The science of laughter

Humour may play a vital role in children's development.

We all appreciate the importance of humour. It can lift the glummest of moments, forge a friendship, and relieve stress after a hard day at work.

In relationships, a sense of humour rates consistently highly in surveys of desirable qualities in a partner, often beating physical attraction to the top of the list. So much store do we set in humour, that incompatibility of what we find amusing can damage or even break a relationship for good. But humour is not only vital to a successful relationship. A new understanding of its workings tells us that it has helped human beings to evolve into the intelligent species we are today, and may play a vital role in childhood development.

In recognition of the importance of humour, announcement of the shortlist for Booktrust's first Roald Dahl Funny Prize, awarded to outstanding books for children aged 6 or under, and 7 to 14 was made this week.

So what is humour, and why is it so important? By studying more than 10,000 examples, ranging from stock formats such as sarcasm and slapstick, through to individual instances of both popular and high-brow comedy, we began to notice a pattern. What the research tells us, essentially, is that the brain finds something amusing when it recognises a pattern that surprises it. These patterns take a variety of different forms, from simple repetition to more complex variations. The reason we are beginning to understand this only now is because the process of recognising the patterns is unconscious.

Source - Times

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