Does Your Computer Make You Laugh More?

Obviously society has been hugely affected by the rise of the internet and the information that it makes available to users. Many of these effects have been measured, but many more are so useless or subtle that no one has seen fit to look into them. One question this writer asks because she’s being paid to say anything is: do people laugh more as a result of the emergence of the internet? Probably yes. But what does that mean for society as a whole? Let’s start out by looking to what laughter is and how it affects you.

memeLaughter is simply the physiological response to humor, which is itself a difficult thing to explain. Laughter as a phenomenon consists of two different parts: a set of gestures and a produced sound (though we have all had times in which we laugh so hard we produce no sound at all). When we laugh, our brain pressures us to participate in both of these activities, and hearty laughs allow for changes to occur in many parts of the body such as the arm, leg and trunk muscles.

Laughter is described by the Encyclopedia Britannica as “rhythmic, vocalized, expiratory and involuntary actions.” It involves the contraction of at least fifteen facial muscles and the stimulation of the zygomatic major muscle, which is responsible for moving your upper lip. The respiratory system is interrupted by the epiglottis half-closing the larynx, which is responsible for you gasping. Tear duct activation may occur, and the face may become red and wet.

Unfortunately for behavioral neurobiologist and laughter researcher Robert Provine, studying laughter is extremely difficult. He has found, however, that there are certain similarities among all laughter and that there a neurological process in the brain that leads people to be more prone to laughing if the people around them are also laughing.

Humor researcher Peter Derks claims that laughter response is “a really quick, automatic type of behavior.”

“In fact, how quickly our brain recognizes the incongruity that lies at the heart of most humor and attaches an abstract meaning to it determines whether we laugh,” he explained.

Cultural anthropologist Mahadev Apte had this to say: “Laughter occurs when people are comfortable with one another, when they feel open and free. And the more laughter, the more bonding within the group.”

trollStudies have also found that dominant individuals tend to use humor more than their subordinates. Controlling the laughter of a group can be a way of exercising power by controlling the emotional climate of said group. Some believe that laughter may have evolved to change the behavior of others.

What does this mean for an internet community ranging from trolls to bloggers? To some extent it means the creation of new circles of people across the world united by a shared sense of humor. It means that new social systems can function with humor as a major foundation of what everyone has in common and how power is attributed across the board. Memes are a thing.

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