Many people complain about television shows that use recorded laugh tracks. But researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on July 22 have found that laugh tracks really do work.
According to the new evidence, the sound of a laugh track makes people rate corny "dad jokes" as being funnier. Laugh tracks work best when the recording features spontaneous laughter as opposed to posed laughter. The findings held up in both neurotypical people and in those diagnosed with autism.
"I'm fascinated that not only does laughter make the joke seem funnier, but that the more spontaneous the laughter, the funnier it makes the joke!" said Sophie Scott (@sophiescott) of the University College London.
Scott's team often conducts studies in which they ask people to rate laughter or other sounds in different ways. In the new study, they wanted an implicit measure of the effect of laughter, by asking study participants to rate how funny they found jokes with and without laughter. Read aloud by a professional comedian, the jokes were intentionally groan-worthy "dad jokes."
First, they established baseline ratings of how funny the jokes were perceived to be on a scale from one to seven. Next, they presented a different group of participants, including 48 neurotypical individuals and 24 individuals with autism, with the same jokes. This time, half of the jokes were paired with short, spontaneous laugh tracks and the other half with short, posed laughs.
The ratings revealed that the addition of laughter increases how funny a joke is perceived to be, irrespective of type of laughter. But the kind of laughter does matter. The addition of spontaneous laughs led to greater increases in the funniness rating than did the addition of posed laughs.
The researchers say it was somewhat unexpected and therefore intriguing to find that the effect of laughter was the same for neurotypical and autistic participants. It suggests that everyone is likely influenced by laughter, whether they realize it or not.
In future studies, the researchers hope to explore the way that laughter influences brain activity in response to jokes. "We want to do a brain-scanning study so we can see how the laughter influences joke perception in the brain, and whether this is the same for everyone," Scott said.
Current Biology, Cai et al.: "Humor ratings of bad jokes are modulated by other people's laughter for neurotypical and autistic adults" https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(19)30687-6
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