When strangers of the opposite-sex meet for the first time, both sexes are in a difficult situation. In this high risk situation, neither person knows the intention of the other, and consequently non-verbal signalling becomes the major channel for communication. Because of their higher biological risk, females should prefer less obvious tactics in order to communicate interest in a potential partner than males. The tactical task of signalling clearly, but at the same time subtly, is solved by the use of multifunctional or metacommunicative signals. In this study we propose that there is not one single meaning for any given signal. In laughing loudly we find a signal which consists of acoustical, mimical and postural information. In this way either laughter can send a “this is play” message or its meaning can be modified by other signals. Thus laughter, together with its accompanying body postures and movements, conveys messages that range from sexual solicitation to aversion, depending on which and how many different signals are present. Males seem to communicate interest for the female during laughter with only a few signals, such as body orientation and dominance signals. In contrast, females communicate interest via numerous signals which function as signals of bodily self-presentation and submission. In both sexes, a lack of interest is communicated through closed postures.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Bateman, A. J. (1948). Sexual selection, natural selection and quality of advertisement.Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 17, 375–393.
Bollwig, N. (1964). Facial expression in primates with remarks on a parallel development in certain carnivores.Behaviour, 22, 167–193.
Buss, D. (1988). The evolution of human intrasexual competition: tactics of mate attraction.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 616–628.
Buss, D. (1989). Sex differences in human mate preferences: evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures.Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12, 1–49.
Cook, M. (1981). Social skill and human sexual attraction. In Cook, M. (Ed.),The bases of human sexual attraction (pp. 144–177). London: Academic Press.
Darwin, C. (1871).The descent of man and selection in ratio to sex. London: John Murray.
Darwin, C. (1872).On the expression of the emotions in man and animals. London: John Murray.
Duck, S., & Miell, D. (1983). Mate choice in humans as an interpersonal process. In P. Bateson (Ed.),Mate choice (pp. 377–385). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Duncan, S., & Fiske, D. W. (1977).Face to face interaction: research methods and theory. Hillsdale: Erlbaum.
Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. (1984).Die Biologie des menschlichen Verhaltens. München: Piper.
Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. (1975).The biology of behavior. New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston.
Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. (1972). Hand movements.The Journal of Communication, 22, 353–374.
Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. (1978).Facial action coding system. Palo Alto: Psychologists Press.
Freud, S. (1912).Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewußten. Wien: Denticke.
Givens, D. B. (1978). The non-verbal basis of attraction: Flirtation, Courtship and Seduction.Psychiatry, 41, 346–351.
Goffman, E. (1976).Gender advertisements. The Society for the Anthropology of Visual Communication: London.
Goffman, E. (1977). The arrangement between the sexes.Theory and Society, 4, 301–333.
Grammer, K. (1985). Verhaltensforschung am Menschen. Überlegungen zu den biologischen Grundlagen des Umwegverhaltens. In M. Svilar (Ed.),Mensch und Tier (pp. 273–317). Bern-Frankfurt-New York: Lang.
Grammer, K. (1989). Human courtship behaviour: biological bases and cognitive processing. In A. E. Rasa, C. Vogel & E. Volland (Eds.),The sociobiology of sexual and reproductive strategies (pp. 147–169). London: Chapman and Hall.
Grammer, K. (in press). Zur Ethologie des Flirts. In C. Ehalt & I. Eibl-Eibesfeldt (Eds.),Sexualität zwischen Natur und Kultur. Wien: Böhlau Verlag.
Grammer, K., & Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. (1990). The ritualisation of laughter. In W. A. Koch (Ed.),Die Natürlichkeit der Sprache und der Kultur. Bochumer Beiträge zur Semiotik Vol. 18. (pp. 192–214). Bochum: Brockmeyer.
Hofstadter, D. (1981).Gödel, Escher, Bach: an eternal golden braid. London: Harvester.
Moore, M. M. (1985). Nonverbal courtship patterns in women: context and consequences.Ethology and Sociobiology, 6, 237–247.
Norusis, M. (1986).Handbook for SPSSPC+. Chicago: SPSS.
Scheflen, A. (1965). Quasi-courtship behaviour in psychotherapy.Psychiatry, 28, 245–257.
Scheflen, A. E., & Scheflen, A. (1972).Body language and social order. Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice Hall.
Symonds, C. (1972). A vocabulary of sexual enticement and proposition.The Journal of Sex Research, 8.2, 136–139.
Symons, D. (1979).The evolution of human sexuality. New York: Oxford University Press.
Trivers, R. L. (1972). Parental investment and sexual selection. In B. Cambell (Ed.),Sexual selection and the descent of man 1871–1971 (pp. 136–179). Chicago: Aldine.
Van Hoof, J. A. R. A. M. (1972). A comparative approach to the phylogeny of laughter and smiling. In R. A. Hinde (Ed.),Non-verbal communication (pp. 209–237). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Polly Wiessner, Jay Feierman and John Dittami have significantly helped with their ideas and have corrected what the author thought was the English language.
About this article
Cite this article
Grammer, K. Strangers meet: Laughter and nonverbal signs of interest in opposite-sex encounters. J Nonverbal Behav 14, 209–236 (1990). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00989317
- Body Posture
- Postural Information
- Difficult Situation
- Potential Partner
- Body Orientation