The Perception of Spontaneous and Volitional Laughter Across 21 Societies

Gregory A. Bryant, Daniel M. T. Fessler, Riccardo Fusaroli, Edward Clint, Dorsa Amir, Brenda Chavez, Kaleda K. Denton, Cinthya Díaz, Lealaiauloto Togiaso Duran, J. Fančovičová, Ellis van den Hende, More Authors

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
43 Downloads (Pure)


Laughter is a nonverbal vocalization occurring in every known culture, ubiquitous across all forms of human social interaction. Here, we examined whether listeners around the world, irrespective of their own native language and culture, can distinguish between spontaneous laughter and volitional laughter—laugh types likely generated by different vocal-production systems. Using a set of 36 recorded laughs produced by female English speakers in tests involving 884 participants from 21 societies across six regions of the world, we asked listeners to determine whether each laugh was real or fake, and listeners differentiated between the two laugh types with an accuracy of 56% to 69%. Acoustic analysis revealed that sound features associated with arousal in vocal production predicted listeners’ judgments fairly uniformly across societies. These results demonstrate high consistency across cultures in laughter judgments, underscoring the potential importance of nonverbal vocal communicative phenomena in human affiliation and cooperation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1515-1525
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • cross-cultural
  • emotion
  • laughter
  • open data
  • speech
  • vocal communication

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