How does YOUR brain register laughter ?
It’s important to note, not all laughter is perceived as good. There is mocking laughter, ticklish laughter, which can be good or bad and joyful laughter. So, how do we know which is which without a visual context?
Researchers recently delved into this question and came to find that the complex processes of the brain can and do in fact delineate between different types of laughter.
The Times: Health & Family reported on research led by Dirk Wildgruber, professor of neuropsychiatry at Eberhard Karls University of Tubingen in Germany, which explored what these different expressions of hilarity looked like in the brain.
Wildgruber and colleagues had participants listen to laugh tracks while concurrently scanning their brain. The laugh tracks were generated by professional actors, who were given three specific scenarios — being tickled, feeling joy and taunting someone — and asked to produce the appropriate laugh for those situations.
Participants were asked to categorize this laughter as joyful, mocking or tickling.
An interesting fact is that the researchers did not find any distinction in terms of blood flow to specific brain regions — which is how scientists generally measure whether an area of the brain is activated — between joyous and taunting laughter.
However they did see changes in the strength of the connections between regions. When participants listened to taunting laughter, for example, the data showed a stronger connection between auditory areas and those involved in analyzing other people’s intentions, which is known technically as “mentalizing.” But during joyous laughter, the visual areas were more highly connected with the mentalizing regions. “
It might be worth noting that the participants were able to correctly identify the laughs in the majority of cases, though they were slightly less accurate at correctly labeling tickling.
“The stronger connection between the ‘voice area’ and the ‘mentalizing area’ during perception of taunting laughter might indicate that the social consequences of this signal are primarily inferred from the acoustic signal,” says Wildgruber