Laugh tracks make dad jokes funnier, study suggests

Adding canned laughter to the end of a punchline increases how funny people find a joke, a study suggests.

The research indicates a laugh track makes people rate dad jokes as being funnier, but spontaneous laughter is more effective than posed laughter.

Scientists said the findings held up in neurotypical people and in those diagnosed with autism.

Lead author Professor Sophie Scott, from University College London, said: “I’m fascinated that not only does laughter make the joke seem funnier, but that the more spontaneous the laughter, the funnier it makes the joke.”

In the study, 40 groan-worthy dad jokes were given a baseline humour rating of between one – not funny – and seven – hilarious.

Participants were asked to rate how funny the jokes were when read aloud by a professional comedian.

Two versions were created adding short canned – or posed – laughter and short spontaneous – or real – laughter.

Researchers deliberately chose weaker jokes so they could avoid ceiling effects when determining any influence of laughter.

  • What does a dinosaur use to pay the bills? Tyrannosaurus cheques!
  • What's orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot!
  • What do you call a man with a spade on his head? Dug!

Both versions of the jokes were tested on 48 neurotypical individuals and 24 autistic individuals in the study published in the Current Biology journal.

Laughter may be processed differently in autism, as typically developing children’s enjoyment of cartoons is enhanced by laughter tracks, watching with another or simulating a smile.

In contrast, autistic children’s enjoyment is not significantly adjusted by such manipulations.

Prof Scott said: “What this study shows is that adding laughter to a joke increases the humour value, no matter how funny or unfunny the joke is.

“It also suggests we respond much better to spontaneous genuine laughter, rather than posed or canned laughter, showing the inherent human joy and value of a natural response.”

Both groups gave higher funniness ratings for jokes paired with spontaneous laughter than with posed laughter.

The only difference was that those with autism gave all 40 dad jokes an increased funniness rating when laughter was added.

The research team at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience said this may be because neurotypical adults were more aware these dad jokes are considered childish and uncool.

Some of the jokes included in the study were:

– What does a dinosaur use to pay the bills? Tyrannosaurus cheques!
– What’s orange and sounds like a parrot? A carrot!
– What do you call a man with a spade on his head? Dug!

Prof Scott added: “This research shows that while canned laughter does elevate the humour of a comedy, adding real laughter would get a better response.

“This has been adopted in shows like Friends, which are recorded in front of an audience, with the real laughter amplified during editing for particular jokes that had been well received.”

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