Our recent post, Laughing Matter: Priming and Mirroring, cited new research showing that hearing the sound of laughter produced a response in subject’s brain in the premotor cortical region, triggering an unconscious smile and apparently preparing the subject to laugh.

This work almost certainly provides the neuroscience backup that explains why television comedies have resorted to laugh tracks and live audiences to make their shows seem more entertaining. It also explains why standup comedians need to “get an audience going”, and why live audiences for television shows usually see a “warmup” comic before taping actually starts. In every case, the sound of others laughing (even if that sound is taped) prepares the individual to laugh himself.

There’s a metaphor for marketers here: entertainers adopted these techniques long before fMRI scans existed, based on many years of experience. To some degree, that will be one of the major impacts of neuromarketing research: providing the theoretical and scientific foundation for techniques that have already been shown to work. Alarmists who expect neuroscience to help marketers develop “super-ads” that manipulate consumers into purchasing things they don’t need overlook the fact that marketers have been experimenting with ad content and techniques for a century. Some of their output may have included a few “super-ads,” but these had nothing to do with neuroscience. A more likely benefit from using neuroscience in marketing is to weed out unproductive ads earlier in the process, ultimately making marketing expenditures more productive.

So, we may not have advanced the state of the art in marketing much today, but at least we’ve explained one aspect of comedy. Next time you sit down to watch a Seinfeld rerun, or are sitting in your local comedy club, pay attention and see if you can detect your progression into laughing. Of course, focusing on your premotor cortical region may take some of the humor out of the situation… :)

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