Psych Brief: Why We Laugh at TV
Kyle Bullock, Staff Writer
Nov. 15, 2012
As we flip on the television to watch our favorite show, we usually don't think of the chemicals that will be released in our brains or how psychological social functions will kick in beyond the controls of our conscious.
Most people just turn on the TV simply to be entertained and catch up on the latest episode of their favorite show. But, as psychology student Elliot Metherd said, TV may do a lot more to our brain than we are even aware. Especially for sitcoms and late-night talk shows, laughter plays an integral role in TV programs. Broadcasting companies have long since known that hearing a laugh track is more likely to help make a person laugh out loud than not hearing a laugh track, said Metherd. But the act of seeing someone laugh on TV and the effect it has on a person's enjoyment has not been a subject that has been widely studied. Metherd believes that actually seeing as well as hearing someone laugh may provide a very unique change in the reactions our brain has to laughter.
According to Metherd, laughter serves as a social function to convey a sense of cooperation between people or to affirm a positive relationship with someone. For instance, a person is very unlikely to laugh out loud when they are alone, but are far more likely to laugh out loud when with other people. When people are laughing by themselves, it is usually because they are thinking of someone to share that moment with. The act of laughing serves as a way for us to bond with the people around us. But, laughing out loud with someone does far more than make friends - it actually releases chemicals in your brain.
Sharing in laughter with friends releases two specific chemicals in the brain - serotonin and oxytocin. Serotonin helps make a person feel good and reward them for positive reactions. Oxytocin is a bonding agent that allows you to bond with the person you are laughing with and build neurons that associate positive feelings with that person. Together, serotonin and oxytocin work to reward our brain with positive interactions and bond us with people we laugh with. "This is part of what my research is getting at," Metherd said, " ... is there a physical and social connection made between us and the characters on TV as we laugh together?"
Metherd, who plans to graduate in May of 2013, will continue his research throughout the fall and spring semesters on the way we laugh together while watching TV. He hopes to have his research ready for presentation in February of 2013. He will present his findings at the LCU Scholar's Colloquium in February and at the National Council on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) conference in April of 2013 in Wisconsin.