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Professor Bryant in the News!
March 15, 2019

Using laughter as their guide, five-month-olds can distinguish friends from strangers. 

UCLA–NYU study reveals that even infants can judge the closeness of people’s relationships from vocal signals.

Even before we can speak, humans can glean useful information from the sound of laughter.

A study by UCLA and New York University researchers found that infants as young as five months can differentiate laughter between friends and laughter between strangers. The results suggest that the ability to identify the nature of social relationships is instilled early in human infancy, possibly as part of what the scientists call an “affiliation detection system” that uses vocal cues.

“If young infants are able to pick up social information from such brief clips of vocal behavior, it suggests a biologically evolved sensitivity,” said Gregory Bryant, a professor of communication and co-author of the paper. “Laughter is an ancient social vocalization shared with many other mammals, so it makes sense that we see very early emergence of infants’ ability to produce, perceive and understand the signal.”

The research, which was published in Scientific Reports, is the latest by Bryant and colleagues in a series of studies on “co-laughter” — the act of two people laughing together. Previous studies have addressed how adults from across cultures can tell whether they are listening to two friends or two strangers laughing together, and how people generally can tell whether a laugh is spontaneous or not.

Bryant and co-author Athena Vouloumanos, an associate professor of psychology at NYU, sought to study infants because the research would shed light on how early in life humans can gauge people’s relationship types using vocalizations.

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