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Human Brains Recognize Fake Laughter

Update Date: Mar 20, 2014 03:33 PM EDT

Don't be too quick to laugh at bad jokes because new research reveals that the human brain is hardwired to recognize fake laughter.

Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London, discovered clear differences between how the human brain responds to genuine and fake laughter.

Lead researcher Dr. Carolyn McGettigan took brain scans of participants as they listened to the same people produce genuine laughter and forced laughter.

Researchers noted that the participants were unaware that the study was about laughter perception.

Brain scans revealed different neurological responses when people heard false laughter.  Besides having the ability to distinguish fake laughter from genuine laughter, it seems that our brains also try to figure out why the fake laughter is not genuine.

"As we celebrate International Day of Happiness today, it's fascinating to consider the way our brain is able to detect genuine happiness in other people," McGettigan said in a news release. "Our brains are very sensitive to the social and emotional significance of laughter.

"During our study, when participants heard a laugh that was posed, they activated regions of the brain associated with mentalizing in an attempt to understand the other person's emotional and mental state," she added.

"Indeed, some of the participants engaged parts of the brain that control movements and detect sensation. These individuals were more accurate at telling which of the laughs were posed, and which were real. This suggests that as listeners, 'trying out' how a laugh would feel if we produced it ourselves might be a useful mechanism for understanding its meaning," McGettigan concluded.

The study "Individual Differences in Laughter Perception Reveal Roles for Mentalizing and Sensorimotor Systems in the Evaluation of Emotional Authenticity" is published in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

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