It’s often said that life without a sense of humour isn’t a life at all. Yet, a new study claims that humour is nothing but an act of aggression.
Researchers in Germany have carried out the study and found that the role of humour is not to make others laugh as much as it is to make others know who is in charge — in fact, telling jokes is a method of reinforcing a social hierarchy.
According to lead researcher Helga Kotthoff of the Frieburg University of Education, the study explains why until recently it has been extremely rare for women to tell jokes in front of men.
“Those ‘on top’ are freer to make others laugh. They are also freer to be more aggressive and a lot of what’s funny is making jokes at someone else’s expense.
“Displaying humour means taking control of the situation from those higher up the hierarchy and this is risky for people of lower status, which before the 1960s meant women rarely made other people laugh — they couldn’t afford to.
“Comedy and satire are based on aggressiveness and not being nice. Until the 1960s, it was seen as unladylike to be funny. But even now women tend to prefer telling jokes at own expense and men tend to prefer telling jokes at other people’s expense,” The Daily Telegraph quoted her as saying.
According to the researchers, the differences between men and women’s ability to become comedians starts very young. Boys as young as four or five tell more jokes while girls tend to be the ones doing the laughing.
But in later age women tend to become funnier because they feel freer to not be seen as ladylike.
Kotthoff said humour, including teasing, was a mix of ‘bonding and biting’ and women often use humour to form social bonds with their friends while men often use humour to vent frustration. But both sexes use it to control others.