Haha! Observational studies show that 80 percent of laughter is less than fully genuine. Real laugher, which evolved since prehistoric times as a primal signal of safety, is bonding behavior -- and produces a mild euphoria as a result of released endorphins. So called “fake laugher” activates different neural pathways, and is often used strategically.
Sometimes we “fake laugh” to ease social situations that may be stilted or uncomfortable (Tweet it!). According to a recent New York Times article, “We have probably all laughed on occasions when someone said something weird, vaguely insulting or just confusing. It’s an almost reflexive ruse so you can move through the awkward moment and perhaps allow the other person to save face.”
“Your average person is pretty good at fake laughing in certain circumstances,” said Greg Bryant, a UCLA cognitive psychologist who studies laughter vocalization and interpretation. “It’s like when people say, ‘I’m not a good liar,’ but everyone is a good liar if they have to be.”
Is laughing at inappropriate comments always the wisest thing to do? (Tweet it!)
Jane Yates, a psychoanalyst who teaches at the Emory University Psychoanalytic Institute says maybe not, because it can encourage “the bad or clueless behavior that preceded it.” She recommends instead of laughing, filling the dead air following an unwanted or inept comment with something neutral like, “Well, then,” or, “Hmmm.” But that takes a good deal of self-awareness to pull off, she added, since many people are unconscious of their own forced levity.
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If you would like to read more about creating a habit around masterful communication, check out our book: Be Quiet, Be Heard: The Paradox of Persuasion