The Psychology of Pranks

So by the time you’re reading this, I have just pranked my fellow editor Andrew Vincent. What about? I cannot disclose. Point is, as a person who is chronically bored and enjoys thinking outside of the box, pranks are my kind of thing. As a technology enthusiast, many of my pranks have to do with image manipulation or the occasional Wi-Fi takeover. I enjoy watching YouTube videos where people end up getting smacked in the face with shaving cream or have their card disappear from a deck to only appear in their bag (not really a prank, but same idea). From these experiences, I’ve picked up on what makes pranks so funny and how to pull a good one.

What makes a prank funny?

We all know that pranks are funny. When I took over my brother’s laptop and blocked Minecraft or convinced my little cousin he lost his nose, I felt exhilaration. Sure, they were mean things to do but I was proud of the work I put in to make them look like fools. Andy, for instance, replied with the messages “Fuck you” and “Fuck off” after I pranked him hazarding a long laugh session. So why do we get so overcome with emotion when our pranks are successful. Well, there’s a German word that describes it perfectly: Schadenfreude (literally meaning harm-joy). Now we don’t fully understand the science behind Schadenfreude, but the hormone oxytocin is involved, or the hormone associated with intense happiness. Because most pranks only involves lighthearted harm to their victim, they are funny to us. However, when we get to the point that the victim is emotionally scarred or physically hurt, it starts to get less and less funny.

How to pull the perfect prank.

So simply put, to plan a good prank, you need the hacker mindset. Now it’s a common misconception that hackers have certain skills that allow them to gain root access to Apple’s servers and leak hundreds of photos. I will talk about the hacker mindset in a future post, but simply put, it’s looking at a situation and considering all possible scenarios and ensuring no loopholes exist. The best hackers are typically the ones that no one expects. For instance, would you expect a 5 year old to get into Microsoft’s servers? Hell no, but a kid by the name of Kristoffer von Hassel was successful in doing so. Taking someone by surprise is a part of the hacker mindset and key in planning a prank. The prank should almost be insane to the point where victim should not expect what is happening, yet safe enough that the victim can just walk away with a lighthearted laugh. Second part of a prank: all loopholes must be closed. Hackers always have to cover their tracks after hacking into any system, and so do pranksters. If there is any possible route the prank can take that result in a failure of the prank, it’s unsuccessful. The chances of the prank working must be 99.9%. We call this attention to detail. After pulling the prank, I told my good friend Yash Verma about it and he was convinced of the setup I used during the prank. The third and most important thing about a prank: think outside the box. If you haven’t yet, read my article talking about thinking outside the box and thinking differently. In order to make sure everything goes as planned, one must usually do unorthodox things. Follow these steps and I can ensure that the perfect prank will be pulled.

Pranks are quite fun. I’ve been pulling them since I was really young when I used my watch in 3rd grade to reflect sunlight onto a wall and told my friends it was an alien watching us. While there are those of us who are inclined to pull pranks, anyone can do it, you just need to change your mindset. And as many of us go into our senior year of high school, we’ll be able to pull the best senior prank yet.

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