"Evolution of Amusement: Laughter Obscured by Representation of Humorous Behavior"

Robert Storey


A new scenario for the evolution of amusement laughter is proposed. Such laughter, I argue like many theorists, is always in response to the perception of a mastered (or masterable) incongruity, signaling either appreciation of the well-mastered ("laughing with") or ridicule of the ill-mastered ("laughing at"). The signal evolved from the vocalizations accompanying ancestral primate play, which themselves sustained fitness-enhancing behaviors involving resolutions of incongruity. I propose that for human beings amusement laughter proved adaptively advantageous primarily in the teaching of offspring, especially when that laughter was qualified by the unambiguously positive bonding signals, including both smiling and laughing, that evolved from the primate fear-grin. Finally, I argue that the difficulties in deriving an adaptive function for amusement laughter have had their origins in the representation, both pre-literary and literary, of human comic behaviors, representations that dissociate the two different laughing signals in ways rarely encountered in social life.


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