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Why Do People Play Practical Jokes?

One of the main reasons people play practical jokes is to make themselves and others laugh. These entertainers enjoy plotting their prank, watching the scene unfold and observing the reactions of the unsuspecting victim as well as their audience. Laughter has many benefits; it lifts a person’s mood, unites a group of people and there is evidence that it even has positive physical effects.

Unfortunately, the individual on whom the prank is being perpetrated may not be so fortunate and in some situations, a practical joke may result in victimization. Over the years, psychologists have studied the psychology behind practical jokes, usually in the context of bullying. One finding indicated that when people have been taken in by a practical joke, their self-awareness increases and as a result they are more aware of potential weaknesses when interacting with new people. Overall, however, practical jokes are generally used in a positive way to integrate people into a new setting. The new individual is put through a kind of rite of passage before being accepted by the group.

Young children use harmless practical jokes as a form of social interaction in the playground. This behaviour continues throughout life and two very popular days for people in the Western world to perpetrate practical jokes are April fool’s day and Halloween.

April fool’s day is thought to have originated in France in about 1582 when New Year’s Day was changed from March 25– April 1 to January 1. Large groups of people only learned of the change years afterwards because of how slowly information travelled in those days and another group refused to accept the change. These people were labelled as “fools” and ridiculed by having practical jokes played on them. This tradition gradually became popular in Britain and America and is now a source of great amusement to many people.