Laughter can communicate a lot more than good humor – people use it to smooth social interactions

Laughter is an everyday reminder that we humans are animals. In fact, when recorded laughter is slowed down, listeners can’t tell whether the sound is from a person or an animal.

We throw our heads back and bare our teeth in a monkeylike grin. Sometimes we double over and lose our ability to speak for a moment, reverting temporarily to hooting apes. And just as hoots and howls help strengthen bonds in a troop of primates or a pack of wolves, laughter helps us connect with others.

Laughter is evolutionarily ancient. Known as a “play signal,” mammalian laughter accompanies playful interactions to signal harmless intentions and keep the play going. Chimps laugh. Rats laugh. Dogs laugh. Perhaps even dolphins laugh.

And laughter is an essential feature of human social interactions. We laugh when we’re amused, of course. But we also laugh out of embarrassmentpolitenessnervousness and derision.

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