Sophie Scott and the Science of Laughter

Posted on May 28, 2015

The first time that the neuroscientist Sophie Scott performed standup comedy, in 2010, she did it out of professional jealousy. One of her colleagues at University College London had done his own amateur routine at a new comedy club and was bragging about how good he'd been. As one of the world's leading researchers on laughter, Dr. Scott, 48, decided that she had to try it herself.

At the pub where she made her debut, she locked herself in the restroom and wondered, "What am I doing? Why would I put myself through this needless level of stress?" Once she got on stage, though, she was hooked. "For a standup comedian, I make a pretty good scientist."

In a field where most research on emotion focuses on negative feelings, Dr. Scott, deputy director of University College London's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, is an exception: She studies our most cheerful impulses. Her early research found that laughter is universally recognized, across cultures, and her latest work concerns the difference between real and fake laughter.

Dr. Scott's latest research involves how people distinguish between real and social laughter. "Most conversational laughter is posed" rather than genuine, she says, but people generally don't mind, as long as they like the person they're talking to. There are social benefits. "You're just showing people that you like them and agree with them."

Source material from Wall Street Journal