When Humor Humiliates | Science News

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When Humor Humiliates

For gelotophobes, even good-natured laughter can sound a lot like ridicule

12:47pm, July 17, 2009

It started as a quiet dinner conversation, punctuated with laughter. Soon, the rapid-fire “ha-ha-has” took on the tone of gunfire. Convinced it was directed at him, the young man got up to confront the noisy diners.

Naturally, the guests at the next table had no idea what the problem was. They were simply enjoying themselves and … laughing. Embarrassed by his outburst, the young man left the restaurant and never returned.

By most accounts, laughter is good medicine, the best even. But for some, such as the embarrassed diner, a good-natured chuckle isn’t funny at all. Morbidly averse to being the butt of a joke, these folks will go out of their way to avoid certain people or situations for fear of being ridiculed. For them, merely being around others who are talking and laughing can cause tension and apprehension.

Until recently, such people might have been written off as spoilsports. But in the mid-1990s, an astute German psychologist r

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