Human beings are programmed to act in certain ways when they are out in public. Socially acceptable behavior depends on the place a person lives but there is generally an unspoken rule that, when surrounded by other people, one should behave in a generally cooperative way. Hence, when someone breaks those rules and does act out of tune it is likely that they will get reactions from others quite quickly…and this is precisely why so many public practical jokes—also referred to as “pranks”—work so well.
Practical jokes describe the act of performing a trick on an unsuspecting person with the end result being that the victim is somehow surprised, alarmed or embarrassed much to the amusement of the trickster and other onlookers. Such pranks can be very funny but—if they go too far—they can also be considered a form of bullying. Hence, people who aim to perform practical jokes to get laughs must do so in a way that illustrates proper finesse and a goal of laughing with people (after the initial shock), not at them.
Most of the best known practical jokes happen when people least expect them and occur with maximum effect in public locations (see video). Other practical jokes can happen inside a house (like blocking a doorway with books) or even on television! Betty White has earned massive publicity from her show “Off Their Rockers” which features a number of elderly people playing jokes on unsuspecting young people (much like the old “Candid Camera” program).
Practical jokes can be very funny and amusing because they test the limits of people’s normal behavior when they are faced with abnormal situations. Psychology majors could learn a lot from watching the reactions of practical joke victims—as long as the jokes are done with good intentions and even the “victims” are able to laugh after the fact.