Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Have You Met Ted? | Canned Laughter

This short clip from How I Met Your Mother depicts the use of canned laughter commonly employed by US sitcoms, such as, The Big Bang Theory, 2 Broke Girls, Friends and Fraiser to name a few. Canned laughter is used in such sitcoms to act as a social cue for audiences at home, it persuades them into thinking the content is funnier than it actually is. 

Platow et al (2005) decided to look at a previously unexplored moderating variable of canned laughter. They manipulated whether the participant believed the canned laughter came from "in group" members or "out group". The participants were shown two audio tapes they were expected to listen to as part of the experiment, one audio tape would have the name of their university on the label "La Strobe University" and the other read "One Nation Party". Participants were observed whilst listening to each tape and asked to complete questionnaires detailing how humorous they found the audio. 

 Platow et al (2005) found a significant interaction between the type of audience ("in-group" vs "out-group") and levels of both smiling and laughter, The table above shows participants who listened to the audio tape labelled "La Strobe University" (in-group laughter) showed the highest levels of smiling and laughter, scoring 4.49 compared to the other conditions who had comparatively low ratings of 2.00, 1.42 and 1.81. Additionally, the in-group laughter condition rated the material as significantly more "humorous" and "entertaining", 4.71 compared to the other conditions which scored 33.79, 3.42, 3.80. As shown in the table above the in-group no laughter, out-group laughter and out-group no laughter all elicited very similar ratings for each dependent variable.

Consequently, this research suggests that canned laughter is more effective when the laughter is perceived to be coming from "in-group" members. US sitcoms may play on this, as by including canned laughter in scenes, they can create an atmosphere where the audience feels like they are watching the show with other people that are similar to them. Studies suggest that people are much more likely to laugh at something in the presence of other people than they would if they were alone, plus the funnier we find a show the more likely we are to watch it again. 


Platow, M. J., Haslam, S. A., Both, A., Chew, I., Cuddon, M., Goharpey, N., Maurer, J.,
Rosini, S., Tsekouras, A., & Grace, D. M. (2005). It’s not funny when they’re laughing:A self-categorization social-influence analysis of canned laughter. Journal of Experimental
Social Psychology, 41, 542–550.

Kiranjeet Kaur

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