Even though babies are born crying, a new scientific study suggests outward displays of sadness must be learned later on in life. The data isn’t about laughing or crying, per se, but rather how we vocalize the emotions behind them and how others perceive those vocalizations.
Study was carried out at the Max Planck Institute of Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Led by researcher Disa Sauter, the study assembled eight deaf people and eight hearing people. Both groups were given the same task: to vocalize nine different emotions without using any words. One by one, both groups were recorded voicing emotions including hilarity, anger, fear, triumph, sadness, disgust and relief.
These audio-only recordings were then played back for a panel of 25 hearing individuals. This panel was tasked with matching the emotion to the sound made. The panel had difficulties matching emotion to the sounds made by the non-hearing group. Furthermore, the only sounds the panel matched with accuracy were relief and laughter.
Sauter, as reported by The New Scientist, is confident in the results of her study. “For many…emotional sounds, hearing the sounds of others is an important part of development for our sounds to be understandable to others.”
The study certainly implies only laughter and sighs of relief are in-born emotional responses in humans. The data showed even cries of terror from the non-hearing group were difficult to identify for the panel of 25 hearing individuals. Sauter posits the laughter and relief probably evolved as empathy-inducing communication tools before humans obtained true language.
So while your belly laughs can reach across cultures and languages, be careful with more complex emotions. Science thinks your terror or sadness may end up lost in translation.