Faking funny

Feb 071 laughter Everybody loves the sound of laughter don’t they? The muffled giggle, the high pitch twitter, the polished chuckle, the wheezing chortle, and the deep belly laugh can all be taken differently depending on who is uttering the sound. Real involuntary laughter is often contagious in groups, one person catches on to a joke and others join in with rounds of laughter that rise and fall. But faked laughter is more common in everyday life. It typically serves a type of social interaction and can be used to smooth over differences, appease a person perceived as more important, to draw attention to oneself or increase group cohesion by aiming guffaws of scoffs at an outsider.

A common use of the manufactured laughter, which tends to be slower and more nasal in tone, is to bond with other people. However, faked laughter is only appealing if we actually like the person doing it. I heard a guy comment once that a particular group of girls were not attractive enough to be giggling so much. He understood their artificial laughter as a kind of flirtation, and was uncomfortable with it because he did not find them appealing.

According to studies conducted by UCLA associate professor Greg Bryant, most people can only distinguish faked laughter about two/thirds of the time. Detection is based on the “breathiness” of the laugh, which is composed of the vocalized sound, “ha, ha, ha” and rapid breathing. The slower the laugh is the more we hear the vocalization and the more controlled the breaths seem; both are cues for detecting faked mirth.

And there is a third kind of laughter – the insidious, haunting kind of laughter. What makes it different from the other two? It hints of insincerity because the breathing is clearly controlled, unlike the gasping of real laughter, and it is often marked by pitch that trails downward. However, the situation does affect our opinion. A genuine deep belly laugh at what the rest of us consider revolting or grotesque, still seems very twisted.

Bryant’s studies are based on idea that many animals use laughter to indicate playfulness similar to a real human laugh. Most people are familiar with the hysterical sounds made by chimpanzees. But what do they find so outrageously funny? Usually nothing. Their laugh is used to ease social situations. Did you realize that dogs, also have a way of chuckling? You may not be able to perceive it because it is much more like wheezing than human laughter. However you do not have to worry that your dog is poking fun of you. Dogs use chuckling to appease others, just like people do.


This entry was posted in Group psychology, Laughter and humor, Persuasion and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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