Do psychopaths laugh? (3 insights)

This blog post aims to answer the question, “Do psychopaths laugh?” and explore psychopathy and the traits and behaviours of psychopaths to help determine if psychopaths laugh. 

Do psychopaths laugh?

Yes, psychopaths do laugh, but their experience of humour is different from others. The following are 3 insights into how psychopaths experience laughter –

  • Manipulative/impulsive lifestyle.
  • Disruptive behaviour and unemotional characteristics.
  • Psychopaths do not have the same experiences as others.

These 3 insights into how psychopaths experience laughter will be discussed in further detail below after taking a deeper look at who a psychopath is.

Who is a psychopath?

A “psychopath” is someone who is ruthless, unemotional, and morally twisted. The word is commonly used in professional and legal settings, despite the fact that it is not a recognised mental health condition.

While psychopathy is not a diagnosis in and of itself, it shares many of the characteristics of antisocial personality disorder, a broader mental health disease characterised by people who regularly act out and defy regulations. 

Psychopaths, on the other hand, make up a small fraction of those who suffer from antisocial personality disorder.

Common Traits of Psychopaths.

Psychopathic conduct differs widely from one person to the next. Some are serial killers and sex criminals. Others, on the other hand, may be effective leaders. It is entirely dependent on their characteristics.

It’s critical to distinguish between psychopaths and persons who exhibit psychopathic characteristics. It’s possible to have multiple psychopathic characteristics without really becoming a psychopath.

People with psychopathic characteristics don’t always act psychopathically. Psychopaths are defined as those who have psychopathic features and also engage in antisocial conduct.

Psychopathic traits include –

  • Antisocial behaviour
  • Narcissism
  • Superficial charm
  • Impulsivity
  • Callous, unemotional traits
  • Lack of guilt
  • Lack of empathy

According to one study, around 29% of the general population possesses one or more psychopathic traits. Only 0.6 per cent of the population, however, meets the definition of a psychopath.

What are these 3 insights into how psychopaths experience laughter?

Manipulative/impulsive lifestyle.

A scoping investigation looked at the link between psychopathic personality characteristics and a sense of humour, as well as three attitudes toward mockery and being laughed at. 

Psychopathic personality characteristics were substantially linked to loving and laughing at others, which was most strongly linked to a manipulative/impulsive lifestyle and callousness, according to self-reports from 233 people. 

Higher levels of psychopathic qualities were linked to a negative mood, which was independent of the ability to laugh at oneself. While psychopathic personality characteristics were found to exist irrespective of a sense of humour, the aspect of superficial appeal produced a strong positive relationship.

Larger levels of pleasure from being laughed at were linked to higher levels of superficial charm and grandiosity, whereas higher levels of dread from being laughed at were linked to higher levels of a manipulative lifestyle. 

Thus, the psychopathic personality trait’s relationship to humour and laughing might be properly explained. The findings’ implications are emphasised and addressed in light of the current literature.

Laughter is incredibly contagious for the majority of individuals. It’s virtually difficult not to laugh when you hear or see someone else laughing.  However, a new study published in Current Biology on September 28 shows that boys at risk of developing psychopathy as adults do not exhibit the same desire.

Disruptive behaviour and unemotional characteristics.

Individuals at risk of psychopathy exhibit a pattern of disruptive behaviour as well as callous-unemotional traits. When questioned about it in the study, guys who met that description said they didn’t want to laugh as much as their classmates. 

Their brain images also revealed a diminished reaction to the sound of laughter. Not in auditory brain areas, but in brain areas that encourage joining in with others and resonating with other people’s emotions, such disparities were observed.

“The majority of research has focused on how persons with psychopathic tendencies absorb unpleasant feelings and how their lack of responsiveness to them may explain their tendency to aggress against others,” explains senior author Essi Viding of University College London. “This previous research is essential, but it does not entirely explain why these people are unable to form bonds with others. 

Researchers wanted to see how boys at risk of developing psychopathy process emotions like laughing, which enhance social attachment.” Viding and colleagues enlisted the help of 62 boys aged 11 to 16 with disruptive behaviours and/or callous-unemotional features, as well as 30 well-behaved controls. 

Ability, socioeconomic background, ethnicity, and handedness were all used to match the groups. The children’s brain activity was recorded using functional MRI while they were listening to genuine laughing interspersed with staged laughter and sobbing noises. 

“How much does hearing the music make you feel like joining in and/or feeling the emotion?” and “How much does the sound represent a truly felt emotion?” were questioned by the boys who took part on a scale of 1 to 7.

Boys who displayed disruptive behaviour together with high levels of callous-unemotional features had a lower willingness to join in with laughing than boys who were disruptive but did not display callous-unemotional qualities.

In numerous sections of the brain, including the auditory cortex, where sounds are processed, all of the boys showed brain activity in response to real laughing. 

However, some intriguing distinctions occurred, which were especially noticeable in boys who exhibited disruptive behaviour as well as callous-unemotional features. 

They had lower brain activity in the anterior insula and supplementary motor area, which are considered to help people empathise with others’ feelings and join in on their laughing. 

Disruptive boys with low levels of callous-unemotional qualities exhibited some changes as well, albeit not as dramatic as those with high levels of callous-unemotional features.

Viding says it’s difficult to establish whether the boys’ disruptive behaviour is causing or resulting in the diminished response to laughing. However, the findings should spur more research into how social affiliation signals are handled in children at risk of psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder. 

She and her colleagues want to learn more about whether these youngsters react differently to dynamically smiling faces, words of encouragement, or gestures of affection. They also want to know when such disparities start to appear.

Psychopaths do not have the same experiences as others.

According to Viding, the data suggest that children who are at risk of developing psychopathy do not have the same experiences as the rest of us.

“Those social cues that give us joy or alert us to someone’s sorrow do not register the same way for these kids,” she adds. “That isn’t to say that these kids are doomed to be antisocial or violent; rather, these findings give fresh light on why they frequently make decisions that vary from their peers. 

We’re only now starting to figure out how the systems that underpin prosocial behaviour differ in these kids. Such knowledge is necessary if we are to enhance present treatment options for impacted children and their families who require our assistance and care.”

The University College London’s Elizabeth O’Nions and her team evaluated three groups of boys aged 11 to 16. The first group, the control group, comprised 31 boys who were developmentally normal; the second group, 32 boys with disruptive behaviours and high-callous features, which indicate a risk of developing psychopathy; and the third group, 31 boys with disruptive behaviours but low-callous qualities.

Each group was given a tape that included real, genuine laughing, false laughter, and weeping sounds. The researchers conducted fMRI brain scans of each youngster while they were listening. 

After the scans, the youngsters scored the audio on a scale of one to seven by answering questions like “How much does hearing the sound make you feel like participating in and/or feeling the emotions?” and “How much does the sound represent a really felt emotion?”

Both in their responses and in the activity of the relevant “premotor” and “motor” brain areas — the parts of the brain that get us ready to join in a giggle fit and the ones that make it happen — O’Nions and her team predicted the two groups of antisocial boys wouldn’t react as strongly to genuine laughter. 

And, indeed, both the other two groups of boys exhibited lower levels of brain activity in these regions than the control group. However, only the children with a high-callous trait, who are at risk of developing psychopathy, were less likely to indicate they wanted to join in on the laughing they heard; those with a low-callous trait were just as likely to want to laugh as the developmentally average boys. 

The authors claim that because high-callous youngsters are more likely to lose out on such a common and crucial method to bond with others, their aberrant processing of laughter may actually increase their psychopathy risk.

Conclusion – 

This blog post aimed to answer the question, “Do psychopaths laugh?” and reviewed psychopathy and the traits and behaviours of psychopaths to help determine if psychopaths can laugh. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or comments you may have.

References –

Do psychopaths laugh and have fun? Quora. (n.d.). Retrieved from  https://www.quora.com/Do-psychopaths-laugh-and-have-fun

Proyer RT, Flisch R, Tschupp S, Platt T, Ruch W. How does psychopathy relate to humor and laughter? Dispositions toward ridicule and being laughed at, the sense of humor, and psychopathic personality traits. Int J Law Psychiatry. 2012 Jul-Aug;35(4):263-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2012.04.007. Epub 2012 May 3. PMID: 22559907. Retrieved from  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22559907/

René T. Proyer, Rahel Flisch, Stefanie Tschupp, Tracey Platt, Willibald Ruch, How does psychopathy relate to humor and laughter? Dispositions toward ridicule and being laughed at, the sense of humor, and psychopathic personality traits, International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Volume 35, Issue 4, 2012, Pages 263-268, ISSN 0160-2527. Retrieved from  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160252712000490

Schley, L. Psychopaths May Be Immune to Contagious Laughter. (2018, January 23). Retrieved from https://www.discovermagazine.com/mind/psychopaths-may-be-immune-to-contagious-laughter

Proyer, René & Flisch, Rahel & Tschupp, Stefanie & Platt, Tracey & Ruch, Willibald. (2012). How does psychopathy relate to humor and laughter? Dispositions toward ridicule and being laughed at, the sense of humor, and psychopathic personality traits. International journal of law and psychiatry. 35. 263-8. 10.1016/j.ijlp.2012.04.007. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/224912464_How_does_psychopathy_relate_to_humor_and_laughter_Dispositions_toward_ridicule_and_being_laughed_at_the_sense_of_humor_and_psychopathic_personality_traits

Dodgson, L. Boys who don’t catch the giggles could be at a higher risk of becoming psychopaths — here’s why. (2017, October 2). 

Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/psychopathy-risk-is-higher-for-those-who-dont-join-in-with-laughter-2017-10

For boys at risk of psychopathy, laughter isn’t so contagious. Cell Press. (2017, September 28). Retrieved from  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170928121715.htm

Petter, O. BOYS WHO DO NOT FIND LAUGHTER CONTAGIOUS ARE AT RISK OF BECOMING PSYCHOPATHS, FINDS STUDY. (2017, September 30). Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/psychopath-boys-children-study-laughter-contagious-a7975201.html

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