The average adult laughs about 15 times per day, but not all laughs are not created equal. In fact, you can tell a lot about a person with just their laugh. As a new study found, just one second of laughter can actually reveal peoples’ relationship status.
According to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, people tend to laugh much differently with their close friends than they do with strangers. Most importantly, third parties can actually detect it.
The study, which was co-authored by UCLA professor of communication studies, Greg Bryant, and 32 collaborators around the world, wanted to understand the effects co-laughter had on relationships. As part of the study, researchers played 48 short audio clips of two people laughing together. The clips contained audio samples of short conversations between undergrads at UC Santa Cruz from a previous unrelated study. Some of those conversations were between friends and some were between strangers who just met. Recordings were made between two women, two men, and a woman and a man.
As Bryant told Medical Daily, volunteers weren’t told anything about why they were being recorded. They were just asked to start a conversation about roommates, which would then lead to anything and everything else. Overall, each conversation lasted around 13 minutes. But for the purpose of this particular study, short clips of the two people laughing were used.
The clips were played for a sample of 966 participants from 24 different societies across the globe, ranging from people in small-scale populations to working-class urban groups and college students. Listeners were then asked if they thought the people laughing in the clips were friends or strangers, and how much they thought the people liked each other.
I talked to Bryant about the study's findings and what they reveal about friendship:
1. People Have The Ability To Correctly Identify Two People’s Relationship Status
Listeners from every society were able to correctly identify whether the people in the clips were friends or strangers about 61 percent of the time. So, if you're ever like me and sometimes find yourself eavesdropping on random conversations in the middle of a coffee shop on any given afternoon, you can easily identify two people's relationship status based on their laugher.
2. The Relationship Between Two Women Were Much Easier To Identify
Women who were friends were much easier to identify than anything else. In fact, listeners were able to accurately judge the relationship between two women laughing together more than 80 percent of the time. As Bryant found, this may have to do with a global presumption that co-laughter between women meant they just had to be friends.
“In general, women friends laugh more than any other gender combination, and male strangers the least,” Bryant tells Bustle. “Our research didn't explore the development of relationships, but other research by Moria Smoski (Duke) and Jo-Anne Bachorowski (Vanderbilt) has shown that women take longer to form relationships that result in consistent genuine co-laughter. There is other work showing that men can form short-term bonds more quickly, so it could be the case that men can seem like good friends much sooner than women.”
3. Laughter Between Friends Is More Spontaneous
According to the study, laughter between friends had greater irregularities in pitch, loudness, and faster bursts of sound. Those components are usually associated with excitement, spontaneity, and genuine emotion. Third-party listeners can definitely hear that. In other words, people can probably tell when your laughter is fake, and that's how they can easily tell your relationship status.
Overall, Bryant believes the findings of the study could give insight into why humans have the capacity to laugh in the first place. Laughter is one of the best ways to indicate relationship status to outside parties.
“Genuine laughter seems to be universally recognized as a positive social signal, and that aspects of the laughing might be designed for listeners outside of the immediate interaction in which it occurs,” Bryant says. “Group laughter could also be for those outside the group.”
While this study didn’t look at laughter between romantic partners, Bryan suspects that romantic involvement could be detectable in laughter in addition to many other nonverbal cues such as body movements.
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