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Why do we laugh when we see people get hurt?

  1. Jan 9, 2013 #1
    OK, I've not exactly thought long and hard about this but I was watching a generic "people falling over ha ha ha very funny" TV show and couldn't put my finger on why it was actually amusing.

    In some cases the novelty of the situation is obviously the key, but some of the tapes were genuinely just people getting hurt and we've all laughed at someone falling over. I thought maybe in groups it's a bounding thing, if you know the person is not fatally wounded then you can build a sense of shared experience around the event; if its a stranger then your lack of care for that individual might play a part in it being funny, but it does seem a little strange to me.
     
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  3. Jan 9, 2013 #2

    Evo

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    I don't undertand it. I do not laugh when people get hurt, even if I know it's just an act, I don't find it funny.
     
  4. Jan 10, 2013 #3
    I have my occasional silly moments, and if anyone owns a TV then you are aware of the fact that most people find watching othesr fall over very amusing. I can think of at least 3 TV shows on prime time English TV dedicated to watching people fall over or hit themselves with objects, some of the highest rated youtube videos are of people falling over; endless clips of "fails"; or situations that you know you would not want to be in... Why do people love it so much, is there any rational explanation?
     
  5. Jan 10, 2013 #4

    berkeman

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    I'm not able or willing to watch the entertainment shows that are based on people getting clobbered in pseudo physical competitions. I'm an EE full time, but I'm also an EMT working part-time shifts, and when I see those folks getting hurt, I automatically go into a mode about how would I treat them. I don't need to be repeatedly challenged like that when I'm off duty and trying to relax.

    The injuries folks sustain from falls and impacts like that can be pretty serious. They don't show them on the TV shows, and the YouTube videos of bicycle crashes and such don't show the extent of the injuries. I have had plenty of patients who had injuries that needed extended rehab to get back close to normal function, and a number of patients who have suffered some measure of paralysis, or worse. Nothing entertaining about that.

    As for why some group of people find it entertaining, I think at the very least they are very naive about the injuries that can be sustained, and the impact on people's lives from getting those injuries.

    This may be more of a psychology-type question than a biology-type question, though. It doesn't seem like a hard-wired inherited behavior; it seems more like a learned/taught behavior, at least to me.
     
  6. Jan 10, 2013 #5

    Ivan Seeking

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    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=ask-the-brains-why-do-we-laugh
     
  7. Jan 10, 2013 #6

    Borek

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    Interestingly, I have no problems watching bloody movies where I know it is all just played up, but few days ago I run into some "driving in Russia" video on youtube with a collection of a real road accidents. And while they were not bloody, in most cases there were even no people visible, just cars, I switched it off - it was too uncomfortable to watch for me.
     
  8. Jan 10, 2013 #7

    Ivan Seeking

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    That would seem to relate to the play frame discussed briefly at the link.

     
  9. Jan 10, 2013 #8
    Ivan Seeking - Thanks, that's really quite interesting.
     
  10. Jan 10, 2013 #9

    Pythagorean

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    I don't think it's:

    people get hurt --> you laugh

    I think it has more to do with the context of how they get hurt. If somebody just comes up and starts stabbing somebody else on the bus in front of you, you're not going to have a laugh about it.

    If somebody's being a moron and hurts themselves in a silly, unexpected way, it can be funny.
     
  11. Jan 10, 2013 #10

    Yeah I totally agree! But my question is why is that funny? What evolutionary bases could there be for laughing at your friend because he trips over a paving slab and falls into a bush, even the thought of it is amusing... the article above is a pretty useful insight though. Obviously few people have such a morbid humour that they find stabbings funny, bit it is interesting that it automatically becomes a source of amusement when there is no serious threat of fatality.
     
  12. Jan 10, 2013 #11

    Pythagorean

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    I'm not sure the getting hurt is relevant though. John Cleese and Monty Python do similar stunts without anyone getting hurt (just annoying people and having silly interactions) that evokes a similar sense of humor.

    I think it's all the facial expressions and expectations and awkwardness that's funny, not the actual content, just the context.
     
  13. Jan 10, 2013 #12

    OmCheeto

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    It may also be highly age based.
    Kids fall down all the time playing and they may see this as just a fun part of play.
    Older kids might laugh to mock people who've fallen.
    Adults who are up in age probably don't think it's funny to fall down, and probably don't think it's funny when others do.

    On a related side note, why do I cringe in horror when I hear of someone death, yet wait with child like anticipation every year for the Darwin Awards to come out?

    It might be my unending desire that all stupid people perish. Preferably by their own hands of course. I do not advocate the random killing of any stupid people in any way shape or form.
     
  14. Jan 10, 2013 #13
    Because it's funny and it's not happening to us.

    There's possibly a mix of reasons going on. We like to see other people discomfitted and make fools of themselves - I suspect it's in part because it lowers their position in the some virtual hierarchy relative to ourselves (we're no longer the person who went off to look for a can of tartan paint). There is the already mentioned aspect of some form of bonding and also a mechanism for reducing the perceived seriousness (and hence long term mental reaction) of an accident.

    Why do the jokes start flying around within minutes of a tragedy, eg expansions of the abbreviation NASA everytime a Shuttle didn't make it back in one piece?

    Unfortunately, as with some of the other respondents, I have to change channel when watching real accidents as I seem to lack the kind of empathy required to enjoy seeing people actually getting hurt.
     
  15. Jan 10, 2013 #14
    Um. If you leave it to stupid people then it probably will be random .. there are so many ways they could do it but they can only choose one (provided medical help waits around sufficiently long and doesn't interfere with the course of nature). I think you really need to address the problem in a systematic fashion. It's for their own good. Do it right and you could ensure a really good crop of Darwin nominees each year. :devil:
     
  16. Jan 10, 2013 #15

    OmCheeto

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    You mean like open up a shop where smart people buy lethal gifts for stupid people?

    Na. I've just read about 30 of the Darwin Awards, over the last hour. Stupid people don't appear to need any help dying.
     
  17. Jan 10, 2013 #16

    Evo

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    I disagree with the guy, I think it's part maturity, part life experiences. For example, if you were brought up around people that found minor injuries to others humorous, you are likely to also find such situations humorous. Or perhaps in school, it was the "cool" thing to laugh at other people's unfortunate accidents. A little kid falls and a group of "tough" kids laugh, so some other kids, wanting to distance themselves from the person being laughed at, join in.

    As someone mentioned, it seems the older you get, the less you find humor in such things, but of course, not all people become mature with age.

    Like Berkeman said, he doesn't find such things funny because he has to deal with the injuries.

    For me, I was raised not to find any injury or mishap humorous, the only difference being if they had it coming through their own immaturity, I might feel that they got what they deserved.

    All of the above are just my thoughts and observations.
     
  18. Jan 10, 2013 #17
    There's a big difference, I think, between someone falling over and getting a bump, and someone genuinely getting hurt.

    Umm....that's not empathy. At all.
    Edit: Oh, did you mean apathy?

    I suspect that this is more along the lines of what the OP was going for? In which case I have no idea. I find it disgusting.

    If I see someone fall off a chair and get a bump or a bruise, I'll probably laugh. Why? I'd have to think harder on that one, probably a sympathetic response sort of like, "Sucks don't it!!" Since I know that I've done the same thing before, and I know they'll likely be ok.

    But when someone actually gets seriously hurt? I can't understand the humor in that...
     
  19. Jan 13, 2013 #18
    Disclamer : The following are my personal thoughts. No claims involved ok?

    It is possible that the behaviour is part of the larger human social behaviour. Simple falls can be potentially fatal. Now no one likes to get laughed at, so may be laughing at someone who acts stupid and hence falls down or receives minor injuries is an indirect way of giving him some sort of 'social incentive' to be more careful of his actions and hence maintain his social status. He need not know how dangerous the situation could have been but he now at least keeps in mind not to repeat the same mistake if only because he doesn't want to become the laughing stock.
     
  20. Jan 14, 2013 #19
    Normally, I cringe. If I do laugh, then there is some sort of additional silliness involved.
     
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