Born to laugh, we learn to cry

Published on November 15, 2010   ·   No Comments

by Andy Coghlan

  • EVER wondered how many of our everyday laughs, groans and sighs are instinctive rather than learned from our peers? It now seems that only expressions of laughter and relief are instinctive, whereas other emotional outbursts need to be learned from other people.

To find out which sounds are instinctive, a team led by Disa Sauter of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, asked eight deaf and eight hearing individuals to vocalise nine different emotions, but without words. These included fear, relief, anger, hilarity, triumph, disgust and sadness.

Afterwards, Sauter and her colleagues played back the recordings to a panel of 25 hearing individuals, and asked them to match each utterance to an emotion.

It turned out that the only two easily identifiable emotional sounds made by the deaf participants were laughter and sighs of relief. “They seem to be the strongest,” says Sauter.

The panel found it easier to guess all the other emotions if the sounds came from the hearing individuals. Even screams of terror were much less obvious from those who were deaf.

“This means that for many kinds of emotional sounds, hearing the sounds of others is an important part of development for our sounds to be understandable to others,” says Sauter, whose team is presenting preliminary results as a poster at a conference held by the Acoustical Society of America next week in Cancun, Mexico.

Sauter suggests that laughter and smiling probably both evolved as important communication signals to help avoid confrontation by increasing empathy. “Even other primates laugh, if you tickle a gorilla or orang-utan,” she says.

“I think this is a really novel way of looking at emotional expressions, by investigating how vocalisations develop in the absence of auditory feedback,” says Sophie Scott of London’s Institute of Neuroscience. “The laughter finding makes a great deal of sense, and laughter has been described as more like a different way of breathing than a way of speaking.”

Read More:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20827864.200-born-to-laugh-we-learn-to-cry.html

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