Why Won’t Your Fake Laugh Fool Anyone

Sometimes you laugh because something is really funny; sometimes you just do it out of courtesy. But fake laughter is very different in tone from real laughter, and in most cases people can tell the difference.

Typically, people can tell the difference between a fake polite laugh and a real one. This is because fake laughter is actually controlled by a different part of our brain than real laughter.

Researchers at the Vocal Communication Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles tried to find out how well people can tell a real laugh from a fake laugh, and found that 70% of the time, subjects could tell the difference. Researcher Greg Bryant says this is because fake laughter is actually created by a different set of vocal muscles, and those muscles are controlled by another part of our brain. He explains:

As a result, laughter has subtle features similar to speech, and recent evidence suggests that people are subconsciously quite sensitive to them. For example, if you slow down “real” laughter by about two and a half times, the result will be weirdly animalistic. Looks like some kind of ape, and while difficult to identify, it definitely sounds like an animal. But when you slow down human speech or “fake” laughter, it doesn’t look like a non-human animal at all – it looks like slowing down human speech …

Real laughter is less deliberate. “We learn to laugh before we can speak,” Bryant explains. It’s an instinctive thing. Real laughter is triggered by emotion. Speech is more controllable, as is laughter without a true emotional trigger.

Other people can usually tell the difference, Bryant said. The next time you hear an unfunny joke, you can drop the obligatory laugh and just smile politely. Most likely, you will not fool anyone.

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