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The Acoustics Of Laughter

There's a lot more to laughter than you might imagine, in this Moment of Science.

toddler laughing while a woman holds him

Photo: Marilylle Soveran (Flickr)

Laughter can be song-like.

There’s a lot more to laughter than you might imagine, in this Moment of Science.

Researchers have found that in laughter we don’t make articulated vowel sounds such as ho-ho and ha-ha and tee-hee. Laughter is mostly composed of more neutral sounds, something along the lines of huh-huh.

In men and women both, laughter reaches surprisingly high frequencies. Frequency is measured by the rate at which the vocal cords vibrate. We hear frequency as pitch. The laughter in some men can be as high as a soprano’s high C, and in women, laughter can reach the pitch of an octave higher than that.

What’s more is not all laughter is voiced like this–meaning not all laughter involves the vocal cords. Of those who do voice their laughter, a majority of them are women. The resulting sounds are often song-like. Some people, however, make grunting and snorting noises in their laughter.

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