The complicity of laughter

  •  August 13, 2020


Although many find no reason to practice more often, laughter is democratic and universal. And revealing. Study reveals how we can gauge people's intimacy when they laugh together.

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The laughter we miss so much reveals not just good humor.


According to a study from the University of California Los Angeles (United States), besides showing the appreciation of a joke, laughter can carry other information.

And be used to signal positive emotions as well as a person's intention to cooperate.

But more interesting is the discovery that shared laughter can reveal the intimacy and degree of knowledge among the people in the group.


The researchers focused on groups of people who laugh with each other, called co-laughter, to see if it communicates anything else to those outside the group.

Laughter is recognized across cultures as a sign of relationship status.

If you are able to share a laugh with someone, it indicates acceptance, belonging, and popularity.


But the communicative element of laughter, and what information we can learn about the social act, is misunderstood.

Therefore, the study focused on the information conveyed when we witnessed people laughing together, in particular, their level of friendship.

In the test, 996 volunteers from 24 countries listened to audio clips about two seconds long, with English-speaking people laughing together while recording their conversation.

None of them received any additional context of conversation.

Half of the conversations were recorded between friends, while the other half were from people who had recently met.

When volunteers listened to the recordings, the researchers found that they were able to correctly identify friendship status in 61% of cases.

As a curiosity, participants found it easier to tell if the laughter was between friends when the recording was of women's conversation.

Researchers believe that human laughter probably evolved from the panting of chimpanzees and other primates playing with each other.

Being able to determine if two individuals are known through any signs (such as laughter) can expose a threat in advance.

And it may also offer an opportunity to form allies.

According to Professor Greg Bryant, co-author of the study, "the results show that people around the world perceive laughter in very similar ways."

"It shows us how a nonverbal discourse like laughter can help people detect social alliances and later navigate social environments."

The study was published on the science outreach website. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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