Humor And Laughter

In his 1872 monograph, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, Charles Darwin noted that "Joy, when intense, leads to various purposeless movements—dancing about, clapping the hands, stamping, etc., and to loud laughter.'' Laughter is indeed commonly seen as an expression of joy, happiness, or amusement. It typically occurs in informal social situations, usually in the presence of a close friend, sibling, caregiver, or intimate.

Although laughter is normally taken to be an indicator that the laugher is in a happy emotional state, it does not exclusively or necessarily signal such a state. One can clearly find something amusing without it actually making one laugh out loud. Similarly, one can feign laughter even when one is not actually amused. Other emotional states that give rise to laughter include scorn, embarassment, and nervousness. It remains to be determined whether the laughter in these different states is morphologically different. Under certain clinical conditions, laughter can be triggered in adults without their ability to control it. In such cases it occurs for no apparent reason and usually without accompanying positive affect. The occurrence of such dissociations between the motoric act of laughter and associated affective or cognitive states raises the possibility that laughter is under the control of a variety of different neural structures and systems at different levels and that these may be selectively disrupted in pathology.

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