Original article:

The first joke: Exploring the evolutionary origins of humor

Evolutionary Psychology 4: 347-366 Joseph Polimeni, Department of Psychiatry, University of Manitoba, 771 Bannatyne Avenue Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, R3E 3N4, JPolimeni@shaw.caJeffrey P. Reiss, Department of Psychiatry, University of Manitoba, 771 Bannatyne Avenue Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, R3E 3N4, JPReiss@cc.umanitoba.ca

Abstract

Humor is a complex cognitive function which often leads to laughter. Contemporary humor theorists have begun to formulate hypotheses outlining the possible innate cognitive structures underlying humor. Humor’s conspicuous presence in the behavioral repertoire of humankind invites adaptive explanations. This article explores the possible adaptive features of humor and ponders its evolutionary path through hominid history. Current humor theories and previous evolutionary ideas on humor are reviewed. In addition, scientific fields germane to the evolutionary study of humor are examined: animal models, genetics, children’s humor, humor in pathological conditions, neurobiology, humor in traditional societies and cognitive archeology. Candidate selection pressures and associated evolutionary mechanisms are considered. The authors conclude that several evolutionary-related topics such as the origins of language, cognition underlying spiritual feelings, hominid group size, and primate teasing could have special relevance to the origins of humor.

Keywords

humor, evolution, laughter, teasing, language, group size.

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Evolutionary Psychology - An open access peer-reviewed journal - ISSN 1474-7049 © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young; individual articles © the author(s)
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