de cette Passion." He goes on to say that laughter serves a useful purpose by keeping us from following our original impulses when more important and contradictory impulses enter situations. So Des Cartes believed that laughter is always an accompaniment of relaxation from tension. 


5. Herbert Spencer put forth the theory that laughter is an overflow of reserve energy. His position has been reinforced by Crile with the application of our more recent knowledge of the physiology of emotion. But unlike the other theories this one does not harmonize with the theory of communication. Spencer has been vigorously attacked, and if it were not for the additional arguments of Crile little would need to be said in refutation. There are two objections which may be set forth here, (1) In ordinary laughing the amount of energy released is ridiculously small for so complicated and highly developed a process. If it were necessary to release energy it could be done much more satisfactorily in numerous other ways, as in the increased tonus of paired muscles all over the body. As a matter of fact in laughing just the opposite takes place. There is a lowered catabolism over the muscular system as proved by relaxation. (2) But perhaps it is necessary to take into consideration those violent and hysterical attacks of laughter that do burn up energy and result in exhaustion. This is countered by a question - if the burning up of energy is the fundamental purpose of laughter why has man developed the audible aspect of laughter to such an extent? No other animal goes about drawing attention to itself unless there is some definite advantage. In fact, to be observed in primeval life was a dangerous thing. Just as much energy can be expended when the vocal folds are not brought into play as when loud laughter is produced. So the fact that laughter is characteristically a thing of sound tends to show that it is primarily a signal rather than a means of burning up energy. (At the same time it is not to be disputed that the presence of exciting agents in the blood stream will make laughter more pronounced just as such agents stimulate any action to be more pronounced.) For these reasons it seems that the theory of Spencer and Crile cannot hold for laughter. 


6. Sidis says, "We may lay it down as a law that relief from a great strain is an important aid to laughter." And again, "To laugh at the misfortunes of other people ... whom we treat with contempt and possible hatred, may be considered one of the early roots of the comic and ludicrous." Both of these significant statements fit in with the present theory.


7. Eastman does not state a theory in the text of his book as clearly as he does among the Notes and References in which he says, "My reasons for regarding an act of social welcome as the 'original laugh' are, first, that it has a very great biological importance, and, second, that it explains the laughter which is an 'expression of pleasure' in a way similar to that in which other expressions have been explained." 38 The theory of communication goes back behind the 'act of social welcome' and explains the laugh on the basis of a byproduct of suspended breath or heavy breathing incident to tension and relaxation. Eastman does not pretend to explain the origin of laughter, saying that it "is not vital to my explanation of humor." 


8. Dr. Paul Carus, thirty years ago in the Monist, states that laughter originally was "a shout of triumph, the loud announcement of victory, and an expression of joy at a success of some kind." But he did not set forth the most important thing, namely, why such a signal has survival value for the group. And he says of Kant's theory (laughter is "an affection arising from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing") that it is "interesting but unsatisfactory"; whereas Kant's theory fits perfectly with the theory of vocal signalling. Dr. Carus also limited modern laughing to an expression of triumph, rather than that of communicating the idea of social safety. 


9. In one short paragraph, most of which is quoted below, Patrick has tucked away in his 'Psychology of Relaxation' an explanation nearest to the one set forth in this paper, "Thus laughter is a kind of language - perhaps the earliest of all forms of language ... In social evolution, furthermore, it may also become a language in the social sense, particularly in its vocal form, and by communicating the mood of gladness become of survival value in the social group." But I have pointed out that its value was not the mere 'communicating of the mood of gladness.' What was communicated, according to my theory, was something vastly more important, namely that the supposed danger was passed - that the group was safe. 'Gladness,' as an emotion, is merely incident to social safety. 


In conclusion, the theory of communication set forth in this paper regards laughter as a vocal signal to other members of the group that they may relax with safety. It holds that laughter originated long before language developed as a byproduct from the heavy breathing of struggle or the suspended breathing of tension. To improve its carrying power the lips were pulled back. The visible signal of smiling thus came to be used as a substitute. As social intercourse developed during the ages it was natural that smiling and laughter should come to have variations adapted to finer purposes. I have pointed out briefly that the theory of communication explains the facts of laughter as observed by students of the phenomenon; that it includes laughter of all kinds and under all conditions; and that instead of displacing what has been said on the subject, it rather serves to harmonize and to explain the divergent theories.


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