Why do people laugh in serious situations?

Why do people laugh in serious situations?

I've seen people (including myself) that laugh for no apparent reason in really serious situations, such as in an argument or when receiving bad news. Although the other party is clearly very upset, it seems they have the worst possible reaction: they start laughing. It's probably not because they find it funny, so what does trigger it?

This could be what the Psychology Today article "Why We Laugh", (Lickerman, 2011) refers to as 'nervous laughter', suggesting that this response is both for reassurance (as suggested by Tyler Langan's comment) and also a means to build resilience in the face of potential trauma, specifically (from the article):

This may explain why some psychologists classify humor as one of the "mature" defense mechanisms we invoke to guard ourselves against overwhelming anxiety (as compared to the "psychotic," "immature," and "neurotic" defense mechanisms). Being able to laugh at traumatic events in our own lives doesn't cause us to ignore them, but instead seems to prepare us to endure them.

Further, it is suggested here, that the nervous laughter is a means to protect our dignity and sense of control.

Laughter relieves stress and lightens the mood.


  • Dugan, D. O. (1989). Laughter and tears: Best medicine for stress. Nursing Forum, 24, 18-26. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6198.1989.tb00814.x
  • Toda, M., Kusakabe, S., Nagasawa, S., Kitamura, K., & Morimoto, K. (2007). Effect of laughter on salivary endocrinological stress marker chromogranin A. Biomedical Research, 28, 115-118. doi:10.2220/biomedres.28.115
  • White, S., & Winzelberg, A. (1992). Laughter and stress. Humor, 5, 343-355. doi:10.1515/humr.1992.5.4.343

I have long suspected that laughter has a dual-purpose as a defense mechanism, when the "serious" situation is an embodied assailant.

I think it laughter is counter to the nature of an assault, which creates an element of confusing that the laugh-er (prey) retains control over. This concept of retaining control follows suite with the long-standing ideas that laughter relieves stress and increases coping in the laugh-er.

I think this underscores why laughter from attacked-characters in stories is a cross-over signal for their indomitable nature.

You can take this a level further into the psychology of such situations: when the prey introduces a confusing component to the 'theater of war', they can attempt to infer many things about their assailant via the response given to this introduced-confusion.

  1. When it comes to serious situations, one may react with feeling the events as surreal. One may have trouble believing that what is happening is actually real.
  2. What happens next is that one may be confused and dissociate with the event:

In philosophy, "the Absurd" refers to the conflict between (1) the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and (2) the human inability to find any. In this context absurd does not mean "logically impossible", but rather "humanly impossible".[1] The universe and the human mind do not each separately cause the Absurd, but rather, the Absurd arises by the contradictory nature of the two existing simultaneously

  1. Now the incongruity theory for humour say we may respond with laughing:

The incongruity theory states that humor is perceived at the moment of realization of incongruity between a concept involved in a certain situation and the real objects thought to be in some relation to the concept.[10]

This in addition to what others have answered, that laughter may be a form of defense mechanism. One starts to laugh as a way to reduce emotional stress.

First of all we have the relief theory that postulates that laughter serves a homeostatic mechanism by which psychological tension is reduced. According to this theory humor relieves tension caused by fears. You have probably observed how you tend to become more creative and make funny remarks when confronted with situations that are packed with tension and discomfort, such as right before you are about to give a public presentation, or right before an exam. We also use dark humor to distance ourselves from horrifying images and stories of war and human atrocities.

There is a theory that laughter like this expresses a reaction to absurdity.

When a situation is serious but cannot be assimilated because of dissociation or shock, it is in the same state as an absurd statement -- you are trying to take it seriously, or find meaning in it, but you just can't. You keep giving up, but then trying again.

Since the situation is real in this case, the impulse toward laughter can be much stronger than real humorous laughter evokes. In my experience it is accompanied by a specific feeling of dissociation, like living in a Lewis Carroll novel.

People who use forms of therapy that involve planned confrontation can evoke this kind of irresistible laughter by challenging a core belief so directly that the client detaches in the same way they might in an emergency.

Why do people smile or laugh when in bad/sad situations that one shouldn't laugh in?

Most of the time, normative individuals (that is, people that are not diagnosed with some mental disorder or do not exhibit some outlying trait) exhibit predictable emotional reactions to stimuli. For example, when someone's loved one dies, we expect them to exhibit sadness, grief, loneliness, vulnerability, etc. As I've stated in a few other answers I've given, these emotional reactions serve an important purpose: they allow the individual a safe way to express stress. Moreover, they inform the individual--and others in their social group--of their environment and circumstances. This is fundamental to the social nature of humans: we know that a loved one has died and we can predict how an individual may be reacting, and provide support for them (or receive support ourselves).

However, there is a phenomenon called inappropriate (or incongruent) affect, wherein a person exhibits some emotional reaction that is, well, incongruent with their current status. For example, someone laughing when a loved one dies, or becoming scared when shown affection. There are many, many reasons someone could exhibit inappropriate affect, and I will not attempt to list them all here. But some of the more common causes are:

Anxiety (e.g., making a joke about impending negative consequences).

Psychosis. Inappropriate affect is a recognized symptom of disorders on the schizophrenia spectrum.

Shock (e.g., laughing uncontrollably following a traumatic experience).

As you can see, some of these causes are temporary and minor (such as momentary anxiety), while others are more serious or long-lasting (such as psychosis).

The Role of Person-by-Situation Interactions in Personality

We first looked at the topic of person-situation interaction in Chapter 1. In this sec tion, we will examine this topic in a bit more detail, focusing on interactionism as a response to Mischel' s challenge to trait consistency . As Mischel' s debate with trait psychologists made clear , there are two possible explanations for behavior , or why people do what they do in any given situation:

1. Behavior is a function of personality traits, B = fP).

2. Behavior is a function of situational forces, B = f(S).

Clearly, there is some truth in both of these statements. For example, people behave differently at funerals than they do at sporting events, illustrating that situational forces direct behavior in certain ways, as Mischel emphasized. Some people, however, are consistently quiet, even at sporting events, whereas other people are talkative and sociable, even at funerals. These examples lend support to the traditional trait position, which stresses that personality determines why people do what they do.

The obvious way to integrate these two points of view is to declare that both personality and situations interact to produce behavior , or

This formula suggests that behavior is a function of the interaction between personality traits and situational forces. Consider, for example, the trait of having a hot temper, a tendency to respond aggressively to minor frustrations. Acquaintances of a person high on this trait might be unaware of it as long as they did not encounter the person attempting to deal with a frustrating situation. The trait of having a short temper might be expressed only under the right situational conditions, such as in frustrating situations. If a person is frustrated by a situation (e.g., a vending machine takes the person' s money but does not give him or her the product) and the person happens to have a quick temper (personality forces), then he or she will become upset and perhaps strike out at the source of the frustration (e.g., kick the vending machine repeatedly while cursing loudly). Any explanation of why such people get so upset would have to take into account both particular situations (e.g., frustration) and personality traits (e.g., hot temper). This point of view is called person-situation interaction, and it has become a fairly standard view in modern trait theory . Another way to view this is in the form of "If . . . . , if . . . . , then . . . . " statements (Shoda, Mischel, & Wright, 1994)—for example, "If the situation is frustrating, and if the person has a hot temper , then aggression will be the result."

In the interactional view , differences between people are understood to make a difference only under the right circumstances. Some traits are specific to certai situations. Consider the trait of test anxiety . A young man might be generally easygoing and confident. Howeve , under a set of very specifi situational conditions, such as when he has to take an important exam, he becomes very anxious. In these particular circumstances, someone who is otherwise easygoing might become distressed, anxious, and quite upset. This example illustrates how certain very specific situation can provoke behavior that is otherwise out of character for the individual. This is referred to as situational specificity in which a person acts in a specific way unde particular circumstances.

Some trait-situation interactions are rare because the kinds of situations that elicit behavior related to those traits are themselves rare. For example, you would fin it difficult to identify which of your classmates were high in courageousness. It woul take a certain kind of situation, such as a hostage situation at your school, for you to find out just who is courageous and who is not

The point is that personality traits interact with situational forces to produce behavior. Personality psychologists have given up the hope of predicting "all of the people all of the time" and have settled on the idea that they can predict "some of the people some of the time." For example, given the trait of anxiety , we might be able to predict who is likely to be anxious in some situations (e.g., evaluation situations, such as tests), but not anxious in other situations (e.g., when relaxed at home with family).

An interesting example of person X situation interaction is provided in a study by Debbie Moskowitz (1993). It has long been thought that the personality traits of dominance (the disposition to try to influence others) and friendliness (the degree t which a person is cordial and congenial) show lar ge gender dif ferences, with men being more dominant than women, and women being more friendly than men (Eagly , 1987). However, the study by Moskowitz showed that these traits interact with situation variables. Specificall , a person's level of dominance or friendliness may depend on who they are interacting with at the time, for example, whether they are interacting with a same-sex or opposite sex person, and whether that person is someone they know or a stranger . Moskowitz's (1993) study showed that women are more friendly than men, but only when they are interacting with other women when interacting with opposite sex strangers, women were not more friendly than men. As for dominance, the men were more dominant than women, but only when interacting with a same-sex friend when interacting with strangers, the men were not more dominant than women. This study shows that who a person is interacting with will influence the expressio of the personality traits of dominance and friendliness, and that this expression may or may not dif fer for men and women depending on the social setting.

Some situations are so strong, however, that nearly everyone reacts in the same way. For example, in a study of emotional reactions to life events, Larsen, Diener , and Emmons (1986) were interested in finding out who tended to overreact emotion ally to everyday events. Participants in this study kept a daily diary of life events every day for two months. They also rated their emotions each day . Based on a trait measure of emotional reactivity , these researchers were able to predict who would overreact to a minor or moderately stressful event, such as getting a flat tire, bein stood up for a date, or having an outdoor event get rained out. When really bad things happened, such as the death of a pet, virtually everyone reacted with strong emotion. Researchers have coined the term strong situation to refer to situations in which nearly all people react in similar ways.

Certain strong situations, such as funerals, religious services, and crowded elevators, seem to pull for uniformity of behavior . By contrast, when situations are weak or ambiguous, personality has its strongest influence on behavio . The Rorschach inkblot cards are a classic example of a weak or ambiguous situation. A person being asked to interpret these inkblots is, in ef fect, being asked to provide structure by describing what he or she sees in the inkblot. Many situations in real life are also somewhat ambiguous. When a stranger smiles at you, is it a friendly smile or is there a bit of a sneer in the smile? When a stranger looks you right in the eye and holds the stare for a bit too long, what does it mean? Many social situations, like these two, require us to interpret the actions, motives, and intentions of others. As with interpretations of inkblots, how we interpret social situations may reveal our personalities. For example, people with a Machiavellian character (e.g., the tendency to use others, to be manipulative and cold), often think others are out to get them (Golding, 1978). Especially in ambiguous social interactions, Machiavellian persons are likely to see others as threatening.

Situational Selection

There are three other ways in which personality traits interact with situations. We will discuss each of these in general terms here. The first form of interactionism is situ-ational selection, the tendency to choose the situations in which one finds onesel (Ickes, Snyder, & Garcia, 1997 Snyder & Gangestad, 1982). In other words, people typically do not find themselves in random situations. Instead, they select the situation

Personality plays a role in determining which situations a person chooses to enter. For example, whether one chooses team activities for recreation, such as basketball, or individual activities, such as longdistance running, is a function of one's level of extraversion. Studies show that extraverts prefer team activities and introverts prefer solitary activities for recreation.

Personality plays a role in determining which situations a person chooses to enter. For example, whether one chooses team activities for recreation, such as basketball, or individual activities, such as longdistance running, is a function of one's level of extraversion. Studies show that extraverts prefer team activities and introverts prefer solitary activities for recreation.

in which they will spend their time. Snyder (1983) states this idea concisely: "Quite possibly, one's choice of the settings in which to live one' s life may reflec features of one's personality an individual may choose to live his or her life in serious, reserved, and intellectual situations precisely because he or she is a serious, reserved, and thoughtful individual" (p. 510).

Researchers have examined whether specific personality traits predict how ofte people enter into specific situations (Diene , Larsen, & Emmons, 1984). These researchers had participants wear pagers, so that the participants could be signaled electronically throughout the day . The participants wore the pagers every day for six weeks as they went about their normal routines. They were paged twice each day , resulting in a sample of 84 occasions for each participant. Each time the pager went off, the participants had to complete a brief questionnaire. One question inquired about the kind of situation each participant was in when the pager went of f. Over the 84 times when the participants were "caught," the researchers predicted that certain personality traits would predict how many times they were caught in certain situations. For example, the researchers found that the trait of need for achievement correlated with spending more time in work situations, the need for order with spending time in more familiar situations, and extraversion with choosing social forms of recreation (e.g., team sports, such as baseball or volleyball, rather than solitary sports, such as long-distance running or swimming).

The idea that personality influences the kinds of situations in which peopl spend their time suggests that we can investigate personality by studying the choices people make in life. When given a choice, people typically choose situations that fi their personalities (Snyder & Gangestad, 1982). The personality effect does not have to be large to result in substantial life-outcome dif ferences. For example, choosing to enter into work situations just 10 percent more of the time (e.g., studying 10 percent longer, or working 10 percent more hours) may result in very lar ge differences in reallife outcomes, such as achieving a degree or a higher salary. Think, for example, about how you choose to spend your free time and about whether your choices reflect you own personality, to a degree.

The relationship between persons and situations goes in both directions. So far, we have been emphasizing how personality af fects situational selection. However, once in the situation, that situation can af fect the person's personality. A fascinating study illustrating this notion was done by Bolger and Schilling (1991) on neuroticism and stressful life events. People high on the trait of neuroticism report higher levels of distress in their lives than people low on neuroticism. Bolger and Shilling hypothesized that this increased level of distress could come about because high neuroticism subjects get themselves more frequently into stressful situations, or because high neuroticism subjects respond to ordinary stressful situations with greater reactivity . To test these two hypotheses, they followed 339 people every day for 42 consecutive days, having the subjects keep detailed daily records of their life events and their self-reported levels of distress. They discovered that both hypotheses were true: high neuroticism subjects did indeed have more frequent stressful life events (e.g., ar guments, tension with others) than low neuroticism subjects, and they reacted to such stressful life events with more subjective distress than low neuroticism subjects. In this case, the trait of neuroti-cism related to more frequent stressful life events, and greater reactivity to stressful life events.

A recent study by psychologist Will Fleeson and colleagues (Fleeson, Malanos, & Achille, 2002) also illustrates how situations can influence personal ity. It has long been known that the trait of extraversion is related to positive emotions. We will discuss this more in the chapter on emotion, but for now it is important simply to know that a strong correlation exists between extraversion and feeling high levels of positive emotions. In their study , Fleeson and colleagues had subjects come to the lab in groups of three to participate in a group discussion. They were randomly assigned to an "introverted" or an "extraverted" condition. Instructions for the extraverted condition emphasized that they should behave in a talkative, bold, and ener getic manner for the group discussion. Instructions for the introverted condition emphasized that they should behave in a reserved, compliant, and unadventurous manner for the group discussion. They were then asked to have a discussion of either the 10 most important items needed after an airplane crash or to come up with 10 possible solutions to the parking problem on their campus.

During the discussion, observers rated how positive each participant appeared. Also, following the discussion, each participant self-reported how positive they felt during the discussion. For both of these variables—observed positivity and self-reported positive feelings—the subjects in the extraverted condition were substantially higher than persons in the introverted condition. Moreover , this effect did not depend on the person's actual levels of trait extraversion. This study shows that being in an extraverted situation (being with a group of ener getic, talkative people) can raise a person's level of positive af fect. The study clearly illustrates that, when it comes to person X situation interactions, situations can influence persons just as much as per sons can influence situations


Another form of person-situation interaction discussed by Buss (1987) is evocation, the idea that certain personality traits may evoke specific responses from the environment. For example, people who are disagreeable and manipulative may evoke certain reactions in others, such as hostility and avoidance. In other words, people may create their own environments by eliciting certain responses from others. Consider the case of a male patient who had trouble sustaining relationships with women, such that he was divorced three times (W achtel, 1973). He complained to his therapist that every woman with whom he became involved turned out to be bad-tempered, vicious, and spiteful. He complained that his relationships started out satisfying but always ended with the women becoming angry and leaving him. Wachtel (1973) speculated that the man must have been doing something to evoke this response from the women in his life.

The idea of evocation is similar to the idea of transference, discussed in Chapter 9 on psychoanalysis. Transference occurs when a patient in psychoanalysis re-creates, with the analyst, the interpersonal problems he or she is having with significant others. In doing so, the patient may evoke in the therapist the reactions and feelings that he or she typically evokes in other persons. Malcomb (1988) reported on a male psychoanalyst who found one female patient to be particularly boring. The analyst could hardly stay awake during the therapy sessions because the patient and her problems seemed so dull and trivial to him. After experiencing this reaction for a few weeks, however , the analyst realized that the patient was making him feel bored, just as she made other men in her life feel bored. She made herself dull, he concluded, in order to avoid the attentions of men and drive them away . However, she was in therapy , in part, because she complained of being lonely . This case illustrates how people can evoke reactions in others—creating and re-creating certain kinds of social situations in their everyday lives.


A third form of person-situation interaction is manipulation, which can be define as the various means by which people influence the behavior of others. Manipula tion is the intentional use of certain tactics to coerce, influence, or change others Manipulation changes the social situation. Manipulation dif fers from selection in that selection involves choosing existing environments, whereas manipulation entails altering those environments already inhabited. Individuals dif fer in the tactics of manipulation they use. Researchers have found, for example, that some individuals use a charm tactic—complimenting others, acting warm and caring, and doing favors for others in order to influence them. Other people use a manipulatio tactic sometimes referred to as the silent treatment, ignoring or failing to respond to the other person. A third tactic is coercion, which consists of making demands, yelling, criticizing, cursing, and threatening the other to get what one wants (Buss et al., 1987).

Interestingly, these forms of manipulation are linked with personality traits. Extraverts, for example, tend to deploy the charm tactic more than introverts do. Those high on neuroticism tend to use the silent treatment to get their way . And those high on quarrelsomeness tend to use the coercion tactic to get their way . In summary, the enduring personality traits of individuals are linked in interesting ways with the tactics they use to manipulate their social environment.

Benign Violation

These and other explanations all capture something, and yet they are insufficient. They do not provide a complete theoretical framework with a hypothesis that can be measured using well-defined parameters. They also do not explain all types of humor. None, for example, seems to fully clarify the appeal of slapstick. In 2010 in the journal Psychological Science, A. Peter McGraw and Caleb Warren, both then at the University of Colorado Boulder, proposed a theory they call &ldquobenign violation&rdquo to unify the previous theories and to address their limits. &ldquoIt&rsquos a very interesting idea,&rdquo says Delia Chiaro, a linguist at the University of Bologna in Italy.

McGraw and Warren&rsquos hypothesis derives from the theory of incongruity, but it goes deeper. Humor results, they propose, when a person simultaneously recognizes both that an ethical, social or physical norm has been violated and that this violation is not very offensive, reprehensible or upsetting. Hence, someone who judges a violation as no big deal will be amused, whereas someone who finds it scandalous, disgusting or simply uninteresting will not.

Experimental findings from studies conducted by McGraw and Warren corroborate the hypothesis. Consider, for example, the story of a church that recruits the faithful by entering into a raffle for an SUV anyone who joins in the next six months. Study participants all judged the situation to be incongruous, but only nonbelievers readily laughed at it.

Levity can also partly be a product of distance from a situation&mdashfor example, in time. It has been said that humor is tragedy plus time, and McGraw, Warren and their colleagues lent support to that notion in 2012, once again in Psychological Science. The recollection of serious misfortunes (a car accident, for example, that had no lasting effects to keep its memory fresh) can seem more amusing the more time passes.

Geographical or emotional remoteness lends a bit of distance as well, as does viewing a situation as imaginary. In another test, volunteers were amused by macabre photos (such as a man with a finger stuck up his nose and out his eye) if the images were presented as effects created with Photoshop, but participants were less amused if told the images were authentic. Conversely, people laughed more at banal anomalies (a man with a frozen beard) if they believed them to be true. McGraw argues that there seems to be an optimal comic point where the balance is just right between how bad a thing is and how distant it is.

Why do some people never laugh?

Maybe he doesn't know what is funny. Maybe he feels socially insecure etc.
Or maybe Seta is right and they are just too imature and therefore unfunny.

Have you asked him instead of leaping to assumptions?

by Emmabluegreen » Fri Jun 05, 2009 7:42 am

I have a brother like your friend. He's a really nice guy, quite quiet and thoughtful type, but he will very rarely laugh at anything.

Having lived in the same house as him for years I have seen him laugh occasionally, but it is rare, so maybe some people are just like that.

Don't know if it's in the genes because none of the rest of the family are like this, in fact my dad will laugh at virtually anything.

Just different people with different personalities I suppose.

by Eple1 » Fri Jun 05, 2009 4:32 pm

I felt sort of like I had to respond to this thread, because I am one of those people who doesn't laugh. I'm not exactly sure what it is. Sometimes in my head I think something is hilarious yet all I do on the outside is smile, even the smiling is somewhat of a trained response just so people know I acknowledge their joke. I suppose if sarcasm was the vehicle for the joke, I often don't understand it or seem to take the "joker" seriously.

In the first fifteen or so years of my life, laughing was so unnatural that I wasn't even sure how I laughed. A friend of mine would snort her nose in conjunction with a high-pitched giggle, another would laugh until he could not breathe. I simply had no clue what my defining laugh was. The older I get the less I think or care about such mundane things, and the more comfortable I become with myself it seems I do laugh a little more often. I still wonder what's genuine and what's a trained response. I'm very interested in hearing input on this subject because it's something I've always thought about and often still do.

by Cooler » Fri Jun 05, 2009 9:01 pm

When we laugh spontaneously the super ego is no longer controlling our every move.

Psychology Reveals Why People Deflect Instead of Taking Responsibility

It’s easy to say that deflection is ignoring something, but what does that really mean? Synonyms of the word include turning, deviating, divergence, straying, and more. Deflection is a little deeper than ignoring an issue. It’s a deep, psychological issue that can indicate some other character or personality flaw that a person should deal with. So why do people deflect instead of owning up to their mistakes?

In psychology, deflection is an inability for a person to focus on themselves. More than that, it’s an intense focus on a partner’s feelings, actions, or beliefs (usually an antagonizing focus). It’s usually done as a way to deviate the attention away from their own actions, feelings, and beliefs.

Dealing with a person that is skilled in deflection can be incredibly frustrating. It can lead to failure and even abusive relationships. However, understanding why a person does this could help, especially if the deflector is willing to help. Luckily, it’s a hot topic of discussion among psychologists.

Condition where people laugh at inappropriate times?

There are a few disorders that can include this - which one someone has is not so important. What's important is that people who laugh at inappropriate times usually have a decently problematic mental condition.

Oh great, I have a disorder , can you give me some references?

I tend to laugh at serious times, like when my gf is talking serious to me. Usually when I reply I am sort of chuckling. I don't mean to and it makes her feel real bad. Also at sad times like at funerals, I don't feel sad, but almost like I want to smile. I think I just hate feeling down and depressed and I try everyway not to feel that way or get out of feeling depressed as quickly as possible. I've been a person who has never shown or expressed much emotion betore.

Originally posted by tomas
Oh great, I have a disorder , can you give me some references?

I tend to laugh at serious times, like when my gf is talking serious to me. Usually when I reply I am sort of chuckling. I don't mean to and it makes her feel real bad. Also at sad times like at funerals, I don't feel sad, but almost like I want to smile. I think I just hate feeling down and depressed and I try everyway not to feel that way or get out of feeling depressed as quickly as possible. I've been a person who has never shown or expressed much emotion betore.

hmmm, I search for inappropriate laughing and all I get is either I'm addicted to sex or have Schizophrenia and I'm pretty sure I'm neither.

The Surprising Reason Why Some People Smile More

Do you crack up at the slightest hint of a joke? Or do you keep a poker face when Uncle Herbert trots out his tired comedy routine?

It turns out, whether you're quick to laugh and smile may be partly in the genes.

"One of these big mysteries is why do some people laugh a lot, and smile a lot, and other people keep their cool," said study co-author Claudia Haase, a psychology researcher at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. "Culture plays a role in it, and personality plays a role in it &mdash and our study shows that DNA also plays a role in how strongly we react when we see something funny."

The gene was previously tied to depression and other negative states, but the new study suggests it may be linked to people experiencing more emotional highs and lows, Haase added. [10 Surprising Facts About the Brain]

Serotonin and the brain

The brain chemical serotonin moderates mood, appetite and desire. Some brain and nerve cells communicate by releasing serotonin into the gaps between two brain cells, and serotonin circulates until a protein sitting on the cell membrane, called a serotonin transporter, pulls the chemical back into the cell, said Dr. Keith Young, a professor of psychiatry at the Texas A&M Health Science Center and a researcher at the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, in Temple, Texas.

A few decades ago, scientists discovered the most common antidepressants, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), blocked serotonin transporters, said Young, who was not involved in the current study. Scientists began looking for genes related to the transporter, to see if these genes played a role in psychological disorders.

In the 1990s, researchers zeroed in on a gene called 5HTTLPR, which affects how many copies of the serotonin transporter the body makes. People inherit two copies &mdash one from each parent &mdash and there are two variants: a long and a short allele, or version, of the gene. Over the past two decades, several studies tied the short allele to a host of negative emotions, from major depression to post-traumatic stress disorder and to embarrassment in socially awkward situations, the researchers said.

Laughing matter

But, scientists wondered, if the gene version were detrimental, then why would so many people have it?

For instance, in the current study, about 7 out of 10 people had at least one copy of the short allele.

That made Haase and her colleagues wonder whether the gene played a role in both positive and negative emotions. The researchers analyzed video data from three experiments: one in which people looked at cartoons from The New Yorker and "The Far Side," one in which the people watched a clip from the absurdist movie "Stranger than Paradise," and one in which married couples talked out a disagreement. All of the participants provided saliva to test their genetic makeup.

The research team then coded the facial expressions people made, distinguishing fake or polite smiles and laughs from the real thing. (Real smiles and laughs crinkle the muscles around the eye a certain way, Haase said).

People with two copies of the short allele laughed and smiled the most those with one short and one long copy were in the middle, and those with two long versions of the gene smiled and laughed the least, stated the study, which was published online on Monday (June 1) in the journal Emotion.

"People with the short allele have higher highs, and they also have lower lows. They kind of have amplified emotional reactions," Haase told Live Science.

The new finds suggest the short version of the gene makes people more sensitive, to the both good and the bad in their lives, Haase said.

For instance, a few small studies have shown that people with two copies of the short version of the 5HTTLPR gene "really flourish in positive marriages, and they really wither in negative emotional environments," Haase said.

The findings also tie nicely with Young's work, which found that people with two copies of the short allele tended to have larger brain volumes in a region called the thalamus, which helps generate emotions, Young said.

"It makes perfect sense that people with short alleles have an increase in both positive and negative emotional thinking," because the brain regions responsible for emotional processing may actually be bigger in these individuals, Young told Live Science.

When you’re in the middle of a difficult situation, it can seem overwhelming. Taking a step back, however, and viewing your situation as an observer can help you see your situation with a new lens. This is called reframing—and it works.

If your situation seems ridiculously frustrating, recognize the potential humor in just how ridiculously frustrating and annoying it is. In your imagination, take the situation to an extreme that becomes even more ridiculous until you find yourself amused.

For example, if you are waiting in a long line at the store, imagine that hours pass, then days, visualizing loved ones visiting you in your new home or holding your child's birthday party in aisle seven…you get the picture.

On Inappropriate Laughter, and What It Says About Our Brains

If you too suffer from the ever-present threat of inappropriate laughter, you’ll know that it happens when your one job, your one job in that moment as a decent person, is not to laugh. Like during one minute&aposs silence for dead dolphins at a Greenpeace concert (guilty), or during serious fights with an earnest boyfriend (guilty). Or when someone says their beloved gran who raised them on her pension has passed (never as long as I live, grandmas are sacred).

Unlike forced laughter — that strained bark designed to make someone else feel good — nervous laughter makes everyone feel bad. Even if you know you don’t mean it, your eyewitnesses conclude you have a problem. Which really, you do. So does this affliction mean you&aposre a cold-hearted cynic with zero empathy reserves? And if not, what is going on in your brain? “Inappropriate laughter is a really interesting one,” says Steve Ellen, director of Melbourne’s Psychosocial Oncology Program. “We all do it, I’ve done it very many times. It can really be quite difficult. You can be talking about something very tense, and your body responds by laughing.”

Ellen thinks nervous laughter is a psychological response to anxiety and tension, that “our own body makes us start laughing to relieve the tension, even if we don’t really want to [and] we𠆝 prefer to be serious.”

Jordan Raine, a PhD Researcher into “Human Non-verbal Vocalisations” at the University of Sussex, agrees that it could be the brain’s way of diffusing tension, or a defensive coping mechanism when you’re faced with something traumatic or distressing.

“[This] can sometimes occur as fits of nervous laughter in immediate reaction to some event, perhaps serving to protect ourselves against the true nature of what we’re witnessing." Raine also points to something called the “pseudobulbar affect,” which may hold a clue. This involves episodes of uncontrollable and unpredictable laughter in some people with brain disorders, like multiple sclerosis and dementia. He cites a 2005 study that details a patient with a brain lesion who developed pathological laughter when swallowing liquids, but not solids.

Which isn’t to say inappropriate laughter indicates a brain disorder, just that the mechanics behind this more extreme form could shed some light on the everyday version. One theory used to explain the pseudobulbar affect is a glitch in the pathways linking up specific regions of the brain. Those regions are the cortical structures — which help you assess the information around the 𠇏unny” event (and therefore what type of response is appropriate) — and the “the evolutionarily ancient cerebellum,” which helps regulate emotional responses, including laughter.

Applying this theory to healthy people, laughing at inappropriate moments could be the result of a tug-of-war between these two regions. “We might find an event so hilarious that our cortical structures are unable to control the sensory overload in our other brain structures, resulting in uncontrollable fits of laughter.”

As for finding humour in dark places, Alex Borgella, a social psychologist at Tufts University who studies humour’s many complexities, says that in a lot of ways inappropriateness is part of what makes many things funny in the first place. It’s all about your 𠇊ppraisal” (perception) of “stimulus” (things).

“So, if you perceive a situation that seems like it’s harmlessly violating some social or moral norm, for example someone loudly farting in the middle of a funeral, you’re more likely to laugh than if you perceive a harmful violation of that norm,” Borgella says. 𠇏or example, someone being shot at a funeral—or something harmless that doesn’t violate any norms, like farting in a bathroom.”

That would explain why, when someone shows you something they find hilarious and are deeply invested in you also finding it hilarious, you probably won’t. The very expectation you’ll find something funny appears to take the edge off its potential to make you laugh. Nervous laughter exists in the exact opposite space, up to a point (see: grandmas). But ultimately, says Raine, we still don’t really know why humans laugh at all. So it’s very hard to say what nervous laughter is about. “It’s one of those funny things in life where, although it happens every day, we don’t understand it very well,” he says.

“In the field of psychology we understand the unusual things better than we understand the common things.” So there you go. Nervous laughter happens, you’re not alone, but it is a curse. On the plus side, this is most likely happening because your brain needs to diffuse the anxiety triggered by upsetting things, and therefore you are probably more sensitive, not less, than people who have their shit under control. Use this line, it is likely your best defence. Follow Rebecca on Twitter


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Nervous laughter

Nervous laughter is not really a form of laughter because experts use it for people who laugh in situations that are not laughable. The reasoning behind nervous laughter varies from person to person and is quite situational. Conversely, some experts believe that there is a very small percentage of people in our society who are called sociopaths. People in this category derive pleasure from other people’s pain, meaning they lack feelings such as concerns and empathy. But nervous laughter is one of your normal physical reactions to anxiety, tension, or confusion.

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Watch the video: Laughing in serious situations (January 2022).