Jokes optimise social norms, laughter synchronises social attitudes: an evolutionary hypothesis on the origins of humour

Joseph Polimeni


A prominent humour theory suggests that most jokes will violate a subjective moral principle. This paper explores the ramifications of Thomas Veatch’s social violations theory of humour, and hypothesizes that jokes tend to produce four distinct humour emotions, in a sequential manner. The final emotional response to a humorous stimulus involves an aesthetic judgement about the inference of the joke. Humour could therefore be a cognitive-emotional mechanism used to appraise social norms while laughter serves to signal appreciation for the social inferences associated with the joke. It is further proposed that the cognitive-emotional structure of humour implies an evolutionarily adaptive function.


humour, laughter, jokes, evolution, social norms, emotions

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