Why Laughter With Friends Might Sound Different From Laughter Around a Love Interest


Aug 11, 2022


Image Credit: German Photo Archive

Do you laugh differently around friends than you around a partner? Alternatively, have you ever observed anyone else laughing differently around their friends than people they’re romantically interested in. According to a study, it’s a thing — apparently, even though people may not notice it, it’s possible that their laughter differs based on whether we’re laughing in front of friends or romantic partners.

“Just seconds of laughter reveals [people’s] relationship status,” noted the study, published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior recently.

The researchers trace it back to a “vulnerable love hypothesis” — essentially meaning that people reveal a more vulnerable side to them when they are around their love interests. So their laughter may sound more “feminine, baby-like, warm, scatterbrained, and submissive.” The hypothesis holds that people’s laughter can reveal “the authenticity and the vulnerability of early-stage romantic love.”

Their findings attest to this belief. To capture “young love,” the researchers recruited participants who were involved in their respective romantic relationships for less than one year. They then extracted recordings of their laughter from phone calls with their partners, and then, with their friends. Then, through three different experiments, three sets of people — groups of 52, 58, and 252, respectively — were asked to rate the recordings of laughter on vulnerability and spontaneity, among other markers.

Turns out, when people laughed in front of friends, their expressions were more natural and spontaneous, but less vulnerable. The findings suggest that even something as involuntary as laughter can actually contain information about the dynamics people share with their immediate company.

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“We all have a range of different laughs that we use for different purposes and circumstances. Most are within the ‘social masking’ spectrum — that is, we do them to be polite or to create social bonds,” Judi James, a body language and behavior expert, who wasn’t part of the present study, had explained in 2020. “The only really authentic laugh will emerge spontaneously… This genuine laugh often embarrasses us, as it sounds or looks pretty gross, often involving snorting noises and over-wide opening of the mouth,” James noted.

That’s, perhaps, why people’s laughter around friends — whom they aren’t trying to seduce — seemed relatively more authentic. It’s likely that they were comfortable exposing their “gross” laughter to their friends, but not to people they’re romantically interested in.

The funny (pun intended) part, though, was that the participants listening to the recordings were quite accurately able to identify which of the recordings captured laughter around friends and which ones were with love interests. This suggests that people may have evolved to read the undertones embedded in a laugh.

However, the study recorded laughter only from participants high on “young love.” The dynamic of relationships, comfort, and laughing may vary for people in long-term relationships. More conclusive evidence is needed, for instance, to answer if people’s laughter continues to sound less natural around long-term partners. And if so, does that signal discomfort or incompatibility between the couple Evidently, the findings have opened a Pandora’s box of questions. Perhaps, further research into laughter — and the multitude of underlying information contained therein — could address some of the curiosities thus piqued.

“Future studies should consider the variety of acoustic features of laughter such as pitch, perhaps even through artificial manipulation, to see how they affect different percepts of laughter within romantic and non-romantic contexts,” the researchers noted, providing hope for more insights into laughter in the coming years.


Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, a painter by shaukh, and autistic by birth. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.


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