There may be no better day all year to express humour than April Fool's Day, but what makes something funny?
People of all ages and cultures experience humour every day. It affects how we select our friends and mates. It attracts attention and admiration, softens criticism, alleviates conflict and helps people cope with anxiety and physical pain.
Professors Peter McGraw and Caleb Warren presented a study last August in the journal Psychological Science that shows what it takes to make something funny.
Humour only occurs when three conditions are satisfied.
"The situation is a violation, the situation is benign and both of those appraisals occur simultaneously," said McGraw in an Internet video. "In addition to predicting what is funny, it also predicts what is not funny."
A violation threatens the way you think the world should be. It includes everything from tickling to puns and physical threats to violations of personal dignity.
The violation will become funny if it is made to seem benign. Three ways this can happen are if the norm is accepted by some, weak commitment to the norm or the violation is distant.
A friend tickling you is considered a benign violations because if you tickled yourself it would just be benign and if a stranger tickled you it would just be a violation.
The authors posed different scenarios to a group of 66 people. In one, Keith Richards snorted his dad's ashes after his dad said he could. In the other, Richards just buried the ashes. Because snorting ashes is wrong, but accepted by some and out of place it makes the reader laugh. Richards burying the ashes did not make any people laugh.
People are also found to laugh more if other people find a joke funny. We laugh 30 times more when in the company of others, this is why sitcoms add canned laughter, said Dr. Elena Antonova of Kings College in London in a BBC interview.
Darwin first put the theory forward that laughter originated as a social cohesive phenomenon to make us bond with each other.
Comedy legend Ricky Gervais said a lot of the time things are not funny simply because they are not true. "A comedian has two voices up there . . . this one goes 'people might get really offended, yeah, but they might really like it'," said Gervais during a Vanity Fair interview. The second voice usually wins.
Good luck with your April Fools' Day jokes.