A Natural History of Laughter
Laughing is an important part of our lives - perhaps even the fundamental basis of human nature. But since when has mankind been laughing? And are humans the only species that can laugh? Apart from the generally accepted recognition that humor is the best medicine little is known about laughter.
Philosophers and scientists such as Aristotle, Kant, Darwin and Freud all underlined the importance of laughter. In the US, Robert Provine, a neurologist and psychologist at the University of Maryland, has dedicated his career to researching human laughter and investigating what mechanisms it triggers in the brain. Like other spontaneous behavior, laughter is difficult to study in a laboratory environment. Half of all test subjects cannot laugh on command, but at the same time laughter is immensely contagious. Provine says laughter has a clear sound signature: there is no specific vowel defining laughter, but similar vowels together form a laugh: "ha-ha-ha" or "ho-ho-ho." In fact, humans were not the first creatures that could laugh. Dutch behavioral scientist Jan Van Hooff, another pioneer of "laughter research," has analyzed the laughter of primates. Bonobos, chimpanzees and orangutans laugh heartily, especially when they are tickled. The fact that laughter occurs in different species suggests that it has a strong genetic and neurophysiological basis. So why can't we tickle ourselves? Why is laughter contagious? Why is laughter actually healthy? A film about how we laugh - and why.