A new study from psychologists at the universities of Kent and Liverpool has revealed that laughter increases altruism towards strangers, a finding which may have important implications for charities and other fundraising bodies.
The study, conducted by Professor Mark van Vugt, Charlie Hardy, Julie Stow and Professor Robin Dunbar (University of Liverpool), was designed to examine if laughter acts as a social lubricant by enhancing a sense of group identity among strangers.
For the study, participants watched a funny or serious video clip before playing an altruistic game with strangers. The study revealed that after watching the funny clip subjects who laughed a lot were more likely to give their money to strangers. Further research suggests that this may be due to the effects of laughter on endorphins (naturally produced neurotransmitters that improve people’s mood).
Professor van Vugt, a member of Kent’s Centre for the Study of Group Processes and an expert on human altruism and co-operation said: ‘This study may have important implications for the way charities or organisations could increase the level of received donations. For example, Comic Relief - which in itself is a worthy event supporting many great causes - demonstrates how laughter can have a tremendous effect on giving.’
Professor van Vugt also pointed out that humans may have evolved the capacity for laughter to quickly release positive emotions in order to facilitate group bonding - group living enabled our ancestors to cope better with a hostile environment.
‘From the perspective of increasing altruism in society,’ he said, ‘it is obvious that laughter deserves serious attention from both scientists and policy makers.’
The full results of the study - titled Laughter as Social Lubricant: A Biosocial Hypothesis about the Pro-social Functions of Laughter and Humour - are available here.