Self-disclosure or the sharing of intimate information to others is critical in forming new relationships with strangers. On the other hand, sharing laughter seems a key feature in existing social bonds.
However, a team of researchers led by Alan Gray of University College London has decided to explore the relationship between self-disclosure and laughter, and thereby between laughter and new relationships. In investigating the role and influence of laughter in the disclosure process, the researchers gathered 112 random students from Oxford University, grouped them into four groups, and subjected them under an experiment. Note that the students did not know one another.
Each group watched a different set of a 10-minute video. One video involved a stand-up comedy routine, the second was a golf instruction video, and the third was an enjoyable excerpt from a nature documentary program. Note that each video differed in the amount of laughter they caused, as well as in the amount of positive feelings or emotions they stimulated.
Members of the group were prohibited from talking to one another while watching the particular video assigned to them.
After watching the videos, the researchers measured the levels of laughter in each group and the individual emotional state of group members. In addition, within a group, each member has to write a message to another member to help the get to know each other better.
The result of the experiment revealed that the group that watched the comedy routine had members who shared considerably more intimate or personal information than the groups who watched either the golf instruction video or the nature documentary excerpt.
It is interesting to note that group members who self-disclosed intimate information were seldom aware that they had done so.
The study thereby revealed that sharing a few good laugh and chuckles make individuals more willing to tell others personal information about themselves, without being always aware that they are doing so.
Alan Gray, lead author, said that the phenomenon was not a mere result of a positive experience. Rather, it is more of a result of the physiology behind a good laugh. Accordingly, laughter triggers the release of a “happy hormone” called endorphin.
“This seems to be in line with the notion that laughter is linked specifically to fostering behaviors that encourage relationship development, since observer ratings of disclosure may be more important for relationship development than how much one feels one is disclosing,” said Gray. “These results suggest that laughter should be a serious topic for those interested in the development of social relationships.”
Further details of the research are found in the article “Laughter’s Influence on the Intimacy of Self-Disclosure” published in the journal Human Nature. Brian Parkinson and Robin I. Dunbar are coauthors of the study.