The science of laughing – and why social media decays relationships

For the LOLs: texts aren’t enough to keep a relationship going, say scientists

Using Twitter or Facebook to keep in touch is fine – just don’t expect those relationships to last if that is the only contact you have.

So said scientists at the Royal Society’s annual Summer Science Exhibition, who chatted to visitors about the science of laughing, spotting a real laugh from a fake one, and how social media is changing the nature of our interactions.

Dr Anna Machin, one of the researchers manning the ‘LOL! The science and art of laughter’ exhibit, explained that relying on text-based social media such as Twitter to keep a relationship going is set to end in failure. This is because brain chemicals called endorphins, which are released through experiences such as laughter and pleasure, and which produce a feeling of well-being, occur more when you see someone face-to-face.

Communicating with someone over texts won’t produce the same effect, Dr Machin explained, and so people are less motivated to maintain those relationships. “If you rely more on Facebook, your relationships are more likely to decay,” the University of Oxford scientist said, referring to a study measuring the amount of positive reaction people experienced when communicating using various media, ranging from face-to-face to Skype and texting.

“If you rely on it, that relationship will break down”

The results showed that people experienced less positive reactions when there was less face-to-face contact. “The reason that laughter is good, and we feel better when you laugh, is because laughter releases endorphins, but you have to see someone physically, face-to-face or on Skype,” said Dr Machin.

“If you are texting, you are not going to find that interaction as enjoyable, and if you rely on it, that relationship will break down. It’s not going to work.”

Endorphins are addictive, she said, explaining: “We need to have them to make you stay in a relationship.

“Social media is great, because it allows people to maintain relationships over long distances, but if that’s the only way of keeping in touch with that person, that relationship will end.”

“Facebook is great, but don’t rely on it,” she added. “You are not getting that neurochemical hit, so you are not going to stay in that relationship.”

And to those people who claim they have 12,000 friends on Facebook, she says: “No you haven’t.”

This is an excerpt from a feature I wrote for Under the Scope. Click here to read the full piece.

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© Melanie Hall 2017