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Good Question: What Really Makes Us Laugh?

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Have you ever wondered what it is that makes us really laugh? WCCO-TV went to the experts to find out if “the giggles” are really just a hardwired reaction.

Laughs may be instigated by a variety of things: watching a good stumble, seeing a baby chuckle or a man squeal like a girl.

Being silly may not be entirely your fault. The experts say we are hardwired since infancy to release a good giggle. Just watch a baby when its parents go in for the tickle.

“It’s more like the anticipation of something fun or pleasurable, and so they sort of see the non-verbal kind of teasing in the parents eyes,” Dr. Mark Carlson, Clinical Psychologist and Argosy University professor said.

Carlson points to a study that suggests we are 30 times more likely to laugh at the same joke with people around us. He says that study explains why we hear laugh tracks in sitcoms.

Not only does that social factor help to instigate a laugh, he says new material does, too. Good comedians know to abide by “the rule of threes,” not taking a joke past a third reference.

“I think we’ve all had that friend who like goes to the well a few too many times, and it’s like OK, now it’s the fourth time you’ve said that, let’s kind of stop,” Carlson said.

You’ve heard that laughter is the best medicine, but studies show it really is: more endorphins, stress release and lower blood pressure.

As for why we’re inclined to laugh when we see somebody stumble, Carlson says it’s mostly just nervous laughter and a way for us to release our shock.

He also says laughter is literally contagious. For example, much like we want to cry when see someone sad, we want to laugh with them when they’re silly.

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