Laughter Makes People Spill Their Secrets

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If you want to know someone’s secrets, make ‘em laugh. According to new research published in the journal Human Nature, laughter seems to make people more likely to engage in self-disclosure — that is, to share highly intimate, sometimes highly embarrassing details from their lives. 

For the new study, Alan Gray at University College London recruited 122 undergraduates, split them in groups of four, and had them watch one of three clips — either a stand-up set by comedian Michael McIntyre, the “Jungles” episode from the nature documentary series Planet Earth, or an instructional golf video. The three clips were, respectively, meant to induce laughter, a pleasant mood, or nothing in particular, with the “how to play golf” clip serving as the control condition. 

After the video, the students were instructed to write a little bio introducing themselves to another member of the group. As it turned out, those who’d watched the comedy video shared more personal details as compared to the good mood and neutral mood groups. For example, those who’d seen the funny clip were more likely to write things like, “In January I broke my collarbone falling off a pole while dancing,” or “Half of my favorite films are (embarrassingly) Disney films,” or “I’m currently living in squalor (with mice!).” In comparison, both the other groups included details that were relatively dull: “I am from Cheltenham” or “I love eating different foods from around the world.” 

Gray and his team believe that laughter acts as a kind of “social lubricant,” they write. “Given laughter’s ability to trigger endorphin activity and the role of endorphins in the formation of social bonds, laughter may increase willingness to disclose intimate information because the opiod effect of endorphins make individuals more relaxed about what they communicate,” they write. And it’s true — laughter certainly does lead to a looser, let-your-guard-down feeling. 

That’s important, because allowing yourself to be a little vulnerable, and share a little bit of your real self with someone you’ve just met, is one of the surest ways to create friendly feelings between strangers, as we’ve noted before. This current study didn’t test the friendship question, but the authors argue that it’s very probable that laughter can serve as a shortcut to forming new relationships, something most of us have surely experienced in our own lives. To make a new friend, it helps to share a laugh.