Systematic empirical research into the extent to which individuals in different societies fear being laughed at is new and has implications for humor theory. Humor theorists such as Hobbes and Bergson implicitly assume that such fears were generally at a high level and both Hobbes' superiority theory of laughter and Bergson's view of it as a social corrective depend on this assumption. They purport to be general theories but are in fact the product of the particular societies in which those philosophers' lived and whose mores they took for granted. However, we can use their work to generate hypotheses that can in the future be tested against the comparative empirical data now being produced. In particular we should pay attention is the social variables of shame, face, etiquette and embarrassment on the one hand, and hierarchy, status divisions and power on the other, as probably having explanatory power.
© 2009 by Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, D-10785 Berlin