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

May 8, 2013

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

Recommended for you

Now you like it, now you don't: Brain stimulation can change how much we enjoy and value music

November 20, 2017
Enjoyment of music is considered a subjective experience; what one person finds gratifying, another may find irritating. Music theorists have long emphasized that although musical taste is relative, our enjoyment of music, ...

Schizophrenia originates early in pregnancy, 'mini-brain' research suggests

November 20, 2017
Symptoms of schizophrenia usually appear in adolescence or young adulthood, but new research reveals that the brain disease likely begins very early in development, toward the end of the first trimester of pregnancy. The ...

MRI uncovers brain abnormalities in people with depression and anxiety

November 20, 2017
Researchers using MRI have discovered a common pattern of structural abnormalities in the brains of people with depression and social anxiety, according to a study presented being next week at the annual meeting of the Radiological ...

Deletion of a stem cell factor promotes TBI recovery in mice

November 20, 2017
UT Southwestern molecular biologists today report the unexpected finding that selectively deleting a stem cell transcription factor in adult mice promotes recovery after traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Brain cell advance brings hope for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

November 20, 2017
Scientists have developed a new system to study Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in the laboratory, paving the way for research to find treatments for the fatal brain disorder.

Theory: Flexibility is at the heart of human intelligence

November 19, 2017
Centuries of study have yielded many theories about how the brain gives rise to human intelligence. Some neuroscientists think intelligence springs from a single region or neural network. Others argue that metabolism or the ...

0 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.