Why Do We Laugh?

We laugh even before we can speak, but why? Science has some answers to the mystery of human laughter, and some of them might surprise you

Why Do We Laugh?
Credit: Dirk Lindner Getty Images

Last week, we talked about our love of sugar and I explained some of the reasons why we humans develop certain traits that seem contrary to our survival. This week, I thought we’d dig into why we develop some traits that aren’t so much contrary to our survival but may seem unnecessary. Specifically, why do we laugh?

People from all cultures laugh, although we may laugh at different things. (I once interviewed for a job in the Netherlands and none of my jokes landed. I didn’t get that job.) Apes also laugh. We know this because there are scientists whose job it is to tickle animals. I’m not even kidding. What a life!

Humans start laughing as early as 3 months into life, even before we can speak. This is true even for babies who are deaf or blind. Peekaboo, it turns out, is particularly a global crowd-pleaser. And we know this because studying baby laughter is an actual job, too.