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THE world’s funniest joke was unveiled by scientists today at the end of the largest study of humour ever undertaken.
For the past year people around the world have been invited to judge jokes on an internet site as well as contribute quips of their own.
The LaughLab experiment conducted by psychologist Dr Richard Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire, attracted more than 40,000 jokes and almost two million votes.
And the joke which received the highest global rating - submitted by 31-year-old psychiatrist Gurpal Gosall from Manchester - was:
"Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed.
"The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps: ‘My friend is dead! What can I do?’ The operator says: ‘Calm down, I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.’
"There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says: ‘OK, now what?’"
Dr Wiseman said the joke was interesting because it worked across many different countries and appealed to men and women and young and old alike.
"Many of the jokes submitted received higher ratings from certain groups of people, but this one had real universal appeal.
"Also, we find jokes funny for lots of different reasons. They sometimes make us feel superior to others, reduce the emotional impact of anxiety-provoking situations or surprise us because of some kind of incongruity. The hunters joke contained all three elements."
The experiment also revealed wide humour differences between nations.
One intriguing result was Germans - not renowned for their sense of humour - found just about everything funny. They did not express a strong preference for any type of joke.
People from Ireland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand most enjoyed jokes with word plays, such as this one. Patient: "Doctor, I’ve got a strawberry stuck up my bum." Doctor: "I’ve got some cream for that!"
Americans and Canadians preferred jokes where there was a strong sense of superiority - either because a character looks stupid or is made to look stupid.
This was an example of American humour.
Texan: "Where are you from?" Harvard graduate: "I come from a place where we do not end our sentences with prepositions."
Texan: "OK, where are you from, jackass?"
Many European countries, such as France, Denmark and Belgium, liked surreal humour. Here is an example: An Alsatian went to a telegram office, took out a blank form and wrote: "Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof." The clerk examined the paper and politely told the dog: "There are only nine words here. You could send another Woof for the same price." "But," the dog replied, "that would make no sense at all."
Europeans also enjoyed jokes that made light of serious topics such as death, illness and marriage.
Dr Wiseman said: "These results are really interesting. It suggests that people from different parts of the world have fundamentally different senses of humour."
Computer analysis of the data also showed that jokes containing 103 words were thought to be especially funny. The winning "hunters" joke was 102 words long.
Many jokes contained references to animals. Jokes mentioning ducks were seen as funnier than other jokes.
The researchers were also able to pinpoint the funniest moment of the year. People found the jokes funniest at 6.03pm on October 7.
Dr Wiseman’s team is launching a book describing their findings today.