Monday, May 01, 2006

Slapstick and Toilet Humor Amused Early Hominids


Evolutionary biologists assert that laughter played a normative teaching function for Australopithecus:
[W]hen they saw a member of their group lose his footing they would laugh as a sign to each other that something was amiss, but nothing too serious.

The theory could explain why, to this day, the ungainly walk remains a staple element of slapstick humour from John Cleese’s “Ministry of Silly Walks” to Rowan Atkinson’s accident-prone Mr Bean.

“Becoming bipedal means there was a greater chance of tripping and falling. Essentially, the suggestion is that slapstick and humour evolved from that time,” said Matthew Gervais, an American evolutionary biologist who led the study.

“When we laugh at slapstick, we are laughing at the same things that amused our early ancestors. That’s why we find them funny.”

According to the study, the next basic elements of human behaviour that sparked laughter were flatulence and mild sexual mischief. Language appeared only 2m years after the first laugh, enabling people to combine laughter and words into numerous refinements, from amusement at a joke to sneering at a rival.
Link (via Sploid, which quips, "In other words, our evolutionary progenitors were all Three's Company fans, long before television was even invented."). I'm going to take this to mean that even a caveman wouldn't like Encino Man. Or B.C. comics, for that matter. There's nothing funny about people in the Stone Age talking about Jesus.

Indexed by tags science, biology, evolution, hominid, Australopithecus, humor, slapstick, toilet, fart.
Image credits: Untitled
B.C. comic, Johnny Hart, courtesy, borrowed for news-reporting and comment purposes.