Science Project:

Are We Susceptible to Suggestions of Humor and Sorrow?

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Research Questions:

  • Do test subjects who watch the DVD clip with your volunteer’s laughing find the clip funnier than test subjects who don’t experience your volunteer’s laughing?
  • Do test subjects who watch the DVD clip with your volunteer’s distress find the clip sadder than test subjects who don’t experience your volunteer’s distress?
  • Is there a difference in the overall susceptibility of people to humor vs sadness?

Laugh tracks have been a feature of sitcoms since the advent of television, but what about cry tracks? The entertainment industry has convinced us that people are susceptible to the suggestion of humor, but are they susceptible to suggestions of other emotions as well?

Materials:

  • DVD player
  • 2 DVDs depicting emotionally neutral situations
  • A volunteer who is a good actor/actress
  • 30 or more test subjects

Experimental Procedure

  1. Do not reveal to your test subjects the true nature of your experiment. Instead tell them that you are running focus groups on TV clips.
  2. Have your test subject and your volunteer sit together watching the DVDs.
  3. For the humor test, your volunteer should periodically laugh at something happening on screen. Note whether your volunteer’s laughing seems to evoke similar expressions of amusement in your test subject.
  4. After viewing the “humor” clip, have your test subject rate it on a scale of funniness from one to ten.
  5. For the sorrow test, have your volunteer become visibly and audibly upset at situations on screen. Note whether your volunteer’s distress seems to evoke similar expressions of grief in your test subject.
  6. After viewing the “sorrow” clip, have your test subject rate it on a scale of sadness from one to ten.
  7. As a control, you should also test at least ten subjects without having your volunteer express any reactions at all, noting test subjects’ reactions and having them rate the shows.
  8. Analyze your results. Did test subjects who watched the DVDs with your volunteer’s laughing find the clips funnier than test subjects who didn’t experience your volunteer’s laughing? Did test subjects who watched the DVDs with your volunteer’s distress find the clips sadder than test subjects who didn’t experience your volunteer’s distress? Was there a difference in the overall susceptibility of people to humor vs sadness?

Terms/Concepts: suggestion, susceptible, humor, sorrow

Author: Shelly Smith
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