Scientists get to the bottom of what makes whoopee cushions funny
National Science and Engineering Week (6th-15th March)
Today, acoustics Professor Trevor Cox from the University of Salford reveals the nation’s funniest whoopee cushion sound following a two-week web experiment into what makes flatulence funny.
The result marks National Science and Engineering Week (6th-15th March), one of the world’s largest public science events, and Comic Relief (13th March), which features the whoopee cushion alongside the traditional red nose this year.
34,000 visitors to soundsfunny.org heard six of twenty possible sounds and rated them according to how much they make them laugh. And there is some real science behind the project. The experiment’s intriguing, often counter-intuitive, results are summarised below:
Longer whoopee cushion sounds are funnier – The funniest sound is seven seconds long so it is better to sit on a whoopee slowly for maximum effect.
Whiny Sounds are funnier – three out of the top five sounds scoring full marks for funniness were classified as ‘whiny’
Gender: Females find whoopee cushion sounds slightly funnier
Age: Whoopee sounds get less funny as you get older
Culture: Europe finds whoopee cushions funnier than America
Sounds get funnier the more you listen to them
Professor Cox, one-time owner of the world’s largest whoopee cushion, is passionate about using sounds to increase the public’s involvement in science, adding:
“The Whoopee Cushion has a great deal in common with the human voice and how instruments work, so it is a memorable way of portraying the principles of acoustics”
The study’s audience findings also have great implications for the engineering of funny flatulence, Cox explains:
“This research will enable us to engineer the ultimate whoopee cushion, and fine-tune the world’s funniest design.”
During National Science and Engineering Week around 1.5million people of all ages will attend over 3,500 events across the country, which will include stand-up comedy, concerts, talks and tours. Topics range from the serious to the surreal and include an in-depth discussion on how to levitate frogs, the pros and cons of DNA profiling and the renaissance of the bedbug. (see nsew.org.uk for a full list of events)
Annette Smith, Director of National Science and Engineering Week said:
“The starting point for scientific research is often a basic curiosity about how things work and that’s just the spirit we encourage through National Science and Engineering Week – and even better if it helps raise cash for Comic Relief too.”
For more information contact 0845 226 0803 / 07854 462092 [email protected]
Notes to editors
Sound files are available for broadcast in an MPG file – ranked in increasing funniness.
About National Science and Engineering Week (6-15 March 2009)
Aimed at everyone from children and adults, to decision-makers and investors and is intended to:
engage and inspire people of all ages with science, technology and engineering and their implications,
promote discussion and understanding of what science, engineering and technology can and cannot achieve,
promote knowledge of the scientific method, i.e. how scientists go about their work and reach their conclusions,
promote science, engineering and technology studies beyond the age of 16, and science, engineering and technology as career options.
The week draws many scientists into the public domain to discuss their work with interested audiences.
About the British Science Association
The British Science Association is the UK’s nationwide, open membership organisation that exists to advance the public understanding, accessibility and accountability of the sciences and engineering. Established in 1831, the British Science Association organises major initiatives across the UK, including National Science and Engineering Week, the annual British Science Festival, programmes of regional and local events, and an extensive programme for young people in schools and colleges. For more information please visit www.britishscienceassociation.org
About The Science [So What? So Everything] campaign
The British Science Association is part of the ‘Science: So What? So Everything’ campaign from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills which aims to encourage greater interest in science. It is about highlighting its importance to people’s everyday lives and the role it plays in helping to strengthen the UK economy. To find out more about the campaign visit www.direct.gov.uk/sciencesowhat
About the Engineering and Technology Board (ETB)
ETB is an independent organisation that promotes the vital role of engineers, engineering and technology in our society. The ETB partners business and industry, government and the wider STEM community: producing evidence on the state of engineering, and inspiring young people to choose a career in engineering, matching employers’ demand for skills. For more information about the ETB please visit www.etechb.co.uk
DIUS brings together the nation’s strengths in science, research, universities and colleges to build a dynamic, knowledge-based economy. Its primary role is to drive forward the delivery of the Government’s long-term vision to make Britain one of the best places in the world for science, research and innovation. And to raise the level of education and skills at every level in our economy to give the UK a competitive edge. www.dius.gov.uk
News Release 18 February 2009
Whoopee cushion science in aid of Comic Relief
An acoustics professor from the University of Salford is asking the public to rate the funniness of whoopee cushion sounds in order to advance human understanding of faux flatulence – and raise money for Comic Relief.
Professor Trevor Cox has designed a website which features twenty whoopee cushion sounds. Each visitor hears six of these sounds, and are asked to grade each of them depending on how much they make them laugh.
The website follows the theme of this year’s Comic Relief which features the whoopee cushion alongside the traditional red nose – and visitors are encouraged to donate to the appeal and can watch short youtube videos revealing the secret science of whoopee cushions.
According to Professor Cox, who made worldwide headlines in 2007 with his horrible sounds research, there are some solid scientific principles behind why we find different whoopee noises funniest.
“For too long, acoustic engineers have concentrate on issues such as neighbour noise and concert hall acoustics, it is about time we got to the bottom of some more important fundamental issues.
We’ve developed some theories about why one whoopee cushion sound is funnier than another, and to test these theories we need thousands of people to cast their votes on the site before Red Nose Day”
In the past, Professor Cox has held the record for owning the world’s largest whoopee cushion, as part of his ambition to get more people involved in science. “The whoopee cushion has much in common with the human voice and how wind instruments work, so it is a memorable way of portraying some important science.”
“This is a great way to contribute to science just by having a laugh,” he concluded. “And if it helps people think more about giving to charity, then even better.”
To take part in Prof Cox’s experiment go to http://www.soundsfunny.org/
Notes to Editors
The sounds used in the experiment are available for broadcast.
This year’s Red Nose Day (13th March) is at the end of this year’s National Science and Engineering Week.
Sickening Sounds Experiment
Acoustics at the University of Salford
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Download 20 whoopee sounds in MP3 format