Research finds recording of spontaneous laughter is more effective than controlled one
In research that will ensure the sitcoms of the future are as painful as those broadcast today, scientists have found that canned laughter makes bad jokes seem funnier.
The impact of overlaid laughter emerged from a study with autistic and neurotypical people, all of whom agreed to endure 40 jokes that were read aloud with recorded laughter following the punchline.
All of the volunteers found the jokes funnier when they were accompanied by the sound of others laughing, with the biggest gains produced by recordings of spontaneous laughter rather than more deliberate and controlled laughing, the study found.
The laughter is influencing how funny the jokes seem and I think thats because laughter is a very important signal for humans. It always means something, said Sophie Scott, a professor of cognitive neuroscience who led the research at University College London. Youre getting information not only that its funny but that its OK to laugh.
For the study, Scotts PhD student Qing Cai and others trawled the internet for what they describe as weak jokes and compiled a list for the comedian Ben van der Velde to read out to those taking part in the study.
The focus on bad jokes was intentional and ensured there was room for improvement when the canned laughter was added. To get a baseline score for how funny the jokes were, each was assessed without any backing laughter by 20 students who rated them on a scale from one (not funny) to seven (hilarious). The scores ranged from 1.5 to 3.75.
Armed with the list and their baseline funny ratings, the scientists asked 72 adults, of whom 24 had an autism diagnosis, to rate the jokes on the same seven-point scale. This time, the jokes were told with either posed or spontaneous canned laughter following the punchline.
Writing in the journal Current Biology, Scott and her colleagues described how any kind of canned laughter had boosted the average scores the jokes had received. Both neurotypical and autistic people reacted more to spontaneous laughter than controlled laughter. And while canned laughter appeared to improve some jokes more than others, controlled laughter raised ratings by an average of about 10%, compared with 15% to 20% for spontaneous laughter, Scott said.
Previous studies have suggested that laughter may be processed differently in people with autism. In the latest work, the only difference was that those with autism rated all of the 40 jokes as funnier when canned laughter was added. One explanation may be that the neurotypical adults in the study considered the jokes too puerile and uncool to appreciate them as much.
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