100 Things You Should Know About People: #15 — If You Use Social Media Without Laughter You Aren't Being Social

Laughing At Work
Photo Credit: Jacob Bøtter, http://heutedenkenmorgenfertig.com/

If you engage in social media are you being social? You email, you text, you twitter, you leave voicemails for people, so you are plugged in, right? Well, actually not. In all of these means of communication you are not actually physically interacting with another person. True social bonding requires a physical reaction to the presence of other people. Do you tend to work alone a lot? At your desk on your computer? Then maybe you aren’t being as social as you think. And this lack of physical contact may actually affect the quality of the work that you and your team does.

The Neuro Science of Social Bonding — People are social animals. In order to work together they have to have social interactions. There are complicated hormonal and chemical changes that occur in your brain and throughout your body when you bond with others. In this post I’ll focus on just one mechanism of social bonding — laughter.

Research on Laughter —
Considering how universal laughter is and how much of it we do, there is, relatively, not a lot of research on laughter. One of the main researchers is Robert Provine from University of Maryland. Here is a summary of some of the research he has done… some of these findings may surprise you:

  • Laughter is universal: All humans in all cultures laugh
  • Laughter is unconscious: You can’t actually laugh on command — it will be fake laughter if you try to.
  • Laughter is for social communication: We rarely laugh when we are alone. We laugh 30 times more often when we are with others.
  • Laughter is contagious: We will smile and then start laughing as we hear others laugh
  • Laughter appears early in babies: at about 4 months old
  • Laughter is not about humor: Provine studied over 2,000 cases of naturally occurring laughter and most of it did not happen as a result of “humor” such as telling jokes. Most laughter followed statements such as “Hey John, where ya been?” or “Here comes Mary”, or “How did you do on the test?” Laughter after these types of statements bond people together socially. Only 20% of laughter is from jokes.
  • We rarely laugh in the middle of a sentence. It is usually at the end.
  • Other primate and mammals laugh. There are videos of rats laughing while being tickled.
  • Speaking of tickling, laughing seems to have “evolved” from tickling.
  • Most laughing occurs by the person who is speaking, not the person who is listening. The person who is speaking laughs twice as much.
  • Women laugh more than twice as much as men.
  • Laughter denotes social status. The higher up on the hierarchy you are in a group, the less you will laugh.

An example: the challenge of remote teams — I work a lot with remote teams. You may also be familiar with the challenges. You may have to deal with time zone differences, less than optimal phone connections, language barriers, but I wonder if you’ve considered that the biggest challenge may be lack of social bonding and lack of in-person laughter. Even if everyone is in the same building, if they aren’t working together in person then there is a lack of social bonding. Consider at least having periodic phone calls so that there can be some laughter. If you talk on the phone then you can at least hear each other laugh, even if you are missing the in-person cues. If at all possible, get together with other people from your work team in person for at least one meeting now and then. That way laughing and social bonding will occur, and even if you work apart the rest of the time you will have had some experience of social bonding.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? We use “social media” the most when we aren’t being social!

For more reading: Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, by Robert Provine, 2001.

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8 Replies to “100 Things You Should Know About People: #15 — If You Use Social Media Without Laughter You Aren't Being Social”

  1. Once again, I’m an outlier. I laugh when I’m alone A LOT (I find tons of things funny!). And I seem surprisingly immune to laughing just because someone else is (friends have sent me YouTubes of someone just cracking up and that makes viewers crack up…but they leave me cold… I seem to need an actual topic at which to laugh).

    An old actor’s trick: if you’re ever in a situation where you need to NOT laugh, clench your anus muscle as hard as you can. It will break the urge to laugh. Weird, but true.

  2. Remember to use Creative Commons licensed material right, you used my photo but somehow forgot to mention that I took it and that the rights belong to me (but you’re free to use it as long as you state my name with the material).

  3. Hi Susan

    This is a fascinating post. I cringe when I contemplate the challenges of remote user research yet it is sometimes unavoidable and now with online tools, is often expected – What other cognitive insights do you have on the subject? For example, how differently do communities or groups behave in an online forum or discussion session on-line and in a room? How does it affect social influence, consensus, willingness to contibute etc?

    Thanks,
    Edel

  4. i am curious about additional variables that seem to contradict the premise that hearing laughter causes bonding.

    i am a 1984 millenial, and i work at a computer all day. most of my interactions are over instant messenger. i use it to stay in frequent communication with both friends and coworkers throughout the course of my day. i also pass the time interacting on facebook. sometimes i share a meal with friends, but i’m pretty introverted and i enjoy spending time alone. with the exception of my wife, i spend far more time bonding with friends digitally than in person. and in some cases, my closest friends have moved out of state, but through our digital communication, our bonds are able to strengthen, not dissipate. i cannot hear them laugh, but i see indications that i interpret as genuine appreciation of my personality, and i feel closer to them.

    a converse example. i do not socialize with my coworkers. in many cases i dislike them personally, as people in the web industry tend to be arrogant and/or socially awkward. i also don’t appreciate much of their humor. when i hear these individuals interacting out loud, these leading laughs you describe (they will make a comment or observation, intended to be humorous or not, then chuckle at themselves as punctuation, often sounding, to my ears, fake), actively inspire my distaste. rather than the sound of laughter causing me to feel closer, it irritates me, reminding me of the social distance between myself and people i have not chosen to spend time with.

    am i simply in the minority? do these factors constitute a deeper layer of the psychological condition you address? or,perhaps, can my behaviors actually be explained by your premise acting on some unconscious level?

    thanks. this series is thoroughly fascinating.

  5. I’m especially intrigued by the last bullet under research on laughter; “Laughter denotes social status. The higher up on the hierarchy you are in a group, the less you will laugh.”

    I’ve always been curious about people that I refer to as “nervous laughers.” I don’t understand why some people laugh after everything they say. I’m now wondering based on the research if they’re seeking social acceptance and are attempting to get others around them to laugh with them?

  6. The funniest things about the above postings is that none of them were funny.

    Programmer Dude gave us a tight ass so as not to laugh. That’s weird funny and it strikes my funny bone in that way. I’m not laughing but I am grinning.

    Jacob BØtter wasn’t funny at all, and very off topic. He could have handled this privately.

    Matt is, well, a lot like me if his “introversion” is really about being reclusive. But really, Matt and I need to get out more.

    Hayley brings up a good point but needs to do her own research. But just to help out … It is my opinion that people give out a nervous laugh because they have a need to be loved. Just like everyone else they want to be validated and nothing validates better than being loved by others.

    As for me, well my opinion is biased, but I’m not going to leave it to others to set me straight because I can’t stand criticizm… So I don’t want any funny comments about how opinionated I am. It leaves a funny taste in my mouth.

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