« The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos

Make 'Em Laugh


The world's greatest expert on canned TV laugh tracks helps Dr Laurie Santos demonstrate how the emotions of those around us can make us feel happier or more sad. If happiness is so contagious... can we do more to bring joy to ourselves and our loved ones?

For an even deeper dive into the research we talk about in the show visit happinesslab.fm

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
how happiness lab listeners i want to tell you about a new podcast i think you're like it's called the last archive and it features one of my favorite new yorker writers the harvard historian jill uproar jill asks the big question who killed truth she looks for clues and events across the twentieth century from a brutal death in burma to the invention of the lighted factor to the release of the polio vaccine the last archive is unlike any podcast you ve heard before it brings history to life with archival tapes intrepid field reporting an old timey radio drama reenactments the last archive unfurled like a classic nineteen thirty mystery but takes on the big issues of today wouldn't you like to know who killed truth then check out the last hour have brought you buy pushkin industries have included a trailer at the end of this episode you can subscribe today on apple
spotify wherever you get your podcast the sounds of laughter there are people who study it people like ben gland this extended sequence of laughs from the jack penny programme is one of the all time rates jack penny is the biggest comedian of his his show ran on radio and tv for more than thirty years it said that the jack veni show was the the programme president john f kennedy would watch religiously his jokes her problem regenerated more laughs than anyone in the history of company in this seen comedian johnny carson has just remarked no idea how jack penny stay so young again
that slain the audience is the reveal that jack staves young because he's a robot and his daphne dismantling him bit by bit putting him storage but the laughter your hearing from this gag isn't pure its sweetened sweetening is augmenting the authentic reactions of a sitting audience with pre reactions augmenting authentic reactions the media industry trick you might know as canned laughter or laugh track the meal i'm talking to then glenn is it a vision historian and an expert on the history of this technique he's listen to every faked shriek and spliced in gaza u s tv history on fifty four years old i the television generation and i thought to myself
why does nobody ever talk about this because the laugh track was a critical google part of these shows and of their success canned laughter is poor common today but i was surprised here the secret history of how this technique developed though after work began in earnest in nineteen fifty one an engineer named charles douglas sound engineer at cbs a developed not only the idea that you can insert prerecorded laughter but he also built and designed and self in his garage apparatus to use tape loops of carefully selected reactions that could be inserted into television shows and so where did he go those in the original where did those rail companies that that is the that is the question that anybody asks so i took it upon myself to start digging the facts are
hard to uncover because it was a was meant to be a well kept hollywood secret bans oral detective work led him to listen over and over both to classic laughed tracks and early television comedies in the end he was able to figure out there greece made his laugh tracks by quoting the real studio audiences who watch early it like red skelton lucille oh and i didn't castello there's also read a report that some of the earliest once in the nineteen fifty camp a marcel marceau performance in los angeles and of course that would sense since he was a mine and there was no fearing music or any sort of distraction noise cetera tell me something that totally blew my mind those early laugh tracks are still in use today the exam same guffaws and shrieks that people heard in the fifties are still sweetening modern tv shows
we are hearing reactions that were recorded decades ago their dead people yes but they live on television comedies are still using these laughs because they work hank mccune i listened to bends clips of early comedies i realise that the can laughter we does seem make jokes funnier interest even if the gag pretty dumb which honestly many of the gods were but why was my brain reacting like this how can the we recorded laughter of dead people i've never met affect my experience of mostly not funny television show today i mean are we literally catching other people's emotions like the common cold and if we are held we inoculate ourselves against the sorts of feelings we might not want to catch from other people
our minds are constantly telling us what to do to be happy but what if our minds are wrong what if i minds are lying to us leading us away from really make us happy the good is the understanding the signs of the mine point us all back in the right direction here listening to the happiness lab with doktor boy said modern day laughter are only a few decades old but company design i've been using similar techniques for censure if you think about it the sixteenth century shakespeare in place they were performed in front of an extremely raucous audience where the audience cheer the protagonist and boots the villain there are or actually accounts of that shakespeare plan did people in the audience to read
in a certain way to spur on the audience members around shakespeare wasn't alone there is a long long history of seeding live audiences like this the opera houses of france employed whole groups of class two sat in the auditorium primed to lead the paying audience in whatever the paying audience in whatever reaction the script required some members of the club even had specializations rear as were expert levers while players some in tears at will early television producers also realise the power of these techniques they would have love dire professional crackers to enhance their studio audiences reaction but they couldn't afford something that extravagant charles this is new advance and laughter technology offered it tantalizing i sing albeit totally fabricated alternative the entire process ass was it was artificial from beginning to end in a few years agnes was able to raise his laugh track from simple kin
laughter to an art form he wasn't lifting laughs it was ass though he was a conductor the laughing audience members were his orchestra you woods late at night in his living room and he would be listen to tape loops and splicing in and extracting reaction t engineer them to bring certain did you to the surface and too suppress ambient after they often were sped up to make it seems even more can have jobs for you no more intensely funny the machine he built held up to three hundred twenty reactions taxes new machine allowed him to become the master of television emotional manipulation but motion couldn't afford his exquisite new craft charleston
charged about a hundred dollars per day if that was over budget for some production companies they found some i have to say sir of low budget preexisting laughter for example the adventures of oz inherit which was enormously popular show in its day used only one reaction regardless of situation the same laugh is the same with the exact same way but shows soon recognised they needed to be a little bit more professional with their sweetening to make the joke stick which put douglas laughed i can even more demand and that's when agnes realized he could start sweet more than just the laughs we see is that the laugh tracks and beyond just laughter and these some of my favorite reactions there is shock
there are you know women kind of squealing so the laughter bandit beyond just laughter to include the full range of how an audience might react but why was mrs techniques so powerful why does hearing the squeeze of people we ve never met change our own reaction to a television show well if you listen some of the previous episodes you know that experiencing an event say eating a piece of chocolate at the same time as another person can make those events more intense but psychology shows the experiencing an event with another person can also our experience of that event in other ways as well are thinking in our reactions and really the psychology of what we're watching be changed by the reactions around us psychologist have long documented the fact that we tend to copy other people's behalf
here unconsciously and most of the time without even realizing it in one that by tanya tartarin and colleagues subjects were brought into the lab and told they needed to work with another person to describe a set of magazine photos but the photos were not part of the experiment unbeknownst to the subject the people chosen as their part errors were actually experimental crackers or confederates as scientists called them they were people hired by the experimenters to behave in a very specific way they rub their face a bunch or sometimes touch there over and over china colleagues wanted to know how these behaviors affected the subjects it turns out being around someone touching their face caused the research to touch their own faces more often being around someone who touch their feet cause participants to touch their feet more often even though both of these behaviors are really weird this result
lots of others show that we tend to unconsciously mimic the behaviour of others a phenomenon that researchers christened the chameleon effect were literally catching other people's behaviour but we don't just catch other people's behaviour research have long realised that there is a tight link between behaving in a certain way and feeling a certain way the active having in a certain way say smiling or frowning can influence how we feel research has shown that adopting a happy facial expression can unkind leslie improve our mood there so studies showing that when you can't make facial expressions it becomes harder to x variants emotions chechens this in an unusual experiment she test ed whether women who receive botox injections which paralyzes facial muscles have trouble wreck rising emotions and others she found it not be able to make a particular facial expression makes did you recognise that emotion in others what is all have to do with the laugh track while if
the un's members naturally copy the reactions of those around them then they'll not only behave differently when they hear a laugh track chuckling a bit more but they also feel differently because of emotional contagion were literally catching other people's emotions hearing other people at a joke makes us think but the joke is actually funny its reassuring like oh yes i'm not the only one who finds that funny at that validates me that is funny humans are not just he's real camelias but a chameleon says well where as this double to the emotions around us as we to a highly contagious disease but we don't know that to think that our emotions can be so fickle which meant that despite its pervasiveness not every was a fan of douglas his laugh track technology i think the term canned laughter was pejorative and was used by critics
and probably producers and writers who looked down upon the use of career quartier reactions but lack tracks persist because they really do work they do the show seem funnier whether or not we like to admit it lobby clear when you listen to shows that forego a little sweetening some networks tried to embark upon what they were called prestige sitcom which had no laugh track at all one called frank's place cbs there was one called the days and nights of molly dodd and they wore this the a badge of honor like a we need known laughed track they went nowhere they fizzled and who remembers them right when i teach my class at yale i shall students a modern day tv show without its crackers just to make the very same point nothing makes their days better than cool clear rocky mountain spring water
so big bang theory on you too but somebody's gonna and clicked out laughed track and sound super reared the rocky mountains anyone philadelphia the nigerian like there they're not jokes but the its they just fill it with this sort of hell you into thinking everything is funny how we here people reacting is contagious laughter are one of the most common cases of emotional contagion and action whether or not we want to admit it we do enjoy tv shows more when there's can't laughter but a motion contagion can also be used in more insidious ways because not everyone out there wants to make us laugh some companies today make money not by making us feel good but by making us feel a whole lot worse the happiness lab will be right back
they open up my email and there were hundreds of emails that were all mostly like how dare you do that sin you're so ethical or other friends writing you say hey you better get a lawyer and i hope you're ok this is my friend jack hancock back two thousand fourteen jeff opened up a firestorm of hate in his inbox and over the course of the next five years days i could literally tell where the sun was up around the world by where i was receiving hate mail from distinctly remember watching all this happened just crazy level of outrage that jeff had elicited i was worried about him many of our colleagues were to what jeff done to generate so much fury from complete strangers he ran experiment to manipulate people's emotions online and they didn't like it they often remember the first time i read about a most contagion and the metaphor that the author used was you could cut their emotions in the room with a knife
and i know that feeling you walk into a room and you can be all its tents in here most psychologist study emotional contagion in the context of world social interactions like these but just wanted to know we could catch people's emotions in more subtle ways as well like through relatively new form of human communication writing so until nineteen forties over half of the planet's population was illiterate so they never left any record of any their communication and now if you would ask one of your podcast listeners if they had written something today almost everybody would say yes we forget that text is a completely new of communication for our species and for all long time most scientists simply assumed that emotions couldn't transmit as easily through written word as they did face to face i really hated this sort of idea that you can communicate emotions in tax like an email and things
just research showed that participants pick up other people's emotions through text in say with email no or an online comment just as easily as they do in fact to face real world interactions on the one hand is like surprisingly cloud how can you tell a motion in tax and then you think about your favorite author and of course you have like these super powerful feelings from text i remember reading game a throw and there's this red wedding event where people that you are expecting to be killed get killed and so furious had stopped stop reading and go for a walk and just when these examples like yeah why do we think that you can't communicate a motion through tax or online but there are a number of reasons why the text we read on line is a different indication medium than the quick emotions we experience around other people the first difference is longevity i laughed at a funny joke you only here that signal for a few seconds but text especially
text we post online is really different it's true that up you're very recently in human history everything we said and did disappeared and now how we leave records the records people eve can continue affecting our emotions for years and years to come my favorite right kurt via gets been dead for years but his quotes still make me laugh and sometimes cringe but there's a get way that text especially text on the internet is different we don't have much control over who is affecting our emotions we avoid to be around a small number of people which means that most is to face emotional contagion only occurs between people who know each other well put on the internet where emotionally affected both by people were closed and by people we never even meet in real life the i should have a contagious sort of feeling if my mom post something that step setting for her i should feel that some empathy and a negative response but if i'm looking at you
the comments of a hockey game that took place last night i'm reading the comments somebody named poster number eighty three is upset or angry that should have zero bearing on my emotional situation and yet because of some of the automatic aspects of the way we respond to others emotions it can trigger things at me on the internet we dont only succumb to the emotions of people like our family members people we know care about then there's these are like unknown people there i never expect to meet again i don't have any idea who they actually are and we can call that the unknown network in this could be some russian agent could be some frost road in nigeria and typically in the face to face world is really easy to keep those two kinds of contacts separate so as to networks aren't over helping but on the internet and in some like a facebook news feed those too worlds are completely overlaid and sit on top of each other just as easy
for a russian agent to put them into my feet or my advertising space as as for a lorry and miss me that our emotions aren't just affected by the people that matter were also in theory catching the emotions of third cousins we haven't seen in years random strangers advertisers botz really anything that ends up in our news feed everybody's news vive is super huge turns out because of network effects if you have say threaded friends on facebook you'll have thousands of possible pieces of content to look at in your news feed and what i would very quickly found out was that much of that people found uninteresting and engaging in so they developed algorithms to try and predict what the say twenty to thirty most interesting pieces for person might be basing what happens is a piece of content would come and the algorithm would rank and say well jeff would be really anschluss we're gonna play at the top of his feet
or he wouldn't all we're gonna put it down you know is fifteen hundred and so everybody's news feed is algorithmic leak rated in now and twenty nineteen people know this and i think in twenty fourteen this was not well known and i think was a big part of the outrage ah yes the outrage so why did everyone gets so mad at jeff well facebook was interest to see if its users were experiencing emotional contagion from the post they read in particular they were worried about some studies that were coming out suggesting that people might he'll bad when they look at their news feed it would be very bad for a lot of obvious reasons if their one of their main key products were is causing their users to be depressed or causing negative emotion the social media giant design an experiment to figure out the emotional impact of facebook posts on to the subjects it decided to tweet
news feed algorithm for two different test groups of users the first group the negative contact group was picked to see less bad content no news feed it never went away may was always in your feed just you know you'd be less likely to see it but there was another group condition who saw their news feed altered in the other emotional direction so if you're in the positive action condition even more controversial condition than when post had passed motion them they'd be down in your feeding you'd be less likely to see them at this chain to a person's feed affect the emotions at they themselves expressed in their own posts were used automatically catching the emotions they saw in their fields that's we found and so if you were in the fewer positive posts condition then you would write about for positive words fewer over the next thousand the words that you post on facebook jeff
colleagues had shown that people do catch the emotions they see in their feed it was important result people online many that you ve never even met were able to make you feel happier or sadder in your real offline life i got a little bit of media attention i remember jimmy fallon actually act a joke about in one of his monologues i remember being like ok read on jimmy found cracks joke that's a check mark great and after that thought like ok guess that'll be sort of it for the study jeff have been more wrong there male started arriving and not just for weeks after his study but for years dare you manipulate my news feed and the public anger stir didn't just her him my what it was really negatively affected emotion i mean she was yo turn on the the radio tv or fire up her email or go on twitter and would just be seen all these like take downs of her husband being an ethical monitoring you forget that like your work
doesn't just you but it's also all the people around you that if supported jeff study race genes that had never before been asked about the role of social media in our emotional lives i think for a long time people can have viewed those is tat of a world is like stuff it happens on social media are online and it's like whatever and then the real world but really recognised all of a sudden it like hey these are real worlds and what you read and end the emotions you get from learning about your social network they do drop off when she turned the screen off they actually stay with you and they can influence here your physical interactions one thing has changed for jeff now his study has changed the kinds of emotional things he post online certainly try to be a positive person whenever i am using any sort of form of of technology i am very aware of the possible acts of writing negative things jeff's onto something here
thing will explore in more detail after the break when we first hear about the facebook study we can feel ex essentially threatened laughed tracks device newsfeeds it can seem like people are constantly affecting us so our emotions are completely out of our control even subject manipulation but when you started understand how these techniques work when you big realizing that these forces are being used against you you can act in a more positive way too of this emotional contagion because just as we affected by the emotions of others so to do emotions affect other people that means that we can have a lot more control over our own emotional climate than we often think we can become the laugh track we want to hear in the world the happiness lab we'll be back in a moment when my youngest child
very very young probably about four or so and i was reprimanding her for something not particularly aggressively but just reprimanding she said to me you are making me have negative emotional contagion i'm kind of like well that sort of the point actually this is seagal bar said she's a professor at the wharton school of business cigars expert on emotional contagion and specifically how we can use this phenomenon to make ourselves and our organizations a little bit happier the reason i started to study emotional contagion was because i was in a workplace and there was a woman in the workplace who work there will call her megan and i didn't report to her i didn't actually need to even work with her a lot but she was a very negative person and one day she left for vacation and i notice that there was a palpable difference in the workplace among everybody who was in this open office
people shoulders almost like seem too low when they were more relaxed and happy there when she came back from vacation everything went back to what it was and i remember thinking wow this person is having this tremendous effect on our mood even when we dont literally have to engage with her around workplace issues cigar explore how moods transmit through an organization how am i she'll contagion can shape and entire group even an entire workplace culture you can imagine a work group where you know someone comes in a really great mood everybody else's lets a kind of neutral that person comes in their bubbly their warm and that in fact acts everybody else i'm you can also imagine the opposite she is somebody comes in there in a really bad mood and everybody was fine now they are feeling it most often it's coming a very automatic process as a result of behavioral mimicry mimicking lee fish
expressions and body language and then through a variety of physiological processes were actually feeling those emotions the process regardless i've is pretty intuitive it's probably obvious that people can affect others boots in the workplace but as an organizational theorist i was also interested in okay if this happens does it matter does it influence anything behaviorally seagal tested whether the contagion lead to bad workplace outcomes she had her workers do a bunch of financial decision tasks including making hard decisions about monetary allocations did workers make worse decisions one in the presence of a single bad mooted confederate what we found is that in the past if emotional contained conditions the groups were less conflicts jewel more cooperative
and they literally allocated the money differently the pot of money they were more collective mystic and how they did it this was very powerful evidence for the idea that a yes emotions are contagious and b that they actually in women's work outcomes seagal study has now been replicated in a number of experimental enfield field settings from cricket teams to bank branches to coffee shops much like flew a single bad mood can transmit fast they can influence the performance of an entire team it can even affect the way frontline workers interact with their customers one of the most insidious parts of workplace contagion is the fact that the press says reciprocal one negative feeling meg in the office doesn't just make the folks around her grubby boas folks then become their own influences making everyone more annoyed and more stressed and on and on and on
this sort of emotional feedback loop is what signal first to as an effective spiral we literally do spiral and we could have upward spirals and we can have downward spirals the problem is that we often forget such spirals are as common as they really are in time again research studies its shown that people actually no it's occurring and insight ways what i find so exciting but being able to talk to this to people is by letting them know that it is a phenomenon that is happening then you are much more aware of it if you want to protect yourself against the emotion contagion because we all have our magazines in office for better or for worse yes exactly well and you know what we're all maidens in some ways and what i mean by that is that you know we have moved right
we all very and quite dramatically throughout the day throughout the week and so being really conscious of that can help us understand how we're affecting other people goes onto something really important here if we don't work on our own emotions we can inadvertently start a downward spiral ourselves our negativity will likely caught by others around us which can then get transmitted back to us we can inadvertently be the fur sped step in a causal chain that leads us to accept it's more misery luckily signal research has shown lots of ways that we can alter our expressions to smooth out why negative emotional situations both at work in beyond let's say in an job interview with somebody and you see that their they're very nervous in one of the worst things you can say to somebody is you know calm down right if
you sort of slow your pace a little bit you look encouragingly you change your tone as you can probably hearing what i'm doing right now will naturally com that person down so the you can get kind of a more clear interview as a leader you know if you have people panicking around you for example model for them the emotions that are going to be the most productive in that situation if you're sophisticated about understanding that you have this other way getting your team on board and where they need to be cigar has focused a lot of her research one member of a team that has the most powerful role in a teams emotions the boss when i hear a group or an organisation that has really low morale one of the first questions asking is houses you're coming in in the morning you know is peter coming in excited enthusiastic energetic talking with people or is there
you're coming in looking like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders and really stressed people are always paying attention to leaders so they literally catch the leaders mood the goal is currently working on a number of training programmes to get leaders to regulate their feelings both internally and externally in ways that best help the group but the first step is we realizing that one's emotions can affect a team smooth and its performance knowledge is empowering things like you're doing now with this episode allow people to know that this exists and its empowering because there are things that you can do to try to not catch somebody else's emotions other empowering piece of this though is knowing that we can change each other's moods the good news is that seagulls work suggests that we can be the emotional change we want to see in the world i asked her if this it has made her hopeful if she thinks we
we can tackle all the negative office begins in our lives absolute the effective spiral can begin with us absolutely so what have we learned in this episode first we are affected by other peoples oceans way way more than we realise we unconscious and automatically catch the grief despair excitement rage joy sadness and serenity of all the individuals we encounter whether that person is whose friend at a party the guy behind us in line at a coffee shop some ranting idiot on rent it or even the voice of some long dead fifties man laughing hysterically on a bad sick my instinctively copying others behaviors we irresistible take on what they feel whether we like that feeling or not we also learned that we have more agency than we think can be more aware of how the people we interact with online are affecting us and mindful
of what we ourselves post we can have can all of whether we are the office making or that bert of calm in a tough moment or the laugh one really really means and tat listening to this podcast and following its advice won't you i'll your happiness in changes in your own life can be positive seed that transforms the well being of those around you so if you'd like to be a force for good to help make joy just a little bit more viral i hope return for the next episode of the happiness lab with me doctor lorry centres the happiness lab is color in and produced by ryan daily the show is mixed and mastered by evan vila edited by julia barton fact checking by joseph friedman
and our original music was composed five zachary sober special thanks to meal curly mccleery heather fain maggie taylor maya caning and jacob weisberger a happy lab is brought you buy pushkin industries and the doktor lorry centres a strange thing happened to me in the library while back i needed to pick up a few books this was before the quarantine a question was nagging me it had been nagging me for a long time who killed truth this truth problem it isn't just bad its deadly it's also way older than it might seem this mystery its historical jennifer and i'm a historian at harvard and staff failure at the new yorker has been a lot time trying to solve mysteries like this one
so anyway i was at the library at first everything seem normal hum swiped my card the elevator down to the basement report volumes of the shelves and then i saw it something i never seen before down here at the end of the rope hidden in the shadows green door was a sign on the door tarnished breastplate we barely make out the words it read the last archive everybody tv and radio confuse hello right right hello how are you no one's there
the voice from the past voices new we waited period prior woe heralded the discovery which assured and who want to ban time was granted in here he's lying before corona virus a congressional debate about the government's role in developing a vaccine is there any other term forward them as socialized medicine old horror movies therein here too punch cards from the forgotten history of the national data center network referred to as being that work is now and operate in wreckers records of bird songs considered america's foremost song bird is the hermit thrush all these voices from the past sound nobody is heard for decades
maybe somewhere in this vast last archive this corridor the mind find what looking for an answer that question killed truth i decided to start a podcast it's called the last archived hotel stories from hundred years a history of america arguments about truth and evidence if you wanted i found mimi back here i'll leave the door unlocked the last archived coming soon brought to you pushkin industries
Transcript generated on 2020-05-26.