A Sample Research Paper

The following is a very brief APA-style research paper. Here you can see ideas from separate papers synthesized into a result not found in any of the sources. You can also see (or so I hope) good citation practice. In a postscript, I will discuss the paper's merits and its flaws.

Laughter as a Selectable Trait

The peculiar phenomenon of laughter has confounded the various scientists, sociologists, and psychologists who have tried to explain it. Although we usually feel "good" when we laugh, and although scientists now understand the biochemical reasons for this good feeling, the source of the laughter itself puzzled thinkers as early as Plato. Nevertheless, growing evidence suggests that laughter has enough biologically favorable effects that it could have arisen though natural selection.

Although humans are generally believed to be the only species on earth with a developed sense of humor, precedent for laughter exists outside humankind. Laughter-like vocalizations have been observed in chimpanzees, close relatives of humans, during play (Pearce, 2004). Play laughter provides a social signal that the roughhousing inherent in play is non-threatening. Gervais and Wilson suggest that the presence of laughter in other animals indicates that the phenomenon existed prior to humans and was evolutionarily "co-opted" for other uses in mankind (2005). Indeed, a version of social signaling laughter is seen in the human use of nervous or self-deprecating laughter to reduce the threat of embarrassing situations by marking them as non-serious.

If laughter is a biologically favorable trait, however, it must fulfill a definite and useful purpose. Either its social signaling or some other effect must promote the success of individuals with a tendency to laugh. Innumerable studies have shown that laughter does indeed have positive effects on a laugher's heath, from enhancing immune response (Pearce, 2004) to aiding the laugher in "aging well" (Solomon, 1996). A person in good health is more likely to reproduce successfully than a sickly one, and a person with a long life span has more time for reproduction. Therefore, someone prone to laughter may be more likely to reproduce and pass on that tendency to the next generation.

In addition to greater reproductive potential, laughers enjoy favorable selection in mating. Researchers found that women were more attracted to males they perceive as humorous or prone to laughter even if they did not perceive those men as the most attractive or intelligent available (Bressler and Balshine, 2006). Such selection for humor is the key to passing on laughter, if it is indeed a genetic trait as suggested by its presence in chimpanzees.

Males who have co-opted laughter for humor are likely to enjoy better health and are therefore seen as favorable mates. Thus laughter is likely a heritable trait and an evolutionarily favorable one. Over thousands of generations, selection for laugh-prone males have presumably brought society to a point where mirth is common and most people consider themselves the have a good sense of humor. Perhaps in a few thousand more generations, if humor selection persists, mankind will evolve past the need for stand-up comics.

Works Cited:

Bressler, Eric R. and Balshine, Sigal (2006). The Influence of Humor on Desirability. Evolution and Human Behavior. 27, 29–39

Gervais, Matthew and Wilson, David Sloan (2005). The Evolution and Functions of Laughter and Humor: A Synthetic Approach. The Quarterly Review of Biology. 80(4), 395-430.

Pearce, J.M.S. (2004). Some Neurological Aspects of Laughter. European Neurology. 52, 169-171.

Solomon, Jennifer Crew (1996). Humor and Aging Well. American Behavioral Scientist. 39(3), 249-271.

I start with an interesting and rhythmically appealing sentence. The introduction works up to a thesis which is explored throughout the paper and explained and clarified in the conclusion. I draw from a number of sources, all of them reliable and most of them quite recent. These sources are cited according to APA standards, but the citations are placed at different points in the sentences for variety's sake. Finally, I employ two reasonably strong transitions, each time referencing the topic of the previous paragraph and extending it into the next.

The paper is far from perfect, however. I have kept it within a single-spaced page, so I have not explained my reasoning as much as I wished to. Given more space, I would expand on how laughter asserts control over "dangerous" situations and how this might affect mating selection. Unfortunately, my natural wordiness increased the rate at which I ran out of room for such explanations. I also may have left unexplained some important points about the nature of evolution and genetics — points that would have been helpful to readers without a background in biochemistry.

Note: If this is the sort of thing that concerns you, the views on laughter and evolution presented here are probably the views of this author but are not necessarily those of the Writing Crew. Microevolution (genetic change within a species) is well established, though.

Literary Analysis

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