Laughter Tracks Make You Think Something Is Funnier than It Is

New research shows people tend to laugh more if a laughter track is added to a joke.

Laughter Tracks Make You Think Something Is Funnier than It Is
Two women laughing and smiling beer5020/iStock

Laughter can be infectious but new research takes that notion to a whole new level.  

Researchers at the University College London found that when a program used a recorded laughter track viewers tended to find the jokes funnier than when laughter wasn’t added.  

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Spontaneous Laughter has a Bigger Impact 

In a research report published in Current Biology, the scientists found that when laughter was added even to lame jokes, it increased how funny they were perceived to be. If natural laughter was present, the increase was larger than when a laugh track was added.

In order to come to its conclusion, the researchers took 40 so-called dad jokes and rated them on a scale of 1 to 7 depending on how funny they were. The jokes weren’t too groundbreaking with researchers intentionally choosing weak ones. Some of the jokes included: What state has the smallest drinks? Mini-soda!; What does a dinosaur use to pay the bills? Tyrannosaurus cheques!; What's orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot! and What do you call a man with a spade on his head? Dug! 

They then presented the jokes paired with two different types of laughter to two groups of adults. The neurotypical group was comprised of 48 individuals while the autistic adult group was made up of 24 people. Both groups rated jokes funnier if they had spontaneous laughter paired with them. 

Autistic Adults May Relate to Laughter More than Thought 

“Laughter is an extremely salient and important social cue and although laughter can be commonplace, it always carries a wealth of critical social and emotional meaning, and we process it even if we are not directed specifically to engage with the laughter,” wrote the researchers. “These data indicate that implicit processing of laughter can influence the perceived funniness of a fairly dire joke and that more spontaneous laughter has the strongest effects.”

Given that autistic adults found the jokes funny when laughter was added suggests that people with autism are equally sensitive to the influences of laughter. The researchers said it implies that comedy and laughter may be more accessible to people suffering from autism then what is traditionally believed. 

Laugh Tracks Pick up the Slack 

It also sheds light on why laughter tracks were introduced, to begin with.  "Historically, TV and radio programmes were always recorded in front of a live studio audience: this allowed those watching and listening to feel part of the performance.  However, as the audience reaction was natural, certain 'comedy' programmes, which weren't overtly funny wouldn't get a long laugh, so TV and radio producers increasingly added canned laughter to prompt an audience reaction,” said Professor Sophie Scott UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in a press release announcing the research. "This research shows that while canned laughter does elevate the humour of a comedy, adding real laughter would get a better response. This has been adopted in shows like Friends, which are recorded in front of an audience, with the real laughter amplified during editing for particular jokes that had been well received."

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