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Audience photographed with Infrared light

Audience photographed with Infrared light

1949: A UCLA photo taken with infrared light show various audience reactions to a comedy film.

This photo accompanied an article in the Aug. 7, 1949, Los Angeles Times reporting on the humor study:

Morticians laugh more than teenagers, it has been proved by Dr. Franklin Fearing and Nicholas Rose, University of California at Los Angeles psychologists.

When a motion-picture villain’s face is smeared with pie, one man laughs while his companion looks ready to burst into tears.

Why are individual reactions to humor so great?

To supply the answer, the scientists took 50 pictures of a hand-picked audience at a private showing of a motion-picture comedy.

The audience consisted of 125 business and professional persons, housewives, laborers and teenagers. Each was assigned a numbered seat and asked to fill out a questionnaire about his background.

The photographs were taken while the unwary audience sat in total darkness, the exposures being made with subdued infrared light. The films were then processed by a new technique which, developed at UCLA, promised to expand the uses of infrared photography.

An initial study of facial expressions revealed wide variations in reaction to different humor situations. Those among the group who laughed longest and loudest were the undertakers and riveters.

Dr. Fearing, to his surprise, discovered that teenagers and persons over 40 laughed less than those in the 20-40 year-age class.

The psychologists are making follow-up special interview studies of the small number of persons who exhibited little or no emotions in any of the 50 photographs. It is hoped to determine whether this minority habitually controls emotions while “laughing inside,” or actually has a less than average intense emotional reaction….

scott.harrison@latimes.com

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2 Comments

  1. November 26, 2013, 3:38 pm

    Fascinating photo raises some questions:

    1. What possible generalizations can be drawn from individual reactions to comedy? Humor is a developmental trait. Different age groups laugh at different humor. For example, it took me years to appreciate British humor and many New Yorker cartoons. By the same token, I might not respond at all to humor teens consider hilarious. As to occupations, they may reflect particular mindsets that respond similarly to humor. Or not. Were there enough undertakers to generalize?
    2. Collective laughter is different than solo laughter. Laughter is contagious. The purpose of laugh tracks it to make home audiences part of the live audience laughter. Also, people who attend shows together do so because they respond the same way, thus enhancing their personal entertainment.
    3. Just one audience? There are types of humor and different responses to them. Thus, a scientific study should be of different audiences responding to a variety of comedy genres — film, live standup, dramatic, slapstick, urbane, domestic, college, foreign, etc. — match the responses to the profiles, collate them, then see what you get.

    By: lbjack
  2. November 26, 2013, 5:24 pm

    OK did anyone else notice the lady in the bottom left with what appears to be sunglasses on?

    By: Sparthir

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