When do economists laugh and what does it mean?

by on November 4, 2014 at 1:49 am in Economics, Medicine, Philosophy, Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

Here is the new paper by Michael Reay in Social Forces:

Analyses of the multiple cognitive structures and social effects of humor seldom look at why these tend to center on particular topics. The puzzle of how humor can be highly varied yet somehow constrained by its source “material” is explored using a corpus of over 600 incidents, not of deliberate jokes, but of the “wilder,” unplanned laughter that occurred during a set of interviews with economists—professionals who at the time (1999–2000) enjoyed an unprecedented degree of status and influence. The analysis finds that the source material for this laughter typically involved three kinds of socially structured contradiction: between ideals and reality, between different socially situated viewpoints, and between experiences occurring at different times. This illustrates how particular kinds of content can have a special laughter-inducing potential, and it suggests that wild laughter may at root be an interactional mechanism for dealing with social incongruity—even for members of relatively powerful groups. It is argued that this could not only help solve the larger puzzle of simultaneous variety and constraint in deliberate comedy, but also explain why the characteristic structures of humor are associated with a particular range of social effects in the first place.

Reading that abstract caused me to engage in some unplanned (silent) laughter.

For the pointer I thank the excellent Kevin Lewis.

1 Ray Lopez November 4, 2014 at 1:54 am

This is not funny. It’s social scientists trolling, and the jokes on you. We have reached a Great Stagnation in social science when people study this sh it, as well as how dogs defaecate (they align themselves with the earth’s magnetic field, which is interesting).

2 Cahokia November 4, 2014 at 2:03 am


There’s no need to update your blog if you don’t have anything to say.

Your readers on the other hand, do want a soap box. So leave daily open threads instead of spamming us with useless papers.

3 Young Teezy November 4, 2014 at 2:17 am


4 anon November 4, 2014 at 2:26 am

He can never admit that that is what they are; they’d be less effective

5 Otto Maddox November 4, 2014 at 2:16 am
6 jean-louis salvignol November 4, 2014 at 2:45 am

Amusing reactions.

“Une vieille demoiselle, pleine d’onction et de componction” (Alfred de Musset – On ne badine pas avec l’amour)

7 Ryan November 4, 2014 at 2:53 am

“The Joke Proper, which turns on sudden perception of incongruity, is a much more promising field.” – Screwtape, from C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters”

8 rayward November 4, 2014 at 6:26 am

That contradiction induces laughter isn’t surprising; indeed, tragedy sometimes induces laughter. Ignore the laughter and focus on contradiction: why, for example, do people react so negatively to contrarianism? If contradiction induces laughter, why does contrarianism induce anger? I suspect that in one case (contradiction) it’s unintentional, whereas in the other case (contrarianism) it’s intentional; in the former case the joke is on the the individual expressing the contradiction, whereas in the latter case the joke is on everybody else. This is seen on the internet maybe more than any other place, as contrarianism is often met with vitriol of the worst kind (I know, what other kind is there). Contradiction is similar to hypocrisy, which is generally considered acceptable (because everybody does it), whereas contrarianism is provocative (because it questions the conventional wisdom).

9 The Devil's Dictionary November 4, 2014 at 6:52 am

That’s not funny seriously enough.

10 Danton November 4, 2014 at 7:21 am

Economists laugh when they read those jokes : http://economicscience.net/content/JokEc .
I think most of them fall into the “structured contradiction” between ideals and reality. Well, when you think about it, a big part of what is funny falls into this category.

11 economist November 4, 2014 at 9:31 am

A very famous economist laughed at a question (about minimum wages) during a recent econ talk interview. But his views were far more nuanced than the laughter would suggest.

12 Johnny A November 4, 2014 at 9:54 am

Just as game theory is actually really tough and not amusing at all, despite what students might think, so is research about jokes. If I read a research paper about jokes I somehow expect it to be funny.

13 ZC November 4, 2014 at 10:56 am

yeah, but what _is_ the deal with airline peanuts?

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