Duchenne display A characteristic facial display accompanying laughter in humans involving the joint contraction of lip and eye muscles.

gelastic seizure Typically unprovoked, stereotyped, and inappropriate laughter accompanying an epileptic seizure.

The ability to perceive and produce humor, highly valued across human societies, has been the subject of much philosophical interest but little sustained, empirical study. This article summarizes the variety of theoretical perspectives and available research relevant to the study of humor, including its nature, its origins in ontogeny and phylogeny, its behavioral manifestation in laughter, its psychological and evolutionary significance, and its hypothesized neural mediation. Although responding with humor may appear to be a way of evading a serious problem, it might also turn out to be a rather effective way of counteracting the seriousness, or even danger, in a situation by deflecting its adverse effects and by offering an alternative to despair. Humor can provide a way for individuals to conceal or to reveal their vulnerabilities; it can also enable them to transcend a predicament. A person with a good sense of humor is viewed more favorably than one who is humorless. Humor is said to confer mental flexibility, openness to experience, playfulness, and maturity and, as such, is highly valued whether in a coworker, a leader, a friend, or a prospective mate. Indeed, the ability to be playful and humorous appears to be universally valued.

Although scholarly interest in the nature and functions of humor has a long history, empirical inquiry into the forms, uses, and biological bases of humor and laughter is fairly recent. This article addresses both well-researched and relatively unexplored questions pertaining to humor and laughter. The following are some of the questions that are considered here: What is humor? What is the role of laughter in humor? What are the ontogenetic and phylogenetic origins of laughter? How does humor work, cognitively? What is the functional significance of humor? What are the varieties of laughter and how are they perceived? What kinds of disorders of laughter have been documented and what do they suggest about the neural circuitry underlying laughter and humor?

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