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The term that?s often used is ?schadenfreude?, a German word that means roughly ?hurt-happiness?. It?s what we feel when someone we don?t like gets his comeuppance. The pleasure is visceral, actually physical. We smile when we read about a rich person who loses it all, or an insufferably arrogant athlete fails on the field.

To understand this effect, it?s necessary to fully comprehend just how social humans are. We evolved to live in very tightly-knit, small communities with other complex creatures. We humans live in a constant state of tension, balancing our personal desires with our social obligations. Group cohesiveness is extremely important, but that must be accompanied by some willingness to tolerate individuality. Every human society has to reach this balance point.

To create and maintain this precarious condition, humans have evolved a great many mechanisms for leveling and exalting individuals. We all have an innate sense of fairness, of desiring good things for people we like, and bad things for people we don?t. Someone who gets ?too big for his britches? may well be the butt of pranks or other means of pulling him back into more humble fellowship.

One of those mechanisms is also laughter. Laughter is a complex reaction in itself. It?s a social tool that?s still not well understood. For example, it?s been observed that in opposite-sex couples, the female tends to laugh more often than the male, and a large percentage of females have ?he has to make me laugh? on her list of desirable characteristics. Laughter releases social tension and reduces stress. Presumably, a male who diffuses tension with humor is better than one who resorts to violence.

The current consensus about laughter and suffering is that when we observe suffering, we can react with sympathy or with laughter, depending on how much we need to dissociate. It?s easier to dissociate when we know that the victim of suffering isn?t really hurt. Then we laugh to release the social tension of watching another?s suffering and doing nothing about it.

Because laughter feels so good, entertainers have learned to induce it by feigning harm to themselves or others, but in a controlled way that communicates its lack of seriousness. Thus, a filmed scene of a woman yelling obscenities during childbirth may provoke laughter because we know the next scene will be one of maternal cuddling. But a scene wherein the mother is about to die of hemorrhaging during childbirth will cause laughter only in the odd asocial individual.

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Bob Johnanson
Bob Johnanson
Answered May 13 2016 ? Author has 1.2k answers and 647.7k answer views
For TV, a lot of times it's stupid, and stupidity (and looking silly) is funny for whatever reason.

It's easier to laugh at a guy aggressively flirting with a girl and then running into a pole without serious damage.

If you aren't attached to the guy (like if he's a character you haven't seen before) or he is portrayed as someone you don't like, it's even easier to laugh at them, even with him having serious damage.

For real life, I think it is important to think critically about someone's possible pain and initially try to ignore the urge to laugh until you're sure they aren't really hurt.

Author: chivela (4/29)




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