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Laughter: A Scientific Investigation

“Robert Provine did something that no one in the 2000-year history of pontificating about laughter had ever thought to do: he went out to see what makes people laugh.” Steven Pinker (How the Mind Works)

Why do we laugh? Laughter has surprisingly little to do with jokes and funny stories. It is an ancient, unconsciously controlled vocal relic that co-exists with modern speech—-a social, psychological and biological act which predates humor and is shared with our primate cousins, the great apes. With startling effect, laughter reveals why humans can talk and other apes cannot and leads to the discovery of the event essential for the evolution of human speech and language. Laughter is used as a powerful, uncensored probe into human social relationships, revealing that tickle is an important form of tactile communication, that women laugh more at men than vice-versa, that speakers laugh more than their audience, and that laughter is a social glue that draws group members into the fold. Using the latest evidence, much presented for the first time, Robert Provine evaluates whether you can “laugh your way to health,” considers what laughter shows about neuropathology, and suggests how to change environments to increase laughter. The first book to establish laughter as a topic of scientific worth, Laughter includes such esoterica as the history of holy laughter, operatic laughter, laugh records, laughing gas, canned laughter, and a description of the Tanganyikan laughter epidemic that immobilized an entire school district during 1962. Simple but powerful exercises in “sidewalk neuroscience” let readers participate in the scientific adventure, confirming and extending the research. This book will change forever the way you view laughter. Laughter is even stranger than you imagine.


Excerpted Reviews:

“Well-written, often amusing and always fascinating expose.” – Scientific American

“A model of constructive scientific thinking…revolutionary.” – Sunday Times (London)

“Provine’s appealingly unembarrassed goofy curiosity…allows him to stage his geekiness with gusto.” – Elle

“Scanning brains and eavesdropping on chimps, researchers are figuring out why we chuckle, guffaw and crack up.” – Newsweek

“This crisply written, often hilarious book…might make you giddly for days.” – Evening Standard (London)

“It’s fascinating—enjoy.” – Arizona Republic

“Pulls off the trick of transforming the commonplace business of laughter into something strange and new.” – Financial Times (London)

“Enjoyable fairground tour of the science of the laugh.” – Guardian (London)

“A pioneering investigation into the hows and whys of what it means to chuckle.” – The Scotsman (Edinburgh)

“Laughter proves a fascinating topic.” – New York Times

“Nice lightness of touch…packed with fascinating quirky facts.” – Daily Mail (London)

“Laughter isn’t about jokes, it’s about relationships.  That’s why it’s no fun to laugh alone.” – Boston Herald

“Breezy yet scholarly review of laughter.” – Sacramento Bee

“Some seriously funny research.” – Dallas Morning News

“Fascinating.  One of those rare books that actually changes a readers perception of his surroundings.” – Seattle Union Record/Times