Laugh Like You Mean It: Authenticity Modulates Acoustic, Physiological and Perceptual Properties of Laughter

Nadine Lavan, Sophie K. Scott, Carolyn McGettigan

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Several authors have recently presented evidence for perceptual and neural distinctions between genuine and acted expressions of emotion. Here, we describe how differences in authenticity affect the acoustic and perceptual properties of laughter. In an acoustic analysis, we contrasted spontaneous, authentic laughter with volitional, fake laughter, finding that spontaneous laughter was higher in pitch, longer in duration, and had different spectral characteristics from volitional laughter that was produced under full voluntary control. In a behavioral experiment, listeners perceived spontaneous and volitional laughter as distinct in arousal, valence, and authenticity. Multiple regression analyses further revealed that acoustic measures could significantly predict these affective and authenticity judgements, with the notable exception of authenticity ratings for spontaneous laughter. The combination of acoustic predictors differed according to the laughter type, where volitional laughter ratings were uniquely predicted by harmonics-to-noise ratio (HNR). To better understand the role of HNR in terms of the physiological effects on vocal tract configuration as a function of authenticity during laughter production, we ran an additional experiment in which phonetically trained listeners rated each laugh for breathiness, nasality, and mouth opening. Volitional laughter was found to be significantly more nasal than spontaneous laughter, and the item-wise physiological ratings also significantly predicted affective judgements obtained in the first experiment. Our findings suggest that as an alternative to traditional acoustic measures, ratings of phonatory and articulatory features can be useful descriptors of the acoustic qualities of nonverbal emotional vocalizations, and of their perceptual implications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-149
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Nonverbal Behavior
Issue number2
Early online date19 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016

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