Germans may not be known for their sense of humor or their ability to laugh.
But scientists now say we should be able to find out what makes them laugh, simply by listening.
Researchers at Brunel University London played 121 clips of German laughter to an international group of participants.
They found that people around the world could tell whether laughter was caused by joy, tickling, or enjoyment of the suffering of others.
So can you figure out the emotions behind these laughs?
When we see or hear someone laugh, it gives us information about what kind of emotions they might be feeling and what kind of stimulus they might be responding to.
But while it may be easy to know why your friends laugh, the researchers wanted to test whether this was something that could cross cultural boundaries.
Dr Diana Szameitat, co-author of the paper published in Scientific Reports, told MailOnline: “Laughter is a non-verbal signal that we use for social interaction and emotional communication.
“However, it can also be used to exclude others from our peer group, for example when we laugh at others.”
In the study, 161 participants from the United Kingdom, Poland, India and Hong Kong were played 121 different clips of spontaneous laughter from a group of German speakers.
Laughter clips were classified according to three different sources: joy, schadenfreude (enjoying the pain of others), or being tickled.
Participants were then asked to try to guess what type of laughter each clip was.
To take the test yourself, listen to the three different clips in these videos.
If you correctly identified these clips, then you are not alone.
The researchers found that this emotional aspect of laughter is not culturally specific, meaning that anyone around the world can figure out why someone laughs.
In total, 97 percent of the participants guessed the type of laughter more easily.
Dr Szameitat said: “Interestingly, the laughter we used, which was produced by German students, was able to be discriminated by participants from all the cultures we examined.
“This suggests that the emotional meanings of laughter are communicated across cultures.”
The researchers say their results indicate that the emotional content of laughter is not culturally specific, meaning that laughter can cross borders and maintain its original meaning (file image).
However, they also found that listeners from countries closer to that of the laughing person tended to be more successful at identifying emotions.
Participants from Britain and Poland were the most successful, correctly guessing the type of laugh more than 50 percent of the time.
Dr Szameitat says this was “either because participants from the UK and Poland interact more often with Germans, or because British and Polish cultures are more similar to German culture.”
Participants from Hong Kong and India had the lowest overall recognition rate, but were still correct 43 percent and 48 percent of the time, respectively.
The researchers also found that some types of laughter were easier to recognize than others.
Joy was the most recognized type of laughter in all countries except Poland, where Schadenfreude was more recognized.
Dr Szameitat said: “It is surprising that even schadenfreude laughter is communicated across cultures, even though it is a type of laughter that only emerges later in life and could have been strongly influenced by cultural norms.”
Schadenfreude, laughing at another’s suffering, was easier to recognize than tickling. Researchers say this is unusual because tickling laughter arises first in children and is less influenced by culture (file image)
Meanwhile, tickling proved to be the most difficult type of laughter to recognize across cultures.
During testing, Hong Kong participants could only identify tickling laughter 40 percent of the time.
Dr. Szameitat says this is an unusual result since tickling is one of the first ways humans start to laugh.
She explained: ‘It’s one of the few signs we have in common with animals. Interestingly, tickling is one of the first triggers for laughter in human babies.
‘The baby’s first laugh is produced through physical play and rewards between caregiver and child and strengthens their bond.
“Later, at school age, laughter is not only positive, but it also begins to be used against other people, for example in bullying.”