Laughter Leads to Self-Disclosure

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Originally posted on April 9, 2015.

Many people call laughter the best medicine, but did you know that it can also help you make new friends?

It doesn’t surprise me at all. Some of my best friendships have had their roots in belly laughs.

Sharing a laugh makes people more likely to open up to each other, according to a recent study. Laughter increases our willingness to share something personal, without even realizing that’s why we’re doing it.

Allowing someone to truly know us—perhaps sharing our most embarrassing moment, or talking about a personal goal or fear—is crucial in building and growing relationships.

To test their theories about laughter and self-disclosure, researchers gathered 112 students who did not know each other. They split them into groups and then showed each group a 10-minute “mood induction” video, one of which featured a standup comedian. (The other two were a golf instruction video and an excerpt from a nature show.) Researchers measured how much the students laughed and their other emotional states. The students also wrote a message to another participant to help them get acquainted.

The results: Group members who laughed together while watching the comedian shared much more intimate information than those who did not watch the comedy routine. That’s probably because laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which play a role in forming social bonds.

Try it out next time you’re in a social situation with strangers or mere acquaintances. If they’re a bit aloof, get them laughing. You’ll be surprised at how a little laughter can defrost even the toughest audience.


Kevin Kozcicki/Getty Images

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About the Author
C. Nathan DeWall is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Social Psychology Lab at the University of Kentucky. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from St. Olaf College, a Master’s Degree in Social Science from the University of Chicago, and a Master’s degree and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Florida State University. DeWall received the 2011 College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award, which recognizes excellence in undergraduate and graduate teaching. In 2011, the Association for Psychological Science identified DeWall as a “Rising Star” for “making significant contributions to the field of psychological science.”