Laughter and tears are universal emotions

January 26th, 2010 - 1:37 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Jan 26 (ANI): Even the most unemotional-looking people roll with laughter and cry their heart out, says a study, claiming that basic emotions such as amusement, anger, fear and sadness are shared by all humans.

Conducted with people from Britain and Namibia, researchers led by Professor Sophie Scott from UCL (University College London) studied whether the sounds associated with emotions such as happiness, anger, fear, sadness, disgust and surprise are shared amongst different cultures.

The results of their study provide further evidence that such emotions form a set of basic, evolved functions that are shared by all humans.

Dr Disa Sauter, studied people from Britain and from the Himba, a group of over 20,000 people living in small settlements in northern Namibia as part of her PhD research at UCL.

In the very remote settlements, where the data for the present study were collected, the individuals live completely traditional lives, with no electricity, running water, formal education, or any contact with people from other groups.

Participants in the study listened to a short story based around a particular emotion. At the end of the story they heard two sounds - such as crying and of laughter - and were asked to identify which of the two sounds reflected the emotion being expressed in the story.

The British group heard sounds from the Himba and vice versa.

“People from both groups seemed to find the basic emotions - anger, fear, disgust, amusement, sadness and surprise - the most easily recognisable. This suggests that these emotions - and their vocalisations - are similar across all human cultures,” said Professor Scott.

The findings come in line with previous research, which showed that facial expressions of these basic emotions are recognised across a wide range of cultures.

One positive sound was particularly well recognised by both groups of participants: laughter.

Listeners from both cultures agreed that laughter signified amusement, exemplified as the feeling of being tickled.

“Tickling makes everyone laugh - and not just humans. We see this happen in other primates such as chimpanzees, as well as other mammals. This suggests that laughter has deep evolutionary roots, possibly originating as part of playful communication between young infants and mothers,” said Dr Disa Sauter, who tested the Himba and English participants.

The expert added: “Our study supports the idea that laughter is universally associated with being tickled and reflects the feeling of enjoyment of physical play.”

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (ANI)

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