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Humor is a complex cognitive function that often leads to laughter and plays a significant role in human social interactions. It is present in nearly all cultures and invites adaptive explanations. This article explores the various theories and possible evolutionary origins of humor, along with its adaptive features and functions.

Evolutionary origins of humor

From an evolutionary perspective, humor has likely developed over time as a complex collection of behaviors and mental abilities[1]. At its core, humor involves the ability to detect and create incongruities, which has been suggested to have advantageous adaptive features. This section discusses the possible evolutionary rationale behind the development of a sense of humor in human species.

Release theory

One of the early theories of humor, release theory, posits that humor and laughter release excessive psychic tension related to inhibiting unconscious sexual or aggressive impulses[2]. This perspective aligns humor with the ability to manage and relieve emotional tension, which may have been an adaptive characteristic throughout human evolution.

Incongruity theory

Incongruity theory emphasizes that humor arises from the perception and resolution of incongruity between two or more elements. This perspective has been supported by various philosophers and humor theorists, such as Immanuel Kant, Norman Maier, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Arthur Koestler[3]. Detecting and resolving incongruities might have offered an evolutionary advantage by improving cognitive flexibility and problem-solving skills.

Adaptive features of humor

Humor is considered to have several adaptive features, providing individuals and social groups with various benefits in terms of survival and reproduction. The following are some adaptive functions of humor:

  • Enhanced social bonds: Humor and laughter promote group cohesion and strengthen social relationships, which could have increased the chances of survival for individuals within cooperative groups[4].
  • Conflict resolution: Humor can serve as an effective tool for resolving conflicts, as it has the potential to diffuse tension and maintain peaceful social interactions[5].
  • Sexual selection: Humor can act as a signal of cognitive fitness and intelligence, making individuals who exhibit a good sense of humor more attractive and desirable to potential mates[6].
  • Stress reduction: Laughter and humor have been shown to reduce the physiological effects of stress, promoting overall health and well-being, which could have been beneficial for survival and reproduction[7].


Overall, humor has likely evolved in human species as a complex cognitive function and adaptive mechanism. The ability to detect and create incongruities, as well as its innate capacity to promote social bonding, resolve conflicts, convey intelligence, and reduce stress, all contribute to the potential evolutionary advantages humor grant individuals and groups. Further research in evolutionary psychology is required to fully understand the intricate nature and diverse functions of humor across various cultural contexts.