Cindy Gendrich of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., who teaches the seminar, "Why Do People Laugh?" explores the psychological, physical and social benefits of laughter.
"Lots of theorists have observed that compassion is the enemy of humor -- from the Greeks to Henri Bergson. April Fools' Day jokes fall into the same category as watching an episode of the TV show 'Wipeout,'" Gendrich says in a statement. "Most of us stop laughing if someone gets hurt. The question my students grapple with is how we are sometimes able to turn our compassion buttons to 'mute.'"
The class studies what make someone or something an acceptable target for laughter.
"We may laugh more at April Fools' jokes if they seem somehow justified, but being the 'fool' is not always funny," Gendrich says. "Laughter has a lot to do with human relationships. We laugh to put people at ease, to show approval, to flirt, to contribute to the energy of an event or a moment, to tell people we are not dangerous, to show we 'get it'. We often laugh out of nervousness."