Cracking Up With A Friend Or Politely Chuckling With A Stranger? Your Laughter Reveals It All!


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Photo Credit: By Eric Ward from Provo, UT, USA (Laughing) [CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Laughter, be it a loud guffaw or a well-mannered giggle, is a universal way to express joy. But as it turns out, your chuckle reveals a lot more than the fact that you are happy. It enables listeners, even those that cannot observe you, instantly realize if you are having a good time with a close friend or laughing politely with a complete stranger.

At least that is the conclusion reached by a team of scientists led by Greg Bryant, an Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. The researchers began by requesting collaborators from across the globe to send them audio clips of people laughing. The 48 tapes they received ranged from recent recordings of laughter between two college friends to ones from conversations that occurred a decade ago. The clips also had all possible combinations — Interactions between friends, strangers, all-male groups, all-female groups, as well as a mix of both genders.

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The team then played the short recordings, each lasting less than a second, to 966 people spread across 24 different cultures around the world. The listeners ranged from people residing in remote areas to those living in some of the world’s most modern cities. To the team’s astonishment, despite the cultural and regional differences, the listeners were able to identify the difference in laughter between friends and strangers, 61% of the time.

Hadza hunter reacting to audio clip
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The scientists, who published their findings in the Scientific Journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on March 9, 2016, say that the accuracy was even higher when it came to recordings of only women laughing.

The researchers speculate that this is probably because women are more transparent in expressing their feelings than men.

Bryant says that the results of this cross-cultural examination demonstrates that people all over the world perceive laughter in similar ways. As Neuroscientist Carolyn McGettigan at the Royal Holloway University of London succinctly puts it, “a laugh among friends is a special sound,” — no matter where you live!


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