RIVETED by Jim Davies


The Science of Why Jokes Make Us Laugh, Movies Make Us Cry, and Religion Makes Us Feel One With the Universe
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A multidisciplinary exploration of how and why certain ideas and experiences resonate more than others.

The world around us contains a vast number of things we find compelling, from fine art to video games to scary stories. Psychology Today blogger Davies (Institute of Cognitive Science/Carleton Univ.) orients all of these categories of riveting phenomena around what he calls a "compellingness foundations theory." Central to his framework is the idea that there are psychological and evolutionary commonalities among the reasons we find things interesting. For example, an innate instinct to be physically prepared for any potential physical conflict may explain why we enjoy watching sports; even on TV, a football game causes mirror neurons in our brains to fire, making us feel like we're taking part in the action. Similarly, we're hard-wired to be drawn to stories that instill fear or suggest conspiracy, since we might glean some information that will provide important lessons for survival. Backed by recent research across fields including psychology, anthropology and biology, the author suggests that our methods of discerning what we find compelling—and therefore more likely to remember and repeat—are largely subconscious and remarkably similar across different kinds of stimuli. Whether we delight in finding a pattern due to the fact that it reveals a regularity that might be exploited or connect with a religious narrative since it brings us hope or peace of mind, the brain is affected in similar ways. Laughter, too, is more primitive than we think, closely related to fear and relief—though a good joke, especially one with an incongruous punch line, is also powerfully compelling. Packed with cutting-edge research findings and written with clarity and brio, this book accomplishes its goal of delivering riveting content.

A fascinating analysis of what we find fascinating.

Pub Date: Aug. 5th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-137-27901-9
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2014


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