The Price is Right audience at Central Studios, Nottingham, UK, 1989

Many television shows and films include laugh tracks, which could help to make pitiful jokes seem riotously funny. Credit: Telepix/Alamy

Human behaviour

To make a flat joke funnier, cue the laugh track

Canned laughter helps people see the humour in bad jokes.

What do you call a sleeping dinosaur? A dino‐SNORE.

That is not a funny joke. But you might have found it funnier if you heard laughter after listening to it.

‘Laugh tracks’ are commonly used in filmed comedy to signal that something is intended to be funny. But whether the sound of laughter affects the perceived humour of a joke has been unclear.

Sophie Scott at University College London and her colleagues paired 40 groan-worthy jokes recorded by a comedian with soundtracks of either canned or spontaneous laughter, or with no laughter. Study participants consistently rated a joke paired with laughter as funnier than the same joke without it; spontaneous laughter boosted a joke’s funniness more than canned laughter. The laugh-track effect held true for participants with autism spectrum disorder as well as for those without it.

The effect was statistically significant, but slight. Still, the researchers suggest that humans implicitly process laughter and that it influences our judgements. The study also hints that humour and comedy are more accessible to people with autism than researchers previously thought.