Laughter the best medicine or a bitter pill to swallow

Photo by Flickr user lintmachine. Click for sourceScience 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’ surprise, those that scored high for fear of being laughed at didn’t 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’ 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’.

2 Comments

  1. Mark(p.s.)
    Posted August 1, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    Pain is a large part of humor.
    Pain Equals Funny.
    Videos on TV and youtube that are funny usually have someone getting hurt.
    Is it (an accident) a planned set-up, or your own fault for being stupid?
    Laughing with you, or at you?
    Do you (as in anyone) want to appear foolish or stupid? No, unless you intended to provoke laughter-amusement.
    Al Capp and what makes people laugh. (from time.com)
    “All comedy is based on man’s delight in man’s inhumanity to man” wrote Capp. “I have made 40 million people laugh more or less every day for 16 years (on that formula).”

  2. sreid01
    Posted August 3, 2009 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    I’ve had a few friends in my lifetime that could never take a joke. They were very sensitive to very mild humor. They always thought people were laughing at them. I’m glad to see there is a real issue there that has a name.


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