If you want to get someone to spill the beans, just make 'em laugh.
According to new research published in the journal Human Nature, laughter seems to make people more likely to engage in self-disclosure — that is, to share highly intimate details about themselves. And the act of verbally opening up to someone can, in turn, help build new relationships and strengthen social bonds.
For the study, Alan Gray at University College London recruited 122 undergraduates, separated them into groups of four, and showed each group one of three clips — either a stand-up set by comedian Michael McIntyre, the "Jungles" episode from the nature documentary series Planet Earth, or an instructional golf video.
Each video was, respectively, meant to induce laughter, a pleasant mood, or nothing in particular, for the control (clearly the "how to play golf" clip).
After the video, the students were asked to write a short blurb introducing themselves to another member of the group, none of whom they'd ever met before.
As it turned out, the participants who had a good laugh at the comedy routine shared much more intimate information with their peers than the groups who watched the other videos. For example, those who watched the funny clip said rather revealing things like, "In January I broke my collarbone falling off a pole while pole dancing," while those who watched the other clips said comparatively dull things like, "I am at Worcester College in my first year."
Gray attributes this to the actual physiology behind a good laugh: Laughter actually triggers the release of the "happy hormone" endorphin. This release, then, makes us more willing to share our innermost feelings with strangers.
The findings definitely makes sense. When we're in a fit of laughter, all our cares momentarily evaporate, which allows us to place trust where it might not have been earned. We feel looser and more willing to let our guards down.
And while this study didn't examine how disclosing these intimate tidbits affects friendship-building, the authors still argue that it's very probable that laughter can serve as a shortcut to forming new relationships.
So if you want to get closer to someone, in any respect, why not try out your best joke? It definitely can't hurt.
(h/t New York Magazine)
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