Pranks: April Fools Day and Opportunity for Self Improvement


As Americans plan the best opportunity to prank friends and loved ones this April Fool’s Day, there may be one important factor to keep in mind– Self-improvement. Psychologists have made progress delving into the psychology of pranks. They found that many cultures around the world include pranks in their rites of passage. They also found that there is conclusive evidence that a good-natured prank can open one’s eyes and allow themselves to see aspects of them in a whole new light.

Abbie Hoffman, a 1960’s prankster and activist, has split pranks into three major types. The first is a bad prank. This is a prank that degrades, or injures a person physically or mentally. This type of duping includes head-shaving, locking people out in the cold without proper attire, or any prank that involves physical or mental harm. The second type of prank are described as being “Neutral tricks.” These tricks are more involving of physical humor. Setting a balloon trap on the other side of a door, covering the toilet bowl with plastic wrap, or rigging someones technology to work incorrectly are examples of these pranks.

The last type of prank is the good-natured dupe. This is a prank that makes a person reflect, and may even influence change within that person. They can also be used as rituals, or tests for entry into an established group. A good prank is an intelligently and humorously “satirizes human fears or feelings.” Hoffman found that these types of fears were found in cultures all around the globe. The Daribi, a culture native to New Guinea, is known to prank their young. They offer them a small box to bury in the ground. The child is told that if they wait long enough, valuable treasure will appear within their tiny capsule. The children would often become impatient and dig it up, only to find their treasure box filled with human excrement.

Tricks like this teach a small lesson, and make a person think about their actions. It is true that the prank is temporary, but the memory will last. In fact, good pranks are often saved by human the human brain for years, friends referring to them throughout their lives. Being the receiver of a trick allows a person to look in a mirror of vigilance. After being pranked, that first thought, “I should have seen that coming,” is clear evidence of learning. The more a person is pranked on the more alert they are of future tricks. This can allow the person to quickly come up with a counter trick. Psychologists have noted that these tendencies also extend beyond situations involving friendly trickery. Individuals who have had more tricks played on them are more aware of trickery presented by scams.

Practical jokes can bring light to a person’s harmless flaws. Individuals should know where the line is between different types of jokes, and find fun and creative ways to dupe their friends. When planning a prank on a specific person, always focus on their personality and what they could gain from your prank. This April Fools day can be a great opportunity to help your friends make those self-improvements they have been reaching for.

By Joshua Shane



New York Times

Psychology Today