Laughter is a kind of universal body language that’s shared by people of all nationalities, skin colors, cultures and traditions. But did you know that the ability to tell genuine laughter apart from fake laughter also transcends cultures?
Greg Bryant, a professor of communication at the University of California, Los Angeles, US, published a study in Psychological Science in late July in which he found that people are able to identify real laughter through slight variations in sound.
In the study, 884 people from 21 countries were asked to listen to random recordings of laughter. Of course, Some of the recordings were made up of spontaneous laughs, while others were made by people who were asked to laugh on command.
The study showed that people around the world have the ability to pick out real laughter, although their abilities vary from country to country. Residents of the Samoan Islands, an island chain in the central South Pacific, were particularly good at it, correctly identifying real laughter 56 percent of the time.
According to Bryant, people from smaller, less industrialized nations “are more accurate in identifying [a] natural smile” because they rely heavily on emotional engagement in order to predict others’ behavior and create stronger social relationships.
But how do people from different cultures detect natural laughter so easily? And what traits does real laughter have?
As Professor Jessica Wolf of the University of California, Los Angeles, told the Association for Psychological Science, in real laughter, our vocal chords “produce qualities such as higher pitch and volume, as well as faster bursts of non-articulate sounds and more non-tonal noise”.
By contrast, fake laughter will “sound like speech”. According to Science Daily, fake laughter is controlled by the same brain system that controls the lips and tongue.
Bryant further explained that this system has an imitative capacity, saying “with this speech system, you can make a lot of different noises, including crying, laughter or a shriek of pain. That’s where fake laughter comes from”.
So that’s something to think about the next time one of your friends laughs at something you said. Will you be able to tell if it’s real or fake?