Individual Differences in Laughter Perception Reveal Roles for Mentalizing and Sensorimotor Systems in the Evaluation of Emotional Authenticity

Carolyn McGettigan, Eamonn Walsh, Rosemary Jessop, Zarinah K. Agnew, Disa Sauter, Jane E. Warren, Sophie K. Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humans express laughter differently depending on the context: polite titters of agreement are very different from explosions of mirth. Using functional MRI, we explored the neural responses during passive listening to authentic amusement laughter and controlled, voluntary laughter. We found greater activity in anterior medial prefrontal cortex (amPFC) to the deliberate, Emitted Laughs, suggesting an obligatory attempt to determine others' mental states when laughter is perceived as less genuine. In contrast, passive perception of authentic Evoked Laughs was associated with greater activity in bilateral superior temporal gyri. An individual differences analysis found that greater accuracy on a post hoc test of authenticity judgments of laughter predicted the magnitude of passive listening responses to laughter in amPFC, as well as several regions in sensorimotor cortex (in line with simulation accounts of emotion perception). These medial prefrontal and sensorimotor sites showed enhanced positive connectivity with cortical and subcortical regions during listening to involuntary laughter, indicating a complex set of interacting systems supporting the automatic emotional evaluation of heard vocalizations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)246-257
Number of pages12
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number1
Early online date22 Aug 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015

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