Friday, August 13, 2010


Ever wondered why some crude jokes make us laugh? Well, scientists say it's because people find such jests funny when the moral violation seemed benign to them.
Researchers at the University of Colorado-Boulder found that people tend to laugh at disgusting comedy even including someone's death or immoral behaviour when they perceive them as unreal and not hurting anyone or anything.
They said several past theories attempting to explain humour have failed as they don't explain broader humour across domains. For instance, theories underlying general humour would suggest we think things that are incongruous and release tension are funny.
Now the researchers, led by A Peter McGraw, who co-authored the study with Caleb Warren, have come up with three criteria they find could explain why things are funny.
They figured the anecdote or scenario had to be incongruous (violate some moral or social norms), benign, and also reconcilable. In other words, there has to be some way to be disgusted by a moral violation and also consider it simultaneously benign.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers presented various situations to volunteers they rewarded with candy bars, LiveScience reported.
In one experiment supporting the idea that violation makes fun fodder, the volunteers read one of two versions of a scenario: one describing the company Jimmy Dean using a rabbi as spokesman for a new line of pork products; or one where Jimmy Dean hired a farmer as spokesman.

Participants were more likely to laugh when reading the situation with a moral violation -- having a rabbi promote pork -- and to think it was "wrong" compared with the control version of the scenario.
In other experiments, the volunteers read different scenarios of bestiality that were judged as wrong and disgusting by most of the participants. However, they were amused by the harmless versions of the scenarios.
McGraw thinks the humour rules could explain everything from puns and jokes to slapstick and other forms of comedy.
"We laugh when Moe hits Larry, because we know that Larry's not really being hurt," McGraw said, referring to humorous slapstick. "It's a violation of social norms. You don't hit people, especially a friend. But it's okay because it's not real."

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