Say a persons experienced a scarring event in their life (ptsd), and so their mind has developed defense in which they laugh uncontrollably whenever their nervous. This is similar to Joker 2019, whenever Arthur was stressed or depressed he would break out in a laughing episode. However, I began to think otherwise, because later in the film Arthur was physically abused as a child (even being tied to a radiator), which may contributed to this being a physical disorder, but I'm looking for a psychological disorder.

What is the name/term for this condition.

I've thought of psuedobulbar affect (PBA), but after doing research, it is a physical disorder, not purely psychological.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome! This might be a good question. But, are you asking whether this is similar to the recent Joker movie, or your question is fully inspired by that movie? In case of the latter, I suggest rephrasing this question along the lines of: "Is the uncontrolled laughter of Arthur in the Joker (2019) movie a real condition?" In case of the former, you seem to be missing some background research/reason which makes you ask this question. Where have you heard of this? $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Dec 23, 2019 at 13:34
  • $\begingroup$ I first of the disorder when it was revealed that Phoenix watch videos of people with pathological laughter for inspiration. But like I said, that a physical disorder. I want to know if there is a mental disorder with similar symptoms and was caused by a certain emotional state. As well as caused by ptsd. One I heard of is reaction formation. $\endgroup$
    – Redsam121
    Dec 24, 2019 at 6:43

1 Answer 1


I haven’t seen the movie Joker (2019) ... yet ... but I have observed what is often referred to as nervous laughter occurring with many people, including those involved in the controversial Milgram Experiment (Milgram, 1963) as you can see in this YouTube video at 5 mins 40 secs for example.

There isn’t necessarily any psychological disorder which will cause nervous laughter, but it is a physical reaction to stress, tension, confusion, or anxiety.

Neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran states (Ramachandran, 2004):

We have nervous laughter because we want to make ourselves think what horrible thing we encountered isn't really as horrible as it appears, something we want to believe.

and also suggests that laughter is used as a defense mechanism used to guard against overwhelming anxiety. Laughter often diminishes the suffering associated with a traumatic event.

Psychologist and neuroscientist Robert Provine, from the University of Maryland, studied over 1,200 "laughter episodes" and determined that more than 80% of laughter isn't a response to anything he described as “resembling a formal effort at humour” (Provine, 1996).


Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4), 371-378. doi: 10.1037/h0040525 Free PDF: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/29e4/8c1365346fc67137423a016096622ac6a215.pdf

Provine, R. R. (1996). Laughter. American Scientist, 84(1), 38-47. Retrieved from: https://www.webcitation.org/67VExLQDj

Ramachandran, V. S. (2004). A brief tour of human consciousness: From impostor poodles to purple numbers. New York, NY: Pi Press.


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