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Since the earliest times, laughter and humour have performed important functions in human interaction. They help to expedite courtship, improve conversational flow, synchronize emotional states and enhance social bonding. Jokes, a structured form of humour, give us control over laughter and are therefore a way to elicit these positive effects intentionally. In order to comprehend why some jokes are perceived as funny and others are not, Robert Dunbar and colleagues at Oxford University investigated the cognitive mechanism underlying laughter and humour. The research is published in Springer’s journal Human Nature.