Psychologists have studied pranks for years, often in the context of harassment, bullying and all manner of malicious exclusion and prejudice.
Yet practical jokes are far more commonly an effort to bring a person into a group, anthropologists have found — an integral part of rituals around the world intended to temper success with humility. And recent research suggests that the experience of being duped can stir self-reflection in a way few other experiences can, functioning as a check on arrogance or obliviousness.
What Hoffman called the good prank, which humorously satirizes human fears or failings, is found in a wide variety of initiation rites and coming-of-age rituals.
In a paper published last year, three psychologists argued that the sensation of being duped — anger, self-blame, bitterness — was such a singular cocktail that it forced an uncomfortable kind of self-awareness. How much of a dupe am I? Where are my blind spots?