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Thursday 8 June 2023 Dublin: 12°C
# young sci 2014
Why do we laugh at people in pain?
We laugh as people break legs, arms and worse – and a student has some suggestions why.

IF YOU HAVE watched a YouTube clip of someone falling from their bike, breaking a leg on a football pitch or smacking their face off something, you’ll undoubtedly have laughed.

No matter how much sympathy you may have for the person, or how empathetic you are, it will have been hard to stifle a giggle.

But why do we laugh at people in pain?


Rory Patterson of Blackrock College decided to look at this phenomenon for his BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition.

“These people are going to the hospital with broken legs, and broken arms and broken necks and even worse, and we’re laughing at them. But we’re laughing at them almost because we don’t know what’s happening next,” he explained.

He posited that the videos are “cut off at the point at which it’s funny”, before the impact of the incident kicks in. Viewers don’t see the resulting injury, or hospital visit, so it is easy to feel disconnected.

“Immaturity is one of the biggest reasons why we laugh,” he added.

Then, there is the fact that children can develop a thirst for violent images.

Young children are exposed to violence in cartoons, and this violence makes them laugh for a while but it gets tiresome; they crave something more, something human, real, and so that’s why they look at these videos. Because it seems so cruel, and it seems so inhumane and unethical, but that’s what happens. But for the person watching it, it seems to be hilarious.

He decided to look at the subject precisely because it is confusing, and because “the mind is so complex”.

Patterson spoke to psychiatrists and psychologists during his research, and his stand was a hugely popular one at the exhibition.

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