Sophie Scott: Why we laugh
Sophie Scott - Neuroscientist, stand-up comic
While exploring the neuroscience of speech and vocal behavior, Sophie Scott stumbled upon a surprising second vocation: making audiences laugh as a stand-up comic. Full bio
to you today about laughter,
by thinking about the first time
I would've been about six.
doing something unusual,
laughing at, but I wanted in.
going, "Hoo hoo!" (Laughter)
what they were laughing at
signs in toilets on trains
and could not do
about the English is, of course,
sophisticated sense of humor.
understand anything of that.
I've come to care about it again.
is just play some examples
people make and how odd that can be,
laughter is as a sound.
than it is like speech.
The first one is pretty joyful.
where I'm just, like,
like he's breathing out.
this is a human female laughing.
odd places in terms of making noises.
what is that?" in French.
I have no idea.
you have to look at a part of the body
don't normally spend much time looking at,
your ribcage all the time.
at the moment with your ribcage,
the muscles between your ribs,
and contracting your ribcage,
around the outside of your chest
at that movement,
movement, so that's breathing.
something much more like this.
movements of the ribcage
that can do this.
has a mortal enemy,
start to contract very regularly,
sort of zig-zagging,
the air out of you.
of making a sound.
it's having the same effect.
Ha! -- gives you a sound.
you can get these spasms,
these -- (Wheezing) -- things happening.
there isn't very much,
everything we think we know
to hear people to say
are the only animals that laugh.
throughout the mammals.
and well-observed in primates,
with things like tickling.
and all mammals play.
it's associated with interactions.
a lot of work on this,
more likely to laugh
than if you're on your own,
"When do you laugh?"
about humor and they'll talk about jokes.
they're laughing with their friends.
hardly ever actually laughing at jokes.
that you understand them,
part of the same group as them.
that you like them.
as talking to them,
of that emotional work for you.
has pointed out, as you can see here,
funny laughs at the start,
when I found my parents laughing,
behaviorally contagious effect.
off somebody else if you know them.
by this social context.
meaning of laughter
is different kinds of laughter,
about how human beings vocalize
two kinds of laughs that we have.
for helpless, involuntary laughter,
screaming about a silly song,
than some of that more polite
which isn't horrible laughter,
as part of their communicative act to you,
they are choosing to do this.
two different ways of vocalizing.
are part of an older system
like the speech I'm doing now.
might actually have two different roots.
in more detail.
recordings of people laughing,
to make people laugh,
to produce more posed, social laughter.
you like your friend,
the joke's all that.
a couple of those.
this laughter is real laughter,
or more voluntary laughter?
Sophie Scott: Posed? Posed.
all they had to do was record me
something I knew she wanted to laugh at,
are good at telling the difference
quite similar with chimpanzees.
if they're being tickled
something like that here,
being different from social laughter.
They're higher in pitch.
from your lungs
than you could ever produce voluntarily.
pitch my voice that high to sing.
contractions and weird whistling sounds,
is extremely easy,
we might think it sounds a bit fake.
an important social cue.
to laugh in a lot of situations,
nasality in posed laughter,
if you were laughing involuntarily.
these two different sorts of things.
to see how brains respond
this is a really boring experiment.
real and posed laughs.
it was a study on laughter.
to distract them,
is lying listening to sounds.
and when you hear posed laughter,
which lies in auditory cortex,
more to the real laughs,
hear in any other context.
with greater auditory processing
laughing in a posed way,
associated with mentalizing,
somebody else is thinking.
which is completely boring
"A ha ha ha ha ha,"
why they're laughing.
to understand it in context,
at that point in time,
anything to do with you,
why those people are laughing.
at how people hear real and posed laughter
we ran with the Royal Society,
or posed do these laughs sound?
and the posed laughs are shown in blue.
and better at spotting real laughter.
they can't really hear the difference.
peak performance in this dataset
late 30s and early 40s.
by the time you hit puberty.
by the time your brain has matured
throughout your entire early adult life.
not, what does the laughter sound like
or posed, but we say,
make you want to laugh,
we see a different profile.
when you hear laughter.
when I had no idea what was going on.
than the posed laughs,
less contagious to you.
really grumpy as we get older,
understand laughter better,
hearing people laugh to want to laugh.
lay assumptions are incorrect,
there's even more to laughter
we should look at,
people are phenomenally nuanced
set of studies coming out
a longitudinal study with couples.
men and women, into the lab,
stressful conversations to have
so he can see them becoming stressed.
and he'll say to the husband,
that irritates you."
briefly, you and your partner --
more stressed as soon as that starts.
people become more stressed.
who manage that feeling of stress
positive emotions like laughter,
physically feeling better,
unpleasant situation better together,
in their relationship
at close relationships,
their emotions together.
to show that we like each other,
feel better together.
to be limited to romantic relationships.
going to be a characteristic
such as you might have with friends,
young men in the former East Germany
their heavy metal band,
and the mood is very serious,
what happens in terms of laughter
and how that changes the mood.
He's got swimming trunks on,
They are already laughing, hard.
is it's all very serious
as soon as he doesn't go through the ice,
and bone everywhere,
with him standing there going,
I think this is broken,"
That would be stressful.
with a visibly broken leg laughing,
think we need to go to the hospital now,"
embarrassing, difficult situation,
actually enjoying there,
a really interesting use,
something like this happening
on the ice in our underpants.
a relative who was being a bit difficult,
just before the whole thing started
that happened in a 1970s sitcom,
I don't know why I'm doing this,
something from somewhere
together with me.
to find some reason we can do this.
We're going to get through this.
are doing this all the time.
you don't even notice it.
how often they laugh,
when you laugh with people,
a really ancient evolutionary system
to make and maintain social bonds,
to make ourselves feel better.
it's a really ancient behavior
and makes us feel better.
but mammals. (Laughter)
About the speaker:Sophie Scott - Neuroscientist, stand-up comic
While exploring the neuroscience of speech and vocal behavior, Sophie Scott stumbled upon a surprising second vocation: making audiences laugh as a stand-up comic.
Why you should listen
As deputy director of the University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, Sophie Scott seeks out the neurological basis of communication, whether it’s speech or vocalized emotion.
As a pioneering researcher in the science of laughter, she’s made some unexpected discoveries -- including that rats are ticklish, and that the one tactic that’s almost guaranteed to get someone to laugh is to show them someone else laughing. But as an occasional stand-up comedian with UCL’s Bright Club, she shows that she’s no slouch at getting laughs herself.
Sophie Scott | Speaker | TED.com