Two ways to interpret a laugh

Laughter serves a signaling function. I suggest that it signals one of two kinds of situations:

A situation that appears wrong is actually okay:

-You see someone fall down.You are concerned until you hear the person laugh.

-You tell an off color joke on a date. You worry they you may have offended your date until you hear the person laugh.

A situation that appears okay is actually wrong:

-You walk into a room. People start laughing. You become concerned that something is amiss. Your fly is down.

-You put up a sign. People start laughing.  You become concerned that you made a mistake. You did.


The observation that laughter can signals either of these two situations is consistent with a benign violation account of humor. The theory proposes that humor occurs when a situation is simultaneously seen as wrong and okay (i.e., a benign violation).

-Fall down (wrong). Not hurt (okay). Laughter.

– At the office (okay). Fly down (wrong). Laughter.