April 1 is traditionally a time when people play practical jokes on each other. For many of us it’s a great fun. Psychotherapist Ralf Nickel tells us why people love jokes – and why they’re even good for our health.
DW: Why is playing an April Fool’s joke so much fun?
Dr. Ralf Nickel: An April Fool’s joke is a way of establishing a connection. Pulling off a good joke is amusing to begin with. And if the person you’ve tricked responds with humor, that creates a positive emotional connection.
And what physical effect do they have?
April Fool’s jokes and laughter has a positive effect on our health – and it benefits our sense of connection to other people, too. When people laugh about a joke together, it’s a sign of affinity. And when we manage to play a good April Fool’s joke on someone, it’s a real kick – it even activates the brain’s reward system, the nucleus accumbens, and releases “happiness hormones” like dopamine. The successful prankster might also enjoy a sense of superiority, which boosts self-esteem. A successful April Fool’s joke can be as much of a thrill as a sports victory or good marks on a test.
Why can’t some people laugh about April Fool’s jokes?
When someone’s been the target of a practical joke, their response depends a great deal on their sense of humor and self-esteem, and their willingness to laugh at themselves. That requires a solid sense of self, and the ability to step outside oneself and see yourself as others do. It’s a complex and important cognitive skill, but it’s not always easy to pull off.
What does a successful April Fool’s joke reveal about the person who pulled it off?
An April Fool’s joke shows that we take interest in other people. To pull off a successful prank, you have to be able to see the world from the other person’s perspective. And you have to be creative, a good planner, and willing to invest a bit of effort and energy into it. So if you’re the target of a prank, why not go ahead and enjoy the fun, too?
Professor Ralf Nickel is director of the Clinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at the HSK, Dr. Horst Schmidt Clinic in Wiesbaden. http://www.hsk-wiesbaden.de/
Interview: Marita Brinkmann