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Saturday, 1 April, 2000, 00:40 GMT 01:40 UK
Humour 'not in genes'

Hilarious: but is it genetic?
Your genes have little to do with your sense of humour, according to research carried out among twins.

Instead, it appears that those about us are far more influential when it comes to what we find funny.

The Twin Research Unit at St Thomas' Hospital in London, which normally investigates possible genetic factors in more serious afflictions than a terrible sense of humour, looked at 254 female twins to test what they found funny.

The test involved separating the twins into different rooms, then screening the same cartoons simulataneously.

The twins were asked to grade their reactions to the cartoons on a scale of 0 to 10 according to how amusing they found them.

The cartoons were chosen for their different styles of humour, ranging from the slightly more offbeat jokes of Gary Larson's "Far Side", to others which focused on dirty jokes or wit.

Where reactions were similar from both twins, the researchers found, most of this could be attributed to environmental factors, such as their upbringing, the humour of their peers, teachers and even the media.

Unexpected

Very few of the reactions could not be explained in this fashion.

Dr Tim Spector, from the unit, said: "This is a surprising factor given the importance of genetic factors in other behavioural traits including intelligence, personality and even social attitudes.

"We found that between one third and two thirds of the variability in reaction to the cartoons was due to shared environmental effects such as family upbringing, and genetic factors did not appear to contribute."

The Twin Research Unit is looking for identical and non-identical twins for research projects into conditions such as osteoporosis, arthritis, heart disease and cancer.

If you are over 18 and willing to volunteer call the Twin Hotline on 0990 770099.

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