10 Different Types of Laughter

By: Molly Edmonds & Joseph Miller  | 

schoolgirls laughing
The sound of schoolgirls laughing is easily one of the best sounds you'll hear all day. Peter Cade/Getty Images

Parents of newborn babies learn quickly there are many ways babies cry. One type means a baby is hungry, another cry says the baby has a dirty diaper. Then there's the cry that signals the baby just wants attention.

Parents don't put as much thought into what their child's laugh means (unless it's obvious they're fighting with their siblings). In fact, very few people consider the differences in laughter at all.

Advertisement

According to the late Robert Provine, who was a laughter expert and professor emeritus of neurobiology of psychology at the University of Maryland, laughter is specifically a social structure, something that connects humans with one another in a profound way [source: Provine].

According to his findings, people are 30 percent more likely to laugh in a social setting that warrants it than when alone with humor-inducing media [source: Provine]. That means that you're more likely to laugh with friends while watching a comedy together than when you're watching the same show or movie by yourself.

Though there are many ways to laugh, from giggles to guffaws and chuckles to cackles, it turns out that we humans laugh for many reasons, some of them odd. And it's more than just the latest episode of "Saturday Night Live" that has us doubled over; 90 percent of why we laugh has nothing to do with somebody telling a joke [source: Trump].

So what are some of the different types and reasons for all the laughter?

10: Etiquette Laughter

etiquette laughter
You might laugh at the things your boss says, well, just because. Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

At the end of a long day, you find yourself in the elevator with your boss. Instead of talking up your latest accomplishments, though, you find yourself laughing at everything he says.

Though you may think you sounded like a fool, you probably did just fine. People rely on laughter to get along with others, so whether we're with our boss or friends, we tend to laugh at things that just aren't funny.

Advertisement

In a study of laughter episodes, Provine found that people tend to laugh at perfectly bland statements like "Can I join you?" or "See you later" [source: Provine]. Laughter could have developed in our ancestors before full speech, so the sound is merely a way to communicate and show agreement.

And if you're trying to ascend the corporate ladder, you're not the only one laughing at the boss. We tend to laugh with anyone who can help us out, which is why a group of undergraduate students may guffaw at a professor's bad joke, while a job applicant's attempts at humor may fall flat with those who are already gainfully employed.

9: Contagious Laughter

contagious laughter
Yes, laughter really can be contagious. Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

Imagine you're out for dinner with a group of friends. Someone tells a joke and gets one person laughing, which gets a second person laughing, and so on. Is catching laughter like catching a cold? It's very likely.

Provine found in one experiment that nearly half of his 128 undergraduate students giggled on first response to a simulated laugh [source: Provine]. And they did this despite knowing the source to be an artificial laugh-simulator.

Advertisement

According to Provine, contagious laughter raises the possibility that humans have laugh detectors. In other words, people are made to respond with laughter on hearing laughter itself, much like the mystery of spreading a yawn.

8: Nervous Laughter

nervous laughter
We often use laughter as a coping mechanism when we are, in fact, actually nervous. fizkes/Shutterstock

There are times when we need to project dignity and control, like during presentations to the CEO or during a funeral. Unfortunately, these are the times when uncontrollable nervous laughter is likely to strike.

During times of anxiety, we often laugh in a subconscious attempt to reduce stress and calm down. It's sort of a mature defense mechanism, though it usually just makes things more awkward.

Advertisement

Nervous laughter is often considered fake laughter and is often a go-to in high-stress and high-anxiety situations. Laughing, even nervously, can help ease some of that stress. But you don't want to develop a habit of it. Inappropriate laughter can cause others disapproval, and make you even more stressed out than you were before.

7: Belly Laughter

Belly Laughter
Belly laughs are the best kinds because these are the times you're laughing so hard you often have to gasp for air. SDI Productions/Getty Images

Belly laughter is considered the most honest type of laughter. It may also be the hardest type to experience. Why? Because we have to find something truly hilarious before we'll let go with the kind of laughter that has us clutching our bellies and gasping for air.

Of course, that's not the only description for true belly laughter; as you might guess, we all laugh differently. In a study conducted by Vanderbilt University, researchers found that men are more likely to grunt or snort at something they find funny, while women let loose with giggles and chuckles [source: Vanderbilt].

Advertisement

It's good to take note of what tickles your funny bone, however, because it just might save your life. In the 1979 book, "Anatomy of an Illness," Norman Cousins writes how he used laughter to fight terminal illness.

"Ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep," Cousins wrote [source: Colburn]. Cousins turned to the Marx Brothers and "Candid Camera" and experienced a full recovery. Cousins died in 1990, nearly 11 years after he wrote the book.

6: Silent Laughter

Silent Laughter
Silent laughter can have some of the same benefits as deep breathing techniques. Tim Robberts/Getty Images

Those of us who work in open office settings may think that silent laughter is a skill we've perfected. Mindfully practicing silent laughter, though, can have real benefits because it involves the same type of deep breathing that comes with belly laughter.

Cheryl Ann Oberg works as a therapeutic clown and teaches sick kids the art of silent laughter. She told Canadian Living laughing silently has enabled the kids to fall back asleep when they wake from bad dreams [source: Van Dyk]. The children get the calming benefits of the rhythmic exhalations without waking their roommates.

Advertisement

Silent laughter is also practiced in laughter yoga and laughter therapy, where it's often called joker's laughter. To try it on your own, freeze your face into a smile like the Joker of Batman fame, then let your belly do the work of pushing air in and out as if you are laughing out loud.

5: Stress-relieving Laughter

Stress-relieving Laughter
What better way to relieve your stress than a hard workout that you laugh your way through? Pekic/Getty Images

Let's face it, life can be tough sometimes. Whether you're on a tight deadline with the boss breathing down your neck or you're sitting in rush-hour traffic and your car's A/C is on the fritz, the end of a workday doesn't mean everything's peachy keen. Muscles still tight? It's a sign you're still carrying the stress of the day.

Stress is one of the most important reasons to find something humorous. Laughter is a sure cure for stress [source: Van Dyk].

Advertisement

Stress builds tension in the human body, and that tension has to go somewhere. Usually it's the muscles.

So what to do? Yes, you could get a massage, but have you ever considered a good laugh? Stress-relieving laughter can encompass many forms, but it's usually found in an outburst, much like belly laughing.

4: Pigeon Laughter

Pigeon Laughter
Pigeon laughter is often accompanied by a noise that sounds similar to the hum of bees. file404/Shutterstock

Say you're out for a walk with a friend when something falls from the sky: pigeon droppings. You're splattered, but your friend is untouched. This event is anything but funny to you, yet your friend can't stop laughing. Is this pigeon laughter?

Not quite, unless your friend is laughing in a very specific way. Pigeon laughter, which is often practiced in laughter therapy or laughter yoga, involves laughing without opening your mouth. By keeping your lips sealed, the laughter produces a humming sound, much like the noises a pigeon makes.

Advertisement

It's also been compared to the humming of bees, so if you're still angry at those darn pigeons for dropping poop on you, feel free to call it bees' laughter.

3: Snorting Laughter

snorting laughter
If you're a snorting laugher, you're not alone. About 25 percent of women and 33 percent of men laugh like you. kornnphoto/Shutterstock

When you aren't actively trying to practice the art of silent laughter, odds are some sound will occur when something strikes your funny bone. Most laughter is, after all, a string of vocal ha-has or ho-hos.

But what if you're one of the roughly 25 percent of women or 33 percent of men who laugh through the nose? Then you'd be a snorter [source: Vanderbilt].

Advertisement

We all knew the kid in elementary school, the one who blew milk out his nose when the class clown cracked jokes in the cafeteria. You can guess his kind of laughter.

If this is you, you're either blowing air out or sucking it in through the nose when you laugh. There's nothing wrong with this, but you may want to drink in sips for those times when your friends try to catch you off guard with a new joke.

2: Canned Laughter

canned laughter
Canned laughter, also known as the TV laugh track, was popular for years. But it's gone the way of the tube TV. Jordan Siemens/Getty Images

No, this next type of laughter isn't something you find on a grocery store isle. Canned laughter is another term for what's commonly referred to as the "laugh track." Canned laughter is real laughter, it just happens to be laughter that's recorded and added to the soundtrack of a television show.

But canned laughter works. A 2019 study in the journal Current Biology found that even the worst jokes (and we mean bad ones) got bigger laughs when they included canned laughter. But with the rise of the internet, viewers have grown much savvier and realize these laughs are there to manipulate our emotions. And because of those reasons alone, most sitcoms today don't use the laugh track.

Advertisement

1: Cruel Laughter

Cruel Laughter
Laughing at someone else's expense is not only cruel, it's just wrong. FluxFactory/Getty Images

Your mom probably told you "It's not nice to laugh at someone else's expense." Unfortunately, whether you were the one laughing or the one being laughed at, you probably broke her rule at some point in your life.

We may think of cruel laughter as insensitive and out of touch, but it's been part of society a long time [source: Morreall]. In medieval times, there was a widespread practice of insulting via poetry known as flyting. The most famous example is "The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedie," which is the first known instance of a poop-related insult and the F-word. Surely laughter also ensued.

Add to that laughter's place in ancient texts. Laughter appears several times in Homer's "Iliad" and even in the Bible.

Originally Published: Jun 4, 2009

Laughter Types FAQ

What is nervous laughter called?
In the middle of a serious situation, where the environment is tense and everyone is on the edge of their seats, you have a sudden urge to laugh. This phenomenon is known as incongruous emotion, which entails a burst of nervous laughter.
What are the types of laughter?
Some types of laughter include the belly laugh, chortle, cachinnation, chuckle, bray and giggle.
How do you describe a laugh?
Laughter can be anything that makes you want to throw your head back and express your glee in a way you see fit. It can be infectious, unrestrained, maniacal, guttural, sarcastic, triumphant, ironical or high-pitched, depending on the situation.
What is the best kind of laughter?
The most genuine kind of laughter is the belly laugh, where a person tends to express their glee wholeheartedly.
How do you express laughter in text?
To describe laughter in text form, people can use words like "haha" or "hehe." Words like “lol,” “lmao” and “rofl” can also be used to express laughter.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Archive of American Television. "Sixty Years Ago Today, 'The Hank McCune Show' Debuted on NBC — Ushering in the Laugh Track on Network TV." Sept. 9, 2010. (March 18, 2012) http://www.emmytvlegends.org/blog/?p=197
  • Asian Economic News. "Laughing their way to good health." April 30, 2001. (May 11, 2009) http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0WDP/is_2001_April_30/ai_73852620/?tag=content;col1
  • Chapman, Anthony J. and Hugh C. Foot, ed. "Humor and Laughter: Theory, Research and Applications." Transaction Publishers. 1996. (May 11, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=FSgteXd9HJUC&printsec=frontcover
  • Colburn, Don. "Norman Cousins, Still Laughing." Washington Post. Oct. 21, 1986. (June 1, 2022) https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/wellness/1986/10/21/norman-cousins-still-laughing/e17f23cb-3e8c-4f58-b907-2dcd00326e22/
  • Furnham, Adrian, Ella Hutson and Allastaire McClelland. "The Effect of Gender of Canned Laughter on Television Programme Appreciation." North American Journal of Psychology. Vol. 13, no. 3, pages 391-402. 2011. http://www.freepatentsonline.com/article/North-American-Journal-Psychology/274955408.html
  • Griffin, R. Morgan. "What is Laughter, and Why Do We Do It?" WebMD. (May 11, 2009) http://men.webmd.com/features/why-we-laugh
  • Hargis, Owen D.W., ed. "The Handbook of Communication Skills." Routledge. 1998. (May 11, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=IVSxsljxndsC&printsec=frontcover&dq=handbook+of+communication+skills
  • Kanigel, Rachele. "How Laughter Yoga Heals, Plus 6 Fun Exercises to Try." Oct. 25, 2007. (June 1, 2022) https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/laughter-cure/
  • Longstaff, Ben. "It's all fun and laughter for giggling girls and grunting guys." New Scientist. Sept. 29, 2001. (May 11, 2009) http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg17123101.500-its-all-fun-and-laughter-for-giggling-girls-and-grunting-guys.html
  • McCarthy, Susan. "Laugh Track." Salon. Sept. 8, 1999. (May 11, 2009) http://www.salon.com/health/feature/1999/09/08/laughter/index.html
  • Morreall, John. "Taking Laughter Seriously." State University of New York Press. 1982. (March 18, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=AZDijPlKlZYC&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=snort+laughter&ots=YVl595P2Q3&sig=rrq7BrJc5YUOTeKZRhE7DpaiIvw#v=onepage&q=snort&f=false
  • Nasser, Latif Shiraz. "Spasms of the Soul: The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic in the Age of Independence. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University." 2014. (June 1, 2022) https://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/12274127
  • Ong, Anthony D. and Manfred H.M. Van Dulmen, ed. "Oxford Handbook of Methods in Positive Psychology." Oxford University Press. 2007. (May 11, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=J-56UuMY9CkC&printsec=frontcover&dq=oxford+handbook+of+methods+in+positive+psychology
  • Priyadarshinia Academy. "What Happens During Laughter Therapy Session." (May 11, 2009) http://www.priyadarshniacademy.com/laughter-therapy/what-happens.html
  • Provine, Robert R. "Laughter." American Scientist. Vol. 84, no. 1. Pages 38-47. Jan.-Feb. 1996. (March 18, 2012) http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Abstracts/Provine_96.html
  • Sebastian, Simone. "Examining 1962's laughter epidemic." The Chicago Times. July 29, 2003. (March 19, 2012) http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2003-07-29/features/0307290281_1_laughing-40th-anniversary-village
  • Seltzer, Ph.D., Leon F. "Why We Laugh When We're Nervous." Aug. 4, 2021. (June 1, 2022) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/202108/why-we-laugh-when-were-nervous
  • Tierney, John. "What's So Funny? Well, Maybe Nothing." New York Times. March 13, 2007. (May 11, 2009) http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/13/science/13tier.html?_r=2&scp=3&sq=laughter%20power&st=cse
  • Trump, Eric. "Got the Giggles? Join the Club." New York Times. July 27, 2002. (May 11, 2009) http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/27/arts/27LAUG.html?scp=2&sq=madan%20kataria&st=cse
  • University of Chicago Press Journals. "The First Laugh: New Study Posits Evolutionary Origins of Two Distinct Types of Laughter." ScienceDaily. Nov. 22, 2005. (May 11, 2009) http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/11/051122184228.htm
  • Van Dyk, Dee. "Living better through laughter." Canadian Living. (May 11, 2009) http://www.canadianliving.com/health/mind_and_spirit/living_better_through_laughter.php
  • Vanderbilt University, Vocal Acoustics Laboratory. (March 18, 2012) http://www.psy.vanderbilt.edu/faculty/bachorowski/laugh.htm
  • Walters, Stan B. "The Truth about Lying." Sourcebooks. 2000. (May 11, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=lHjfnY_deO0C&printsec=frontcover&dq=truth+about+lying

Featured

Advertisement

Loading...