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Laugh tracks boost humor ratings of corny ‘dad jokes’

“Dad jokes” are well known for inducing groans at least as often as laughter. (Case in point: What do you call a bear with no socks on? Barefoot.) However, a new study has found that these inoffensive one liners seem to become funnier with the addition of one simple ingredient: a laugh track.

To find out whether the presence of laughter could change how funny a joke appears to be, researchers asked a group of 20 college students to listen to recordings of a male comedian tell intentionally cheesy jokes. Participants rated the jokes on a scale of one to seven, ranging from not funny at all to extremely funny. Then, researchers had 48 neurotypical and 24 autistic subjects rank the same jokes, this time paired with a prerecorded laugh track.

Half of the jokes were paired with “posed” laughs, recorded by a mix of male or female voices attempting to recreate the sound of natural laughter, whereas the other half featured spontaneous laughter by the same adults. Researchers used a total of 40 different jokes, which you can read here.

Regardless of the type of laugh track, subjects consistently rated jokes paired with laughter as funnier than the same jokes without a laugh track, researchers report today in Current Biology. Participants who heard audio samples featuring genuine laughter rated the jokes as even funnier than those who heard imitated laughter. And compared with their neurotypical counterparts, individuals with autism were more likely to rate all jokes as funnier. There were no other differences in the results between individuals with or without autism.

The results imply that everyone, regardless of neurodevelopment, is likely influenced by laughter, say the researchers, who plan to explore how the brain is impacted by laughter and comedy using brain scans in similar, future studies. In the meantime, they may have proved one thing: When does a joke become a dad joke? When it becomes apparent.