Laughter exaggerates happy and sad faces depending on visual context

Aleksandra Sherman*, Timothy D. Sweeny, Marcia Grabowecky, Satoru Suzuki

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Laughter is an auditory stimulus that powerfully conveys positive emotion. We investigated how laughter influenced the visual perception of facial expressions. We presented a sound clip of laughter simultaneously with a happy, a neutral, or a sad schematic face. The emotional face was briefly presented either alone or among a crowd of neutral faces. We used a matching method to determine how laughter influenced the perceived intensity of the happy, neutral, and sad expressions. For a single face, laughter increased the perceived intensity of a happy expression. Surprisingly, for a crowd of faces, laughter produced an opposite effect, increasing the perceived intensity of a sad expression in a crowd. A follow-up experiment revealed that this contrast effect may have occurred because laughter made the neutral distractor faces appear slightly happy, thereby making the deviant sad expression stand out in contrast. A control experiment ruled out semantic mediation of the laughter effects. Our demonstration of the strong context dependence of laughter effects on facial expression perception encourages a reexamination of the previously demonstrated effects of prosody, speech content, and mood on face perception, as they may be similarly context dependent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-169
Number of pages7
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2012


  • Crossmodal interaction
  • Emotion
  • Facial expressions
  • Laughter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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