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My name's Sophie Scott, and I'm a professor
of Cognitive Neuroscience here at the Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL,
and I'm a Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow.
My research is really focused
on trying to understand how the human brain deals with human communication,
so how our brains deal with hearing speech, how our brains
deal with controlling speech output. And I'm also very interested in how
it deals with the other kinds of things we do when we talk. We don't always speak
if we get, for example, in very strong emotional states. We very often find that words aren't enough. And we'll
start to other things. We'll start screaming
or laughing or cheering. So I'm very interested in how our brains deal with this
because these are sounds,
which are very unlike speech. They're actually a lot more
like animal calls than they are like speech.
And so we've been doing quite a wide programme of research,
looking at this. And something that's emerging out of it is that laughter
is becoming more and more interesting to me.
So it's a very interesting emotion. It seems to have quite a different role from
some of the kinds of other classic emotions
that we've studied, like fear and disgust and anger, which are very well recognised
and very robust and you find in all human cultures.
But you can imagine if I start screaming
with fear, you would probably start to feel frightened
because whatever's a threat to me is possibly threatening to you.
If I start looking disgusted, you might start to think, ew, I'm not having what she's having.
That's bad. Whereas if I start laughing, you're much more likely to start
laughing along with me, even if you don't know anything about why I'm laughing. It has quite a
rather than something to do with there's an aspect of the environment
that needs to be reacted to
immediately. So its basis really is arising
from how humans interact with other humans.
And we're finding that it's quite universal, so
as you might imagine, you don't only find laughter
in Western Europe.
My PhD student, Disa Sauter, has been travelling around
the northern Namibian desert, testing really remote groups of people who live
as part of the Himba tribe and finding that they recognise laughter from Europeans as well as from other Himba people.
And people in Europe will recognise the laughter of the Himba.
So it really is a widespread human emotional trait
And you might expect it to be because humans
aren't the only animals that laugh. You find laughter amongst animals. So chimpanzees laugh.
Some people have even argued that rats laugh.
If you tickle a rat, it will make this noise, and you have to record the noise and slow it
right down to actually hear it, but it makes this very particular noise when it's tickled.
It will even
make the noise when it sees the rat-tickler
arriving in their room in the morning,
which sounds like a great job. So it's definitely something that's got quite an ancient
evolutionary heritage. And interestingly,
the thing that makes other animals laugh, which is being tickled,
is also what you find is the first emergence
of laughter for humans. So we first see laughter
in human beings in infants when
6-8 weeks old.
And they start laughing when they're tickled.
And that seems to have this very strong
bonding relationship with the parent or care-giver
and the baby because the baby loves being tickled and is laughing back and the parents are completely thrilled
and starts laughing. And you sort of get this strong emotional
interaction going and a very bonding one. And then as you grow up, it becomes
elaborated to other
widespread situations. So you don't have to be tickled to laugh.
And interestingly, when we look at people's brains when they listen to emotional noises
made by other people, what we find as you might imagine,
is lots of auditory
activation because if you hear somebody screaming or somebody going 'Ugh!'
then you're hearing a complex sound.
But we also find the activation in parts of the brain that have to do with
actually producing movement--
say, of the face or if you were going to make a sound yourself.
So even if people are lying silently in the scanner,
listening to these sounds, part of their brain
is getting ready to produce these sounds.
And interestingly, the effects aren't the same for all the emotions. So while
you get a little bit of effect for a sound like disgust,
you get an enormous effect from sounds like laughter. So it really does seem
to be the case that the behavioural contagion of laughter--
people starting to laugh even if they don't really know why they're laughing;
they're laughing because other people are laughing--
is rooted in the fact that when the human brain hears laughter,
it gets ready to laugh, even
if people are lying in a scanner, which is probably
one of the least amusing things that can happen to you, certainly
as part of a psychology experiment.
So I think for me it's interesting in a number of different ways. It's interesting right from
its evolutionary heritage, right through to
how it's being dealt with by the brain. And something that we're very interested in looking at
next is how the brain can tell apart,
for example, real laughs from posed laughs because people are very good at that and how exactly in this system
are you starting to tease
that information apart.