Psychopaths Appear to Be Immune to Contagious Laughter

We humans enjoy bonding and hanging out to share experiences together. And one of the very best ways we have to connect with one another is enjoying good laugh. Laughter is a common bond and it actually helps us make new friends. And for the most part, laughter is a social activity because we laugh more with others than we do when we are alone.

The Power of Laughter

Additionally, laughter can be like yawns, once someone in a group begins, the others join in and have a hard time stopping. This is why many comedy shows on TV play recorded laughter when characters of the show do or say funny things – it’s a way of getting their home audience to also laugh, and it works!

We have all enjoyed bouts of contagious laughter. But, a recent report that was posted in the publication Current Biology and found that laughter may not be contagious for all people – this is especially true for teenage boys who are susceptible to psychopathy.

Not Everyone Responds Positively to Contagious Laughter

Elizabeth O’Nions, who comes from the University College in London, oversaw a research team that examined three (3) groups of boys that ranged in ages from 11 to 16 years. The first group was the control and consisted of 31 boys that were considered to be normal and typical. The second group had 32 boys that exhibited disruptive behaviors and traits that were consider high-callous traits which were indicative of psychopathy. And finally, the last group contained 31 boys who also had disruptive behavior but with traits that were deemed low-callous.

Each of these cohorts was directed to listen to recordings containing sincere, genuine laughter, false laughter and then sounds of crying. As they listened, these researchers captured fMRI brain scans of each of these participants. When the scans collected, the boys were then asked various questions about these recordings, like, “How much does hearing the sound make you feel like joining in and/or feeling the emotions?” or “How much does the sound reflect a genuinely felt emotion?” and then their answers were rated on a scale ranging from one to seven.

O’Nions and the research team had projected that the two (2) antisocial groups of boys would not react as strongly to laughter that was genuine. And they believed this would be the case in assessing both their verbal answers and also by what their relevant “motor” and “premotor” brain regions — the places in the brain that prepare us for the joining into a giggle fest and the regions that actually make it happen.

And just as predicted, as they were compared to the boys from the control group, both of the antisocial groups indicated lower levels of brain activity within these two regions. And only the boys from the high-callous trait cohort, who had the biggest risks for psychopathy, were far less likely to feel like taking part in all the laughter they were hearing. Conversely, the low-callous trait antisocial cohort was just as likely to feel like laughing as the boys that had developed normally.