Laughter is a universal human experience that brings joy and lightens our spirits. But have you ever wondered why we find certain things funny? What triggers our laughter? In this blog post, we delve into the fascinating world of humor theories and scientific research to uncover the secrets behind what makes us laugh.

Unveiling the Theories

Numerous theories have been proposed to explain the essence of humor. Three prominent theories include transgression, superiority, and incongruity. Transgression humor involves the violation of societal norms, while superiority humor stems from mockery and feelings of arrogance. However, incongruity theory suggests that laughter arises from the presence of two incompatible meanings in a single situation.

The Three Stages of Laughter

By synthesizing these theories and extensive research, laughter can be distilled into three main stages: puzzlement, resolution, and signaling. Puzzlement refers to encountering a situation that seems strange or incongruous, inducing a sense of panic or transgression. The subsequent stage involves working through the tension caused by the incongruity and achieving resolution. Finally, the release of laughter acts as a clear signal to those around us that the threat has passed, signaling relief and safety.

The Power of Incongruity

While incongruity is a fundamental aspect of humor, not all incongruous situations elicit laughter. The event must also be perceived as harmless to evoke humor. For example, witnessing a tiger strolling through a city may seem incongruous but is more likely to invoke fear. However, if the tiger were to roll down the street like a ball, it becomes humorous due to the unexpected and playful nature of the act.

Laughter as a Survival Mechanism

The preservation of laughter throughout human evolution suggests its potential role as a tool for survival. Laughter may have been favored by natural selection as a means to signal safety and unity after a perceived threat. Laughter's contagious nature strengthens social bonds and promotes a sense of togetherness, marking the end of fear or concern.

The Physiology of Laughter

Laughter is not just a psychological response; it also influences our physiology. Brain centers associated with laughter are closely linked to emotions, fear, and anxiety. When we laugh, we release tension and stress, promoting a sense of relief throughout our bodies. Numerous studies have shown that laughter can have positive effects on blood pressure, immune defenses, and mental well-being. It is even employed in healthcare settings to aid patients' healing processes.

Laughter in Education and Relationships

Laughter's significance extends beyond personal well-being. In educational settings, humor is utilized to enhance learning by capturing attention and creating a relaxed environment. It reduces anxiety, encourages active participation, and boosts motivation. Moreover, laughter plays a role in relationships, particularly romantic ones. Sharing laughter with someone can foster trust, create a sense of safety, and help overcome fears, making us more attracted to individuals who make us laugh.

The Evolutionary Purpose of Laughter

From an evolutionary perspective, laughter may have played a crucial role in risk awareness and self-preservation. Today, laughter remains a mechanism of relief when we face danger or perceive a threat that eventually subsides. While we now enjoy laughter for its uplifting qualities, it is intriguing to consider its ancestral significance.

Laughter is a remarkable human phenomenon that brings joy, lightness, and relief. Its origins lie in incongruity, transgression, and superiority theories, but incongruity plays a central role in humor. Understanding the stages of laughter helps unravel its purpose as a survival tool and a means to foster social bonds. Moreover, laughter's physiological benefits, educational applications, and its impact on relationships make it an essential aspect of human life. So, the next time you burst into laughter, appreciate the complex mechanisms behind this remarkable phenomenon.

If you're interested in exploring yourself or investing in your mental health, Kounsel offers online consultations with experienced psychologists and mental health professionals. Visit Kounsel to book your consultation and embark on a journey of self-discovery and well-being.


  1. Martin, R. A. (2007). The psychology of humor: An integrative approach. Academic Press. This reference provides a comprehensive overview of the psychology of humor, including theories, research findings, and the cognitive processes involved in humor perception and production.
  2. Provine, R. R. (2000). Laughter: A scientific investigation. Penguin Books. This book explores the scientific study of laughter, examining its physiological, psychological, and social aspects. It delves into the evolutionary origins of laughter and its role in human communication and relationships.
  3. Ruch, W. (2008). Psychology of humor. In M. Lewis, J. M. Haviland-Jones, & L. F. Barrett (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (3rd ed., pp. 843-860). The Guilford Press. This chapter in the Handbook of Emotions provides a comprehensive overview of the psychology of humor, including its functions, individual differences in humor styles, and the relationship between humor and well-being.
  4. Koestler, A. (1964). The act of creation. Penguin Books. While not solely focused on humor, this book by Arthur Koestler explores the creative process and includes insightful discussions on the role of incongruity and surprise in humor, as well as the cognitive mechanisms underlying comedic effects.
  5. McGhee, P. E. (2010). Humor: Its origin and development. Waveland Press. This book examines the development and origins of humor from infancy to adulthood, discussing the role of laughter in social interactions, the cultural influences on humor, and the developmental changes in humor appreciation and production.