Advertisement

Journal of Nonverbal Behavior

, Volume 27, Issue 3, pp 183–200 | Cite as

Reconsidering the Evolution of Nonlinguistic Communication: The Case of Laughter

  • Michael J. Owren
  • Jo-Anne Bachorowski
Article

Abstract

Nonlinguistic communication is typically proposed to convey representational messages, implying that particular signals are associated with specific signaler emotions, intentions, or external referents. However, common signals produced by both nonhuman primates and humans may not exhibit such specificity, with human laughter for example showing significant diversity in both acoustic form and production context. We therefore outline an alternative to the representational approach, arguing that laughter and other nonlinguistic vocalizations are used to influence the affective states of listeners, thereby also affecting their behavior. In the case of laughter, we propose a primary function of accentuating or inducing positive affect in the perceiver in order to promote a more favorable stance toward the laugher. Two simple strategies are identified, namely producing laughter with acoustic features that have an immediate impact on listener arousal, and pairing these sounds with positive affect in the listener to create learned affective responses. Both depend on factors like the listener's current emotional state and past interactions with the vocalizer, with laughers predicted to adjust their sounds accordingly. This approach is used to explain findings from two experimental studies that examined the use of laughter in same-sex and different-sex dyads composed of either friends or strangers, and may be applicable to other forms of nonlinguistic communication.

acoustics affect induction human laughter nonlinguistic communication primate calls 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Abbey, A. (1982). Sex differences in attributions for friendly behavior: Do males misperceive females' friendliness? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42, 830–838.Google Scholar
  2. Adams, R. M., & Kirkevold, B. (1978). Looking, smiling, laughing, and moving in restaurants: Sex and age differences. Environmental Psychology and Nonverbal Behavior, 3, 117–121.Google Scholar
  3. Apte, M. L. (1985). Humor and laughter: An anthropological approach. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University.Google Scholar
  4. Aries, E. (1998). Gender differences in interaction: A reexamination. In D. J. Canary & K. Dindia (Eds.), Sex differences and similarities in communication (pp. 65–81). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  5. Askenasy, J. J. M. (1987). The functions and dysfunctions of laughter. Journal of General Psychology, 114, 317–344.Google Scholar
  6. Bachorowski, J.-A., & Owren, M. J. (2001). Not all laughs are alike: Voiced but not unvoiced laughter elicits positive affect in listeners. Psychological Science, 12, 252–257.Google Scholar
  7. Bachorowski, J.-A., Smoski, M. J., & Owren, M. J. (2001). Acoustic features of laughter. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 110, 1581–1597.Google Scholar
  8. Bachorowski, J.-A., Smoski, M. J., Tomarken, A. J., & Owren, M. J. (2003). Laugh rate and acoustics are associated with social context. Manuscript under revision.Google Scholar
  9. Barth, R. J., & Kinder, B. N. (1988). A theoretical analysis of sex differences in same-sex friendships. Sex Roles, 19, 349–363.Google Scholar
  10. Björkqvist, K. (1994). Sex differences in physical, verbal, and indirect aggression: A review of recent research. Sex Roles, 30, 177–188.Google Scholar
  11. Black, D. W. (1984). Laughter. Journal of the American Medical Association, 252, 2995–2998.Google Scholar
  12. Bond, J. R., & Vinacke, W. E. (1961). Coalitions in mixed-sex triads. Sociometry, 24, 61–75.Google Scholar
  13. Bradley, M. M., & Lang, P. J. (2000). Affective reactions to acoustic stimuli. Psychophysiology, 37, 204–215.Google Scholar
  14. Burbank, V. (1987). Female aggression in cross-cultural perspective. Behavior Science Research, 21, 70–100.Google Scholar
  15. Darwin, C. (1872/1998). The expression of the emotions in man and animals. New York: Oxford University.Google Scholar
  16. Davis, M. (1984). The mammalian startle reflex. In R. C. Eaton (Ed.), Neural mechanisms of startle behavior (pp. 287–351). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  17. Deacon, T. W. (1989). The neural circuitry underlying primate calls and human language. Human Evolution, 4, 367–401.Google Scholar
  18. Dovidio, J. F., Brown, C. E., Heltman, K., Ellyson, S. L., & Keating, C. F. (1988). Power displays between women and men in discussions of gender-linked tasks: A multichannel study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55, 580–587.Google Scholar
  19. Eaton, R. C. (Ed.) (1984). Neural mechanisms of startle behavior. New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  20. Edmonson, M. S. (1987). Notes on laughter. Anthropological Linguistics, 29, 23–34.Google Scholar
  21. Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. (1989). Human ethology. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  22. Ellsworth, P. C., Friedman, H. S., Perlick, D., & Hoyt, M. E. (1978). Some effects of gaze on subjects motivated to seek or avoid social comparison. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 14, 69–87.Google Scholar
  23. Fernald, A. (1992). Human maternal vocalizations to infants as biologically relevant signals: An evolutionary perspective. In J. H. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind (pp. 391–428). New York: Oxford University.Google Scholar
  24. Fridlund, A. (1997). The new ethology of human facial expressions. In J. M. Russell & J. M. Fernández-Dols (Eds.), The psychology of facial expression (pp. 103–129). Cambridge: Cambridge University.Google Scholar
  25. Frijda, N. H., & Tcherkassof, A. (1997). Facial expressions as modes of action readiness. In J. M. Russell & J. M. Fernández-Dols (Eds.), The psychology of facial expression (pp. 78–102). Cambridge: Cambridge University.Google Scholar
  26. Garza, R. T., & Borchert, J. E. (1990). Maintaining social identity in a mixed-gender setting: Minority/majority status and cooperative/competitive feedback. Sex Roles, 22, 679–691.Google Scholar
  27. Geary, D. C. (1998). The evolution of human sex differences. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  28. Giles, H., & Oxford, G. S. (1970). Towards a multidimensional theory of laughter causation and its social implications. Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 23, 97–105.Google Scholar
  29. Glenn, P. J. (1991/1992). Current speaker initiation of two-party shared laughter. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 25, 139–162.Google Scholar
  30. Grammer, K. (1990). Strangers meet: Laughter and nonverbal signs of interest in opposite-sex encounters. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 14, 209–236.Google Scholar
  31. Grammer, K., & Eibl-Eibesfeldt, I. (1990). The ritualization of laughter. In W. Koch (Ed.), Naturlichkeit der Sprache und der Kultur: Acta Colloquii (pp. 192–214). Bochum: Brockmeyer.Google Scholar
  32. Gregory, S. W., & Webster, S. (1996). A nonverbal signal in voices of interview partners effectively predicts communication accommodation and social status perceptions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 1231–1240.Google Scholar
  33. Hammerschmidt, K., Freudenstein, T., & Jürgens, U. (2001). Vocal development in squirrel monkeys. Behaviour, 138, 97–116.Google Scholar
  34. Hauser, M. D. (1996). The evolution of communication. Cambridge, MA: MIT.Google Scholar
  35. Hayworth, D. (1928). The social origin and function of laughter. Psychological Review, 35, 367–384.Google Scholar
  36. Hess, U., Banse, R., & Kappas, A. (1995). The intensity of facial expression is determined by underlying affective state and social situation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 280–288.Google Scholar
  37. Keltner, D., & Bonanno, G. (1997). A study of laughter and dissociation: Distinct correlates of laughter and smiling during bereavement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 687–702.Google Scholar
  38. Keltner, D., & Ekman, P. (2000). Facial expression of emotion. In M. Lewis & J. M. Haviland-Jones (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (2nd ed., pp. 236–249). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  39. Keltner, D., Ekman, P., Gonzaga, G. C., & Beer, J. (2003). Facial expression of emotion. In R. J. Davidson, K. R. Scherer, & H. H. Goldsmith (Eds.), Handbook of affective sciences (pp. 415–432). New York: Oxford University.Google Scholar
  40. Keltner, D., Young, R. C., Heerey, E. A., Oemig, C., & Monarch, N. D. (1998). Teasing in hierarchical and intimate relations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 1231–1247.Google Scholar
  41. Malamuth, N. M., & Brown, L. M. (1994). Sexually aggressive men's perceptions of women's communications: Testing three explanations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 699–712.Google Scholar
  42. Martin, G. N., & Gray, C. D. (1996). The effect of audience laughter on men's and women's response to humor. The Journal of Social Psychology, 136, 221–231.Google Scholar
  43. McAndrew, F. T., & Warner, J. E. (1986). Arousal seeking and the maintenance of mutual gaze in same and mixed sex dyads. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 10, 168–172.Google Scholar
  44. McComas, H. C. (1923). The origin of laughter. Psychological Review, 30, 45–56.Google Scholar
  45. McKinney, D. H., & Donaghy, W. C. (1993). Dyad gender structure, uncertainty reduction, and self-disclosure during initial interaction. In P. J. Kalbfleisch (Ed.), Interpersonal communication: Evolving interpersonal relationships (pp. 33–50). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  46. Milford, P. A. (1980). Perception of laughter and its acoustical properties (Doctoral Dissertation, Pennsylvania State University, 1980). Dissertation Abstracts International, 41, 3779.Google Scholar
  47. Miller, J. B. (1985). Patterns of control in same-sex conversations: Differences between women and men. Women's Studies in Communication, 8, 62–69.Google Scholar
  48. Moely, B., Skarin, E., & Weil, K. (1979). Sex differences in competition-cooperation behavior of children at two age levels. Sex Roles, 5, 329–342.Google Scholar
  49. Montepare, J. M., & Vega, C. (1988). Women's vocal reactions to intimate and casual male friends. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 14, 103–113.Google Scholar
  50. Nwokah, E. E., Davies, P., Islam, A., Hsu, H. C., & Fogel, A. (1993). Vocal affect in three-yearolds: A quantitative acoustic analysis of child laughter. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 94, 3076–3090.Google Scholar
  51. Owings, D. H., & Morton, E. S. (1998). Animal vocal communication: A new approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University.Google Scholar
  52. Owren, M. J., & Rendall, D. (1997). An affect-conditioning model of nonhuman primate signaling. In D. H. Owings, M. D. Beecher, & N. S. Thompson (Eds.), Perspectives in ethology, Vol. 12: Communication (pp. 299–346). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  53. Owren, M. J., & Rendall, D. (2001). Sound on the rebound: Bringing form and function back to the forefront in understanding nonhuman primate vocal signaling. Evolutionary Anthropology, 10, 58–71.Google Scholar
  54. Owren, M. J., Rendall, D., & Bachorowski, J.-A. (in press). Nonlinguistic vocal communication. To appear in D. Maestripieri (Ed.), Primate psychology: Bridging the gap between the mind and behavior of human and nonhuman primates. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.Google Scholar
  55. Patterson, M. L. (1975). An arousal model of interpersonal intimacy. Psychological Review, 83, 235–245.Google Scholar
  56. Preuschoft, S., & van Hooff, J. A. R. A. M. (1997). The social function of "smile" and "laughter:" Variations across primate species and societies. In U. C. Segerstråle & P. Molnár (Eds.), Nonverbal communication: Where nature meets culture (pp. 171–190). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  57. Provine, R. R. (1993). Laughter punctuates speech: Linguistic, social and gender contexts of laughter. Ethology, 95, 291–298.Google Scholar
  58. Provine, R. R. (1996). Laughter. American Scientist, 84, 38–45.Google Scholar
  59. Provine, R. R., & Yong, Y. L. (1991). Laughter: A stereotyped human vocalization. Ethology, 89, 115–124.Google Scholar
  60. Rendall, D., & Owren, M. J. (2002). Animal vocal communication: Say what? In M. Bekoff, C. Allen, & G. Burghardt (Eds.), The cognitive animal (pp. 307–313). Cambridge, MA: MIT.Google Scholar
  61. Ruch, W. (1993). Exhilaration and humor. In M. Lewis & J. M. Haviland (Eds.), Handbook of emotions (pp. 605–616). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  62. Russell, J. A., Bachorowski, J. A., & Fernández-Dols, J. M. (2003). Facial and vocal expressions of emotion. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 329–34Google Scholar
  63. Russell, J. M., & Fernández-Dols, J. M. (1997). What does a facial expression mean? In J. M. Russell & J. M. Fernández-Dols (Eds.), The psychology of facial expression (pp. 3–30). Cambridge: Cambridge University.Google Scholar
  64. Saal, F. E., Johnson, C. B., & Weber, N. (1989). Friendly or sexy? It may depend on whom you ask. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 13, 263–276.Google Scholar
  65. Seyfarth, R. M, & Cheney, D. L. (1997). Some general features of vocal development in nonhuman primates. In C. T. Snowdon & M. Hausberger (Eds.), Social influences on vocal development (pp. 249–273). Cambridge: Cambridge University.Google Scholar
  66. Sharkey, W. F. (1993). Who embarrasses whom? Relational and sex differences in the use of intentional embarrassment. In P. J. Kalbfleisch (Ed.), Interpersonal communication: Evolving interpersonal relationships (pp. 147–168). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  67. Shotland, R. L., & Craig, J. M. (1988). Can men and women differentiate between friendly and sexually interested behavior? Social Psychology Quarterly, 51, 66–73.Google Scholar
  68. Sroufe, L. A., & Waters, E. (1976). The ontogenesis of smiling and laughter: A perspective on the organization of development in infancy. Psychological Review, 83, 173–189.Google Scholar
  69. Thompson, N. S. (1997). Communication and natural design. In D. H. Owings, M. D. Beecher, & N. S. Thompson (Eds.), Perspectives in ethology, Vol. 12: Communication (pp. 391–415). New York: Plenum.Google Scholar
  70. van Hooff, 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. 209–241). Cambridge: Cambridge University.Google Scholar
  71. Wagner, H. L., & Smith, J. (1991). Social influence and expressiveness. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 15, 201–214.Google Scholar
  72. Weisfeld, G. E. (1993). The adaptive value of humor and laughter. Ethology and Sociobiology, 14, 141–169.Google Scholar
  73. Wright, P. H. (1982). Men's friendships, women's friendships, and the alleged inferiority of the latter. Sex Roles, 8, 1–20.Google Scholar
  74. Zeskind, P. S., & Lester, B. (1978). Acoustic features and auditory perceptions of the cries of newborns with prenatal and perinatal complications. Child Development, 49, 580–589.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press, Inc. 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyCornell UniversityIthaca
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyWilson Hall, Vanderbilt UniversityNashville

Personalised recommendations