Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Acoustics of laughter: New insights into this mysterious form of expression

Date:
October 4, 2001
Source:
American Institute Of Physics
Summary:
While scientists have thoroughly researched many other human sounds, such as singing and talking, remarkably little is known about the acoustics of laughter. Seeking to rectify this, psychologists studied 1024 laughter episodes from 97 young adults as they watched funny video clips from films such as "When Harry Met Sally" and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." The surprising results were published in a recent paper.

Humans have many ways to express themselves, but one of the most enjoyable-and mysterious-is laughter. More than a frivolous emotional outburst, laughter has many important functions in human communication, playing major roles in social situations ranging from dates to diplomatic negotiations.

While scientists have thoroughly researched many other human sounds, such as singing and talking, remarkably little is known about the acoustics of laughter. Seeking to rectify this, Vanderbilt psychologist Jo-Anne Bachorowski and Cornell psychologist Michael Owren studied 1024 laughter episodes from 97 young adults as they watched funny video clips from films such as "When Harry Met Sally" and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." The surprising results were published in the September 2001 issue of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

"We tend to think of laughter as being tee-hee or ho-ho, sorts of sounds," said Bachorowski. But their results showed otherwise.

First of all, laughers produce many different kinds of sounds, including grunts and snorts. The investigators found interesting sex differences in the use of these sounds, with males tending to grunt and snort more often than females.

The sex differences don't end there. Women produced more song-like laughter than men. These song-like laughs are "voiced," meaning that they involve the vocal folds, the tissues in the larynx involved in producing vowels and related sounds.

In men and women alike, laughs are surprisingly high-pitched. To determine this, the researchers took each voiced laugh and measured its "fundamental frequency," which corresponds to the rate at which the vocal folds vibrate, and is heard by listeners as pitch. They found that women's laughter, on the average, was twice as high-pitched as normal speech (had twice the fundamental frequency). Men's laughter was, on the average, 2.5 times more higher-pitched than their normal speech (had 2.5 times the fundamental frequency).

Even more remarkable were the very high frequencies of some voiced laughs. Male fundamentals were sometimes over 1,000 Hertz (Hz)-about the pitch of a high "C" for a soprano singer. Females were sometimes over 2,000 Hz-one octave higher than a soprano's high C. These high fundamentals were unexpected. "I personally didn't imagine that males and females would produce sounds with fundamentals that high in natural circumstances," Bachorowski said.

Santa Claus may also have to change his tagline, as researchers found that voiced laughter does not consist of articulated vowel-like utterances, like "tee-hee," "ha-ha," or "ho-ho." Instead, laughter is predominantly composed of neutral, "huh-huh" sounds.

Ever think your laugh sounds funny when you're stressed out? The researchers found lots of evidence that laughter can be associated with out-of-the-ordinary vocal physics, such as whirlpools of air or whistles near the larynx. While the researchers don't know with certainty what the origins of such effects are, they may be associated with a high level of emotional arousal on the part of laughers.

The researchers are in the midst of further studies of laughter. For example, they are studying the impact that these sounds have on emotional responses in listeners. They are also looking to uncover what happens in the human brain when listeners hear laughter. Another piece of their work involves studying whether laughter is speech-like in the sense of providing "meaning" or symbolic value to listeners. The investigators instead think that laughter functions largely to sway a listener's emotional response, with any meaning attributed to the sounds inferred or interpreted from the situation in which the laughter is produced.

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Institute Of Physics. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jo-Anne Bachorowski, Moria J. Smoski, Michael J. Owren. The acoustic features of human laughter. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 2001; 110 (3): 1581 DOI: 10.1121/1.1391244

Cite This Page:

American Institute Of Physics. "Acoustics of laughter: New insights into this mysterious form of expression." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 October 2001. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/10/011004065312.htm>.
American Institute Of Physics. (2001, October 4). Acoustics of laughter: New insights into this mysterious form of expression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/10/011004065312.htm
American Institute Of Physics. "Acoustics of laughter: New insights into this mysterious form of expression." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/10/011004065312.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother Getaway: Beaches Turks & Caicos

Working Mother (Oct. 22, 2014) — Feast your eyes on this gorgeous family-friendly resort. Video provided by Working Mother
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Your Favorite Color Says About You

What Your Favorite Color Says About You

Buzz60 (Oct. 22, 2014) — We all have one color we love to wear, and believe it or not, your color preference may reveal some of your character traits. In celebration of National Color Day, Krystin Goodwin (@kyrstingoodwin) highlights what your favorite colors may say about you. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

First-Of-Its-Kind Treatment Gives Man Ability To Walk Again

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) — A medical team has for the first time given a man the ability to walk again after transplanting cells from his brain onto his severed spinal cord. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) — Breeze, a portable breathalyzer, gets you home safely by instantly showing your blood alcohol content, and with one tap, lets you call an Uber, a cab or a friend from your contact list to pick you up. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins