Science News has a fascinating article on people with gelotophobia, a fear of being laughed at. It seems the phobia might be driven by a problem in perceiving the social meaning of laughter, so even light-hearted chuckles are perceived as scornful snickers.
The piece covers the surprising amount of research on the phobia, tracing the perceptual problems from possible learnt responses during childhood to difficulties in picking up visual cues from body language.
To scientists‚Äô surprise, those that scored high for fear of being laughed at didn‚Äôt react more strongly to the sounds of negative laughter than did those with no fear. The gelotophobes did, however, perceive positive laughter, such as hearty or cheerful laughter, as unpleasant or spiteful.
The scientists also measured participants‚Äô moods before and after the experiment. Those with no fear of laughter reported feeling more cheerful after hearing the sound tracks, while gelotophobes reported no change in mood, the researchers reported in the February Humor.
Laughter is a remarkably complex form of social communication that is still not well understood by cognitive scientists although one of the best accessible explorations of the topic was in an edition of RadioLab from last year.
Link to Science News on ‘When Humor Humiliates’.