In our first episode of 15 Minutes With we’re talking to Research Psychologist from Tailify, Alan Gray. In the episode we talk through his research on laughter and self disclosure and their effect on behaviour as well as how it can be used to develop relationships and be used by influencers and those delivering a marketing message.

You can find out more about Alan and his research over at his website, Gray Area.

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Shelley  00:13

Is the simple act of laughing enough to win others over? Today, research psychologist Alan Gray is joining us on 15 minutes with. Alan’s research interests are in the unique fields of laughter and self disclosure and their effects on behaviour. As part of the research team at Tailify, Alan is involved in optimising influencer marketing strategies. And interestingly, some of the work Alan has published would show that the world of laughter and the world of business have quite a bit more overlap than you might expect. It would seem that the simple act of laughing is enough to win others over.  Hi, Alan, welcome to the podcast. Thanks so much for joining us.

Alan Gray  00:52

Hey, thanks for having me.

Shelley  00:53

How are you doing today?

Alan Gray  00:54

I’m good. Yeah, it’s a nice a nice day.

Shelley  00:56

So why laughter? Why did laughter appeal in terms of your research,

Alan Gray  01:01

So I guess I was interested first, and laughter the University of Oxford, and I guess it was just, if you watch people interact with one another for any period of time, you’ll find that they laugh a lot. And what they seem to laugh at is not necessarily jokes, they just seem to laugh because they’re around one another. And this was instantly interesting to me as a behaviour that is common and this frequent, you know, must serve a great purpose. And yet social psychologists barely investigated that felt like a field that was wide open.

Shelley  01:29

And so your research in this in this area of laughter? Was it really sort of, like you were talking about the social sciences in terms of behaviour based? Or did you dive deeper and look at what happened, cognitively. And what happens in the brain, when, when people laugh when they’re exposed to laughter?

Alan Gray  01:46

Well, there’s been a bit of an explosion of research into laughter at this point now, so they have produced various different neuro imaging studies of what happens in the brain when we laugh, and so on. But my interest was in the social psychology side, and it was trying to understand if laughter is so closely related to relationship development, might it be linked to other elements of relationship progression. So I was looking to see if it was associated with self disclosure, the amount of intimate information we reveal to another person. Social psychologists have found this to be strongly linked to liking and relationship development. So I assumed if, if this is integral for relationship, building and bonds, then it might be linked to laughter.

Shelley  02:28

Completely. It’s so so interesting. And so what did what did you find? What were your top key findings and your research?

Alan Gray  02:33

Yeah, so I kind of, I mean, discovery is that laughter. People tend to think of it as something very positive and uplifting, and everyone seeks out someone who’s a comedian, and so on, and their relationships and romance, but in my research suggests that it might well be something quite dark. So self disclosure is typically an exchange of information between two people, you know, I tell you something personal about me. And you return the favour by sending me personal about you, that’s slightly risky, because that whenever I tell you something about me, I’m making myself vulnerable, you could use that information against me, you could exploit me somehow. So if I could get out of this exchange, if I could bypass that deal, and make you tell me everything without having to tell you a thing at all, you know, I’d be one up. So my work looked into how laughter and the act of laughing might increase the likelihood that you will reveal things about yourself without really expecting that in return, and not really feeling like you had said that much. When it comes to how vulnerable you’d you’d spoken about.

Graham  03:32

It puts people at ease really quickly without realising that they’re in that situation. Yeah, that is interesting, because I’m just thinking about that myself now, actually. And you’ll I laugh at anything. I’m terrible. Like, I find everything funny. And actually, one of the things I was wondering is, you know, is there a noticeable difference between like, genuine laughter like big belly laughs, and like nervous laughter because I feel like sometimes a lot of what I do is nervous laughter because it’s, you know, it’s the polite thing to do, because society has kind of adapted towards, you should laugh at this point, because someone’s kind of said something funny.

Shelley  04:05

Filling the empty space, so yeah,

Graham  04:07

Yeah exactly. I’m not a fan of silence I don’t like it. If I could fill the silence with a laugh or giggle or something, I kind of do that. I guess. It must be somewhat critical to humans kind of forming bonds, right? That is, is that way it kind of doesn’t help speed the process along?

Alan Gray  04:27

And yes, there’s been quite a lot of research into genuine and and fake laughter. Then the literature the call duchenne laughter and non duchenne laughter, voluntary and involuntary laughs and there are different acoustic properties from those laughs. So, when we’re laughing involuntarily, we tend to have loud early bursts and we tend to have a repetitive cycle of laughs and that the go on for quite some time, much longer than a feigned laughter does. So there are acoustic differences here, but more interestingly, people can generally generally very easily detect the difference between fake and genuine laughter and in an fMRI scanner, we seem to process genuine and fake laughs differently to so when we hear a genuine laugh, we process that emotionally, emotional regions of the brain are active and make law and so on. When we hear a fake laugh, we might not necessarily know this, but we start trying to understand why that person laughed, we see it as a kind of problem. And the parts of the brain that are active are usually the frontal regions that are involved in problem solving. So it looks like we approach the sound of genuine fit laughter very differently.

Shelley  05:34

If we sort of extrapolate that idea, and what we’ve what you’ve just sort of discussed about bonding and the self disclosure element to it, how does that fit in to digital life?

Alan Gray  05:47

Well, you know, texting, lol, and hahaha, and so on, it’s not really going to get these effects because you know, doing that it’s not going to produce the physiological release of laughter. So I don’t expect that kind of laughter to be, in fact, we rarely laugh when we’re alone. So if you’re receiving a text message that, you know, is a joke, the likelihood that we’re laughter that if we’re just receiving that alone will be low. So I don’t really think that is so linked to this. But when it comes to the world of influencers, you know, we are in a relationship with them, essentially. And we’re watching them online, we’re sitting, sometimes we might even watch the video together, or we might see influencers that we truly identify with laughing on screen. And when we really identify with someone, if you say someone is hilarious, what you’re saying is, I like them, you’re not saying that they’re funny. That’s how we express liking by laughing.

Shelley  06:40

And so what you’re saying is actually in the world of influencer marketing, laughter is a crucial element to who you actually choose to follow and continue to follow.

Alan Gray  06:51

It’s a it’s a part of expressing your identifying with someone and liking that person. And it’s also because of the way that laughter affects us physiologically through endorphin release, it can kind of lull us into a sense of credulity. So we can be more inclined to believe what we’re being told is true and less inclined to question that we’re not in a defensive mode, when we laugh, we’re suddenly very relaxed, and we’re very accepting. So it can increase the likelihood that the promoters message is truly heard.

Shelley  07:21

Ah, so it’s a sales tool, in a sense, you can actually break down barriers, communicate to build an audience more easily communicate to that audience more easily, and actively open the lines to sales a bit more.

Alan Gray  07:34

Yeah, I think it will increase the likelihood that you’ll go ahead with the purchasing decision since the main reason and influence marketing. It’s not just like, it’s not just like a traditional billboard of grabbing people’s attention. It’s about gaining people’s trust, and having them identify with you. That is what drives the purchasing decision. So laughter if we know that it’s linked to self disclosure, we know that it’s linked to trust and relationship formation, it’s going to be a part of what drives the purchasing decision in influencer marketing.

Shelley  08:01

Definitely. So it’s part of that overall experience. And so if we tie that in with the self disclosure element of say, influencers, social influencers, who we’re trying to sell, represent something in particular, how does the self disclosure element tie in with the laughter side of things?

Alan Gray  08:23

So if we laugh, because we might be more likely, after laughing, we’re more likely to reveal information about ourselves? Well, we can imagine the following might be more likely to comment on the video. And comments have been shown to be associated with purchasing decisions, because we feel like we’ve invested somehow in this video with the influencers themselves, since we know that we tend to like those who disclose to us. If the influencers laughing and therefore are more likely to disclose, they’ll tell us more things about themselves. And we like people who reveal themselves to us. There are many reasons for this. One is that people who we’ve just encountered are somewhat threatening, we don’t know, we don’t know them, so we can’t predict them. We like people to be somewhat familiar, we’d like to know things about them, so we can understand them and judge their actions. So the more someone tells us about themselves, the easier they are to be around because we kind of have an implicit model of how they might behave. So self disclosure can help us like a person.

Shelley  09:21

Definitely. And I think, you know, when you look at sort of earlier influencers before it really blew up online and on social media, like Keeping Up With The Kardashians, you know, traditionally on television, you know, you can actually start to feel like, you know, these people, when actually, you know, is a very one directional relationship in that sense, but you’re right, when you look at sort of the comments of these kinds of influencers, the people that follow them, follow them actually feel like they’re part of their lives to a degree. And I mean, how that feeds into the whole sales model, I guess at the end is imagine the insights that these that these influencers have on their own following, they must know so much about them because they are themselves self disclosing so much so much of their own lives and their own likes and dislikes. And I just find it super interesting.

Alan Gray  10:13

Also, you know, one of the reasons why we choose not to stop disclosures because of cultural norms around disclosure. So men and women disclose differently because stereotypes around, you know, women are expected to disclose more and sooner relationship than men. That’s a stereotype. But it’s one of the kind of rules that people follow. In the influencer world, there seems to be a new norm emerging of excessive disclosure. Disclosure is a thing that people do a lot. And it’s more acceptable for an influencer to reveal very intimate things very quickly than what it is, you know, anyone else in day to day life. So it seems to be a new culture emerging in influencer marketing that promotes this.

Shelley  10:58

And you think that is to build, you know, such a tight relationship with the following with their followers, because obviously, they don’t know them in person. So you have to feel connected in another way. And it has to you have to to build that level of intimate intimacy, I guess. And that’s, that’s a good way to, instead of a one to one relationship, have the same thing or the same depth, but on a one to many basis.

Alan Gray 11:21

Yeah, I think it’s speeding up the process of relationship development, there’s always the risk with self disclosure, that you might disclose what was taken to be too much too soon, and therefore come across as maladjusted and somewhere and therefore less likeable. So you’ve got to kind of judge what is the what is the appropriate amount of disclosure in this particular moment in this particular context. And changing those norms in the way that influencers have done might be a way of bypassing that and increasing the likelihood that they can reveal a lot more intimate information a lot sooner in the relationship.

Graham  11:50

And presumably, from a brand’s point of view, they have to do a whole level of research, right to be able to make sure that because it might seem like the easiest thing to do is go for the influencer that has the most perceived power, either through the largest following or, you know, through their ability to attract numbers of people, if they’re not brand aligned in terms of sentiment, or you know, they live to the same values, I guess potentially there’s a detrimental effect that the brand can have on itself without even realising it’s doing that.

Alan Gray  12:19

A lot of people when they’re trying to understand what makes a good influencer, have looked to the available metrics of, you know, the number of likes you’ve got, how many followers you have, what’s your audience size, and, you know, what’s your Google search optimization and so on. But we’re starting to discover that those things aren’t necessarily good at predicting your return on investment for the brand. And what Tailify are doing now is to venture into psychometrics to try and understand if the various psychological predictors of relationship development can shed some light into why some influencers perform better than others. Self disclosure is one of them, laughter is another.

Graham  12:54

Can a brand build the same level of trust with an individual as an as an individual can I guess, is that why influencers are as important as they are to this process? Because a brand just can’t do the same thing?

Alan Gray  13:07

Yeah, I think the real breakthrough with influencer marketing is an influencer can stand in for a brand, they can embody a brand and make that brand, truly a human being, in a way.

Shelley  13:18

In your role at Tailify and with respect to influencer marketing, which is the space that you operate in, do you have from what we’ve just talked about everything from, you know, the laughter piece, the self disclosure piece, any tips for people listening that is relevant to them, whether it’s selecting an influencer, or whether it’s being an influencer, or even deciding whether they go down that route, anything that you think could be helpful for people to know or to be able to apply? Or insights that could be actionable, I guess.

Alan Gray  13:54

So I think a lot of the time, when people are selecting influences, they tend to shy away from having the influencer use comedy when discussing the product or the brand, they’re totally fine with the influencer joking about everything else. But when it comes to the product, the brand, you know, just deliver the lines and the influencers themselves, are also quite nervous about this. They want to be paid and they want to do the job that they’ve been assigned. I would advise the brand, permit that more and give them permission to joke even when discussing the brand or the product, because we know that humour draws our attention. And we remember that kind of content more. So if we have a bias and memory and an attention for humorous content. And then the brand and product comes along and it’s stone cold and bland. What are we going to remember, what are we going to pay attention to? It’s exactly it’s also going to defeat the purpose for the influencer because they want to come across as authentic and sincere. And if all of a sudden the moment they start talking about the product, they lose all of that that isn’t going to do them any favours and their followers will fall over.

Shelley  14:55

And I think we’ve all been familiar in seeing those those exact kind of messages. The sponsored content and it stands out like a sore thumb. And you’re right, it comes down to I guess, brands being so particular over what they want that message to be because they’ve paid for that slot, so they want to make the most of it, that actually they’ve completely micromanage the process and defeated the whole point of tapping into this audience that really, really trust this influencer. And so I think that’s really interesting. Thank you for that insight. If people have brands can actually take that on board and go, if we’re, if we’re working alongside this influencer, to deliver a message, let’s relax a little bit and see what their take on it is, and how they can deliver that message to the audience in a way that the audience is already comfortable and familiar with.

Alan Gray  15:39

And I think I would also recommend that the influencers themselves try to collaborate a little bit more on their videos, try to get their friends and family and you know, interact with other influencers. Because we know that when you’re in company, you’ll probably laugh more, you’ll probably feel more relaxed, you’ll do all the things naturally, that we know are good indicators of success, and people will like you for it.

Graham  16:03

Thank you for your time. You know, it’s been super, super interesting. And I’m sure we will definitely be having you back. Because there’s bound to be a whole bunch of questions that come from people who listened to this. And as much as Shelley and I can attempt to answer them, we’re by no means the experts. So probably best send the questions back to Alan and he can come back on and answer them for us, which would be awesome.

Shelley  16:25

Alan, thank you so so much for your time. It was so interesting to speak with you. And like Graham said I know that there are going to be so many questions off the back of this that I’m sure we will have you again soon just to to be able to dive even deeper into this whole conversation.

Alan Gray  16:40

Thanks a lot. I’m really glad that you guys had me on it was great.

Shelley  16:43

That was Alan Gray research psychologist with Tailify explaining how laughter and self disclosure impact relationship building within both in person and digital exchanges. If you want to find out more you can contact Alan at Tailify to find out how this evolution in behavioural science is being applied to digital experiences and strategy. Thank you, Alan, we cannot wait until our next chat and to everybody listening, see you next time.