George W. Bush was not known for his cunning intellect, but he did have a good sense of humor. In a commencement address at Southern Methodist University, he famously told the graduates, “For those of you graduating with high honors and distinctions, I say well done. And as I like to tell the “C” students, you too can be president.” Like Bush, many of us use humor to diffuse difficult situations, mask nervousness, soften criticism, and cope with failure. Humor also serves the role of locksmith in both platonic and romantic social interactions, as it helps us break the ice, gain social acceptance, and initiate romantic overtures. Both men and women tend to seek mates who have a good sense of humor, and we perceive funny people as smarter, more attractive, and more personable.
Given that humor is such a powerful tool for social success, it’s not surprising that scientists have sought to determine the perfect formula for funny. Although there are many competing theories (and no definitive answers) about how humor functions, new research by Chris Westbury, Cyrus Shaoul, Gail Moroschan, and Michael Ranscar suggests that at least one key ingredient can be found in a 200 year-old theory proposed by philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.
Read more: Scientific American