Laughter’s Influence on the Intimacy of Self-Disclosure

Abstract

If laughter functions to build relationships between individuals, as current theory suggests, laughter should be linked to interpersonal behaviors that have been shown to be critical to relationship development. Given the importance of disclosing behaviors in facilitating the development of intense social bonds, it is possible that the act of laughing may temporarily influence the laugher’s willingness to disclose personal information. We tested this hypothesis experimentally by comparing the characteristics of self-disclosing statements produced by those who had previously watched one of three video clips that differed in the extent to which they elicited laughter and positive affect. The results show that disclosure intimacy is significantly higher after laughter than in the control condition, suggesting that this effect may be due, at least in part, to laughter itself and not simply to a change in positive affect. However, the disclosure intimacy effect was only found for observers’ ratings of participants’ disclosures and was absent in the participants’ own ratings. We suggest that laughter increases people’s willingness to disclose, but that they may not necessarily be aware that it is doing so.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Since participants completed the study in groups, the data were not strictly independent. For this reason, all analysis reported here were repeated again at the group level using aggregated data (n = 28). The pattern of significant findings was identical in all cases.

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Acknowledgments

AG was supported by the Crewe Graduate Scholarship, Lincoln College Oxford. RD’s research is supported by a European Research Council Advanced grant.

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Correspondence to Alan W. Gray.

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Gray, A.W., Parkinson, B. & Dunbar, R.I. Laughter’s Influence on the Intimacy of Self-Disclosure. Hum Nat 26, 28–43 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-015-9225-8

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Keywords

  • Laughter
  • Self-disclosure
  • Social relationships
  • Endorphins
  • Social bonding