Written by Cory Shumate
Laughter, one of life’s greatest joys, can be therapeutic to one’s health and even help build relationships. Laughter can relieve stress and anxiety, subside embarrassment, provide a perfect remedy for awkward moments, and strengthen romantic relationships. However, laughter may also be used in a harmful way. The negative aspects of laughter include its ability to cause overwhelming feelings of embarrassment and humiliation. Also, laughter can be the bane of a relationship due to differences in personalities. For instance, some people simply do not enjoy even the positive aspects of laughter because they find it extremely intimidating. Some people tend to see laughter as being directed towards themselves, more commonly known as gelotophobia (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). The current study examines the effects of laughter in heterosexual relationships (Brauer & Proyer, 2018).
Explanation of Terminology
The variables used to describe people’s reactions towards ridicule and being laughed at in romantic couples include gelotophobia, gelotophilia, and katagelasticism (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). The study explains that gelotophobes view laughter and smiling as expressions of mockery, rather than expressions of joy or happiness (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). The experimenters indicate that people with gelotophilia see laughter directed at them as a sign of appreciation, and they actively seek and create situations that will provoke laughter, as they perceive it as a source of joy (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). Finally, katagelasticists do not feel regret when laughing at others; they see laughter as a part of life and think that the targets could and should ﬁght back if they do not want to be ridiculed (Brauer & Proyer, 2018).
The experimenters used 154 heterosexual romantic couples in this study (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). The mean age of the women was around 27 years and the mean age of the men was around 30 years (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). Approximately half of the couples lived together and around one-fifth were married (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). Each participant individually took three questionaires. The first questionnaire, the PhoPhiKat-45, assessed the three laughter dispositions (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). The test had 15 questions for each disposition (45 questions in total) and the questions were answered using a 4-point Likert scale (1 = “strongly disagree”, 4 = “strongly agree”) (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). The next questionnaire, The Relationship Quality Questionnaire, measured six forms of relationship satisfaction: Fascination, Engagement, Sexuality, Future Orientation, Mistrust, and Constraint (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). There were 26 items on this questionnaire and they were answering using a 5-point Likert Scale (1 = “do not agree”; 5 = “agree very strongly”) (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). The last questionnaire, The Short Relationship Questionnaire, measured communication and coping with disagreement as factors of relationship satisfaction (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). The SRQ included 10 items with three subscales: Togetherness/Communication, Tenderness, and Disagreement (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). An additional item on this questionnaire measured the overall happiness of each participant (Brauer & Proyer, 2018).
These different views of laughter can either provide help or harm to romantic relationships. The results of this study concluded that gelotophobia, the fear of being laughed at, had a negative correlation with global relationship satisfaction, meaning those displaying this disposition tended to have lower satisfaction in their romantic relationship overall (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). The researchers also found that negative relationship satisfaction traits, such as mistrust, constraint, and disagreement, increased as gelotophobia increased (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). The results also showed that gelotophilia, the appreciation of being laughed at, in women was positively associated with attraction, appreciation, sexual satisfaction, and intimacy (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). However, gelotophilia in men was not associated with relationship satisfaction (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). Lastly, katagelasticism, the joy of laughing at others, was not associated with relationship satisfaction overall, but was negatively associated with sexual satisfaction in men (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). However, katagelasticism was greatly associated with a higher amount of differences in partners (Brauer & Proyer, 2018). In conclusion, laughter may have different effects on one’s relationship, depending on the styles that each partner displays; therefore, people should be sensitive to their partner’s laughter disposition in order to have a healthy and flourishing relationship. In other words, now that you know how much laughter can impact your life with someone, take it into account when looking for your own life partner in order to have the healthiest relationship possible.
Brauer, K., & R. T. Proyer. (2018). To Love and Laugh: Testing Actor-, Partner-, and Similarity Effects of Dispositions towards Ridicule and Being Laughed at on Relationship Satisfaction. Journal of Research in Personality, 76, 165–176. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2018.08.008
Dr. H. Colleen Sinclair
Social Psychologist, Relationships Researcher,
Ms. Jessica Utley
Lab Manager of the Social Relations Collaborative and Blog Editor