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Brody, M.W. (1950). The Meaning of Laughter. Psychoanal Q., 19:192-201.

(1950). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 19:192-201

The Meaning of Laughter

Morris W. Brody, M.D.

SUMMARY

Laughter expresses complicated conscious and unconscious psychological meanings. It does not lend itself readily to analysis, and when approached directly as a character defense an undue quantity of anxiety may be released. The ostensible gaiety of laughter masks emotions such as fear, hate, sadness, despair, regret, or triumph. Laughter results from a sudden reduction in sadistic psychic tensions; it has a definite relationship to both masochistic and compulsive dynamisms. The depressed person, involved with his own hates, is unable to laugh because its meaning is too evident to him. Study of the laughter of adults leads to an empirical formulation that the contortions at the corners of the mouth of the infant following feeding signify the satisfaction of its own activity, possibly of having devoured the breast or of having introjected the mother. A poignant conclusion is Bergson's dramatic concept of laughter as a remnant of foam on the sandy beach left by the receding waves. He continues, 'The child, who plays hard by, picks up a handful, and, the next moment, is astonished to find that nothing remains in his grasp but a few drops of water, water that is far more brackish, far more bitter, than that of the wave which brought it. Laughter comes into being in the selfsame fashion. It indicates a slight revolt on the surface of social life. It instantly adopts the changing forms of the disturbance. It, also, is a froth with a saline base. Like froth, it sparkles. It is gaiety itself. But the philosopher who gathers a handful to taste may find that the substance is scanty, and the aftertaste bitter.'

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