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Laughter Differs in Children with Autism: An Acoustic Analysis of Laughs Produced by Children With and Without the Disorder

Abstract

Few studies have examined vocal expressions of emotion in children with autism. We tested the hypothesis that during social interactions, children diagnosed with autism would exhibit less extreme laugh acoustics than their nonautistic peers. Laughter was recorded during a series of playful interactions with an examiner. Results showed that children with autism exhibited only one type of laughter, whereas comparison participants exhibited two types. No group differences were found for laugh duration, mean fundamental frequency (F0) values, change in F0, or number of laughs per bout. Findings are interpreted to suggest that children with autism express laughter primarily in response to positive internal states, rather than using laughter to negotiate social interactions.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Subtypes of unvoiced laughter have been identified in prior studies of typically developing adults. Due to the near absence of laughs identified as “snorts” in other studies, this distinction was not pertinent here.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by a Vanderbilt University Discovery Grant awarded to Jo-Anne Bachorowski and Wendy Stone. Research from this study was completed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the doctoral dissertation of William Hudenko. We appreciate the support of the parents who made this research possible, and thank participating schools and childcare programs in the greater Nashville, TN, area for their assistance with locating comparison participants. We would like to acknowledge Shannon Bader, Nia Toomer, and Kim Brooks for their assistance with this research.

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Correspondence to William J. Hudenko.

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Authors and affiliations at the time of the study: William Hudenko, Graduate Student, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN; Wendy Stone, Professor of Pediatrics, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN, Professor of Psychology & Human Development, Vanderbilt University; Jo-Anne Bachorowski, Associate Professor, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. Changes in author affiliation: William Hudenko is now Assistant Professor at Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY.

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Hudenko, W.J., Stone, W. & Bachorowski, JA. Laughter Differs in Children with Autism: An Acoustic Analysis of Laughs Produced by Children With and Without the Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord 39, 1392–1400 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-009-0752-1

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Keywords

  • Autism
  • Laughter
  • Emotion
  • Affect
  • Expression
  • Acoustics