Humor, it has been said, “can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process.”
Well, get out the scalpels: We have dad jokes to analyze.
People find even the most groan-inducing one-liners funnier when they are paired with a laugh track, according to a new study.
The type of laughter matters, too. A joke seems even funnier when accompanied by laughter that seems genuine rather than forced.
“If there’s a laugh there, you can’t ignore it,” said Prof. Sophie Scott, incoming director of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University College London and one of the authors of the study.
Take this zinger: “What does a dinosaur use to pay bills? Tyrannosaurus checks.”
Participants in the study, published in the journal Current Biology, gave that joke an average rating of about two on a seven-point scale, with higher scores awarded to funnier jokes. But the average rating of that joke increased to more than 2 ½ when paired with forced laughter, and to more than three with genuine laughter.
The pattern held for dozens of other one-liners, too.
How do billboards talk? Sign language.
To test the perceived humor of the jokes, researchers hired a professional comedian to create recordings of 40 jokes, selected for mediocrity to leave room for the possibility that laughter could improve their ratings. Separately, they recorded six adults laughing on command as well as in response to something that each found genuinely funny.
The researchers first established a baseline by asking 20 college students to score each joke without any laughter present. Then they repeated the test, first with the recordings of forced laughter and then genuine laughing.
What did the hammer say to his homeboys? Nailed it.
One thing is clear: Perceptions of humor are not objective.
As the study’s authors acknowledged, others have found that the perceived funniness of a joke can be affected by factors like delivery and cultural context. Their own findings shed light on the social influences.
“It takes us from people’s emotional lives directly into their social interactions and how those two things can be working,” Scott said.
While the study did not seek to answer how laughter influenced joke ratings, the researchers suggested that the laughter could have been contagious or could have acted as a signal of approval of the joke.