What Hoffman called the good prank, which humorously 23)satirizes human fears or failings, is found in a wide variety of 24)initiation rites and coming-of-age rituals. The Daribi of 25)New Guinea, for example, have children make a small box and bury it in the ground, telling them that after a while a treasure will appear inside but they must not peek, according to Edie Turner, a professor of anthropology at the University of Virginia. Invariably the youngsters 26)succumb to curiosity—only to find a sample of human 27)feces.
The Ndembu of Zambia have an adult in a monstrous mask sneak and scare the wits out of boys camping outside the village as part of a coming-of-age ritual in which they are showing their bravery. “These kind of tricks are very common,” Dr. Turner said, “and they are really a way to put a person down before raising them up. You're being reminded of your failings even as you're being honored.”
Jonathan Wynn, a cultural sociologist at Smith College, said pranks served to maintain social boundaries in groups as various as police departments and 28)sororities. “And you gain status by being picked on in some ways,” he said. “It can be a kind of 29)flattery, if you're being brought in.”
In a paper published last year, three psychologists argued that the sensation of being duped—anger, self-blame, bitterness—was such a singular 30)cocktail that it forced an uncomfortable kind of self-awareness. How much of a dupe am I? Where are my blind spots?
“As humans, we develop this notion of fairness as a part of our self-concept, and of course it's extremely important in exchange relationships,” said Kathleen D. Vohs, a consumer psychologist at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Vohs and her co-authors, Roy F. Baumeister of Florida State University and Jason Chin of the University of British Columbia, propose that the fear of being had is a trait that varies from near-obliviousness in some people to 31)hypervigilance in others.