Laughing matters

John Tierney’s column in today’s New York Times Science section has an interesting take on the function of laughter.

Research by Robert Provine of the University of Maryland and Jaak Panksepp of Washington State suggests, among other things, that laughter evolved as “a signaling device to highlight readiness for friendly interaction.”  As Tierney puts it:

Laughter can be used cruelly to reinforce a group’s solidarity and pride by mocking deviants and insulting outsiders, but mainly it’s a subtle social lubricant. It’s a way to make friends and also make clear who belongs where in the status hierarchy.

Maybe that explains why Dilbert and Wally don’t laught at the pointy-haired boss’s jokes…