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I've seen people (including myself) that laugh for no apparent reason in really serious situations, such as in an argument or when receiving bad news. Although the other party is clearly very upset, it seems they have the worst possible reaction: they start laughing. It's probably not because they find it funny, so what does trigger it?

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Not sure, but I do the same thing sometimes. Maybe because you saw it as a threatening situation at first and then realized it's harmless? –  Tyler Langan Jul 26 '13 at 3:20
    
Maybe its like the ole' "dont think of a purple elephant" trick: you tell yourself you definitely shouldn't laugh right now, then can't stop thinking about it, and then burst out in chuckles. –  zergylord Jul 26 '13 at 4:45
    
I rolled back to a previous edit of this question because the edit made an interesting question stale and boring. Personal reference is a common stylistic tool in introductory sections of scientific literature and recommended practice. Bem, D. J. (2002). Writing the empirical journal article. –  what Aug 18 '13 at 22:55
    
The same thing happens with my friend, she laughs at sad movies and love stories even when some one dies, I would love to find out why she does this! I took her to a movie and it was "p.s. i love you" she started laughing when others we crying! I also notice that horror movies don't scare her and she also laughs at scary parts and gore!!! does this mean she is messed up in her head or going threw some weird stuff? I would really love some input! –  user4541 Mar 6 at 0:18
    
Still an interesting question of course (+1) but note that part of the problem is the assumption that laughter is a straightforward “expression” of fun and amusement. Empirically, as you note, it's not, just as the smile is not simply an expression of contentment. The realization that it reflect multiple processes should be the starting point of any examination of laughter. From that perspective, laughter in fun situations is just as much in need of an explanation. –  Gala Mar 6 at 10:15
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3 Answers 3

This could be what the Psychology Today article "Why We Laugh", (Lickerman, 2011) refers to as 'nervous laughter', suggesting that this response is both for reassurance (as suggested by Tyler Langan's comment) and also a means to build resilience in the face of potential trauma, specifically (from the article):

This may explain why some psychologists classify humor as one of the "mature" defense mechanisms we invoke to guard ourselves against overwhelming anxiety (as compared to the "psychotic," "immature," and "neurotic" defense mechanisms). Being able to laugh at traumatic events in our own lives doesn't cause us to ignore them, but instead seems to prepare us to endure them.

Further, it is suggested here, that the nervous laughter is a means to protect our dignity and sense of control.

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Agreed, when I got to know that my grandpa has died, i just started f*kin laughing, and i was so damn sad, it was a damn shock, still i laughed for some time, before crying –  Enoque Duarte Aug 14 '13 at 11:28
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Laughter relieves stress and lightens the mood.


Sources:

  • Dugan, D. O. (1989). Laughter and tears: Best medicine for stress. Nursing Forum, 24, 18–26. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6198.1989.tb00814.x
  • Toda, M., Kusakabe, S., Nagasawa, S., Kitamura, K., & Morimoto, K. (2007). Effect of laughter on salivary endocrinological stress marker chromogranin A. Biomedical Research, 28, 115-118. doi:10.2220/biomedres.28.115
  • White, S., & Winzelberg, A. (1992). Laughter and stress. Humor, 5, 343-355. doi:10.1515/humr.1992.5.4.343
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I have long suspected that laughter has a dual-purpose as a defense mechanism, when the "serious" situation is an embodied assailant.

I think it laughter is counter to the nature of an assault, which creates an element of confusing that the laugh-er (prey) retains control over. This concept of retaining control follows suite with the long-standing ideas that laughter relieves stress and increases coping in the laugh-er.

I think this underscores why laughter from attacked-characters in stories is a cross-over signal for their indomitable nature.


You can take this a level further into the psychology of such situations: when the prey introduces a confusing component to the 'theater of war', they can attempt to infer many things about their assailant via the response given to this introduced-confusion.

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