No laughing matter: How the presence of laughing witnesses changes the perception of insults

Marte Otten*, Liesbeth Mann, Jos J. A. van Berkum, Kai J. Jonas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Insults always sting, but the context in which they are delivered can make the effects even worse. Here we test how the brain processes insults, and whether and how the neurocognitive processing of insults is changed by the presence of a laughing crowd. Event-related potentials showed that insults, compared to compliments, evoked an increase in N400 amplitude (indicating increased lexical-semantic processing) and LPP amplitude (indicating emotional processing) when presented in isolation. When insults were perceived in the presence of a laughing crowd, the difference in N400 amplitude disappeared, while the difference in LPP activation increased. These results show that even without laughter, verbal insults receive additional neural processing over compliments, both at the lexical-semantic and emotional level. The presence of a laughing crowd has a direct effect on the neurocognitive processing of insults, leading to stronger and more elongated emotional processing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)182-193
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Neuroscience
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Insults
  • laughter
  • EEG
  • ERP
  • LPP
  • N400

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