Laughter perception networks in brain different for mocking, joyful or ticklish laughter

A laugh may signal mockery, humor, joy or simply be a response to tickling, but each kind of laughter conveys a wealth of auditory and social information. These different kinds of laughter also spark different connections within the "laughter perception network" in the human brain depending on their context, according to research published May 8 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Dirk Wildgruber and colleagues from the University of Tuebingen, Germany.

Laughter in animals is a form of social bonding based on a primordial reflex to tickling, but human laughter has come a long way from these playful roots. Though many people laugh when they're tickled, 'social laughter' in humans can be used to communicate happiness, taunts or other conscious messages to peers. Here, researchers studied participants' neural responses as they listened to three kinds of laughter: joy, taunt and tickling.

"Laughing at someone and laughing with someone leads to different social consequences," says Wildgruber. "Specific cerebral connectivity patterns during perception of these different types of laughter presumably reflect modulation of attentional mechanisms and processing resources.

The researchers found that brain regions sensitive to processing more complex social information were activated when people heard joyous or taunting laughter, but not when they heard the 'tickling laughter'. However, 'tickling laughter' is more complex than the other types at the acoustic level, and consequently activated sensitive to this higher degree of acoustic complexity. These dynamic changes activated and connected different regions depending on the kind of laughter participants heard. Patterns of brain connectivity can impact cognitive function in health and disease. Though some previous research has examined how speech can influence these patterns, this study is among the first few to examine non-verbal vocal cues like laughter.

More information: Wildgruber D, Szameitat DP, Ethofer T, Bruck C, Alter K, et al. (2013) Different Types of Laughter Modulate Connectivity within Distinct Parts of the Laughter Perception Network. PLoS ONE 8(5): e63441. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063441

Related Stories

Laughter is not just funny

Jul 19, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Everybody enjoys a laugh but new research from an international team shows it's not as simple as you might think.

Laughter Differs In Children With Autism

Jul 10, 2009

According to a recent paper entitled "Laughter Differs in Children with Autism: An Acoustic Analysis of Laughter Produced by Children with and without the Disorder" in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, childr ...

Laugh and apes laugh with you

Mar 02, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Just like humans, chimpanzees mimic the laughter of their playmates even if they don't find the situation as 'funny'.

Recommended for you

Researchers unlock mystery of skin's sensory abilities

Dec 19, 2014

Humans' ability to detect the direction of movement of stimuli in their sensory world is critical to survival. Much of this stimuli detection comes from sight and sound, but little is known about how the ...

Tackling neurotransmission precision

Dec 18, 2014

Behind all motor, sensory and memory functions, calcium ions are in the brain, making those functions possible. Yet neuroscientists do not entirely understand how fast calcium ions reach their targets inside ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.