Study: Laughter and Sighs of Relief are Instinct, Other Emotional Displays Learned

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If you’ve ever thought the physical act of displaying your emotions was natural, according to an experiment, laughter and sighs of relief are the only instinctually occurring physical reactions, whereas crying or screams of terror are actually learned from other people.

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The experiment, led by Disa Sauter of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands, is actually quite clever: It had eight deaf people and eight people able to hear vocalize nine different emotional reactions without using words, including anger, disgust, fear, hilarity, relief, sadness and triumph, then the resulting actions were recorded and played back to a group of twenty-five people able to hear.

The only two identifiable sounds made by the deaf participants were laughter and sighs of relief, whereas the group of twenty-five people had an easier time identifying the reactions made by the eight hearing participants. David Ostry of McGill University in Canada suggests that deaf people might learn how to laugh by watching how hearing people do it, which is a solid theory, since laughter is generally a more physically animated gesture associated with an emotion, as opposed to an emotion like sadness.

Though the experiment is fairly clever, it doesn’t address the question of where the other emotions’ physical reactions initially came from if they’re learned from other people in the first place.

(via New Scientist)

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