The Social Laugh
I was at the National Conference last year – an event filled with 500+ investors, center managers, marketing managers, DOSes, HR managers and many more successful EFers. There were some incredibly dull presentations (seriously put a notable Senior DOS to sleep immediately), and there were some presentations that inspired awe. The majority of presenters who came from teaching background used a lot of humour intermittent throughout their presentations and this got me thinking about teachers using humour in the classroom.
Being able to use humour in the classroom is a gift. For example when learners reach the saturation point the teacher can immediately bring them back from the brink of day-dreaming with a well-timed quip. Lessons become more enjoyable, we have fun with our learners, and time flies when you are having fun.
Then I noticed something strange, whenever a joke, quip, or hilarious moment occurred the laughing audience took their eyes off the presenters, the audience members looked around at fellow audience members. Their movements while laughing changed from attentive listening to active searching. Their heads turned, eyes exploring their surroundings looking for another set of eyes to lock on to – and they did. It was at this point I became very curious – what behaviour was being displayed during the laugh? What purpose was behind the eye lock? What was the benefit of such an action?
Over the course of the next hour I carefully observed the behaviour patterns of my fellow audience members. I noticed three patterns:
- When eye contact is made, the laugh of both people intensifies
- When eye contact is not made, the shoulders drop and the laugh subsides
- When eye contact is made with someone not laughing, the second person will begin to laugh
Long story short: Laughing is a social construct with evolutionary benefits or an evolutionary construct with social benefits. Assuming social behaviour is a product of our evolutionary path – Creationists look away now!
Human beings have an innate need for social connections, expression of acceptance through eye contact and body language. Shared laughter is the easiest and most expressive way for us to feel accepted. We share jokes and funny anecdotes not for the information contained within, but to share a moment of social acceptance with another. We make fun of a blunder we made earlier in the day, an awkward moment that left us feeling stupefied. We actively seek out these social acceptances in everyday life. The idea that ‘I screwed up, but I still am part of the group’. Even the quietest among us desires acceptance into the group.
During the conference I noticed when we laugh out loud and seek out eye contact, we are attempting to reduce our vulnerable feelings of being alone. Communication that we are part of the same group – an acceptance that we are adequate, we meet the standard of the group. A common ground that connects us and our collective safety.
What about your students? Since garnering this little bit of information I have begun to use eye contact during laughter in my lessons to great success. We are pre-programmed to seek eye contact with those we are most comfortable with, possibly being the ones with which we have the best relationships. I would bet that when laughter occurs in your lessons you make eye contact with the best learner, the cutest, your favourite student. I decided to turn this around. Any time laughter occurs in the class, attempt eye contact with the quietest student, or the one that needs the most encouragement, the one that does not yet belong to the group.
My findings: I have been able to get quiet or unconfident learners to speak up, become part of the group and initiate cooperation much faster than I have before. Previously I needed months to build confidence in the most nervous or unwilling learners, but now I have got them included in the group within very short periods.
Try it in your class, next time laughter occurs make eye contact with the one you want to encourage. Bring them into the group and let them know they are accepted for who they are. Make a new friend with laughter.