Cognitive and Emotional Contents of Laughter: Framing a New Neurocomputational Approach

Cognitive and Emotional Contents of Laughter: Framing a New Neurocomputational Approach

R. del Moral, J. Navarro, R. Lahoz-Beltra, M.G. Bedia M.G., F.J. Serón F.J., P.C. Marijuán
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 24
DOI: 10.4018/ijse.2014070104
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Laughter, one of the most intriguing reactions of individuals, is an important emotional component of intelligence's adaptive processes. Laughter spontaneously appears as an instinctive “gut” reaction; but it is also a cognitive phenomenon (humour), it is social, it has positive-negative valence, and it may wrap itself onto other emotional contents. Laughter becomes one of the most interesting instances to discuss the common information processing that underlies emotions and intelligence. In this article a new core hypothesis on the neurodynamics of laughter and its behavioural repercussions is discussed. The “sentic forms” hypothesis developed by Manfred Clynes for sensory-motor tactile communication is generalized neurodynamically in order to understand the problem-solving characteristics of laughter and the unusual sound features that it presents in our species. Laughter, far from being a curious evolutionary relic or a trivial innate behaviour, should be considered as a highly efficient tool for cognitive-emotional-social problem solving. Explaining laughter becomes a first-class neurodynamic and neurocomputational challenge.
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1. Introduction: The Need Of New Synthetic Views

The authors feel that Turing’s view on intelligence as an emotional rather than a mathematical concept needs a muldisciplinary unpacking. That would be a vast project beyond the scope of the current article; instead the authors focus on one element of emotion which does not factor very often in the attribution of intelligence: laughter. Many ideas on laughter research have been produced during the last two decades (Provine, 2000, 2012). A number of specialized achievements have taken place in fields such as neuroimaging, neurophysiology, sound analysis, physiology (respiratory & phonatory), ethology, and the evolutionary, social, and health aspects related to laughter. Sexual aspects would be involved too: Greengross and Miller contend that “sexual selection offers one possible explanation for the origins of humour” (2011). At the same time, in computational and artificial intelligence fields, a number of theoretical and applied works have been dealing with affective computing, synthetic emotions, semantic analysis, and recognition of linguistic and facial expressions (Picard, 1997; Calvo & D’Mello, 2010). However, the conceptual counterpart of putting together the most relevant strands of thought in both realms in order to gain more advanced synthetic views, or even to establish a new core cognitive, emotional, or neurocomputational approach on laughter has not been developed sufficiently (Hurley, Dennett, and Adams, 2011). This article will try to advance in that direction—it continues, and develops by means of ad hoc experimental work, a previous theoretical approach by some of the authors (Marijuán & Navarro, 2011).

As a preliminary step to study the enigmatic trait of laughter, let us acknowledge the singularities of this innate behaviour. On the one side it is an instinctive “gut” reaction, evolutionarily related to the Anthropoid play signal (Provine, 2000); but it is also a cognitive phenomenon related to high level processing of linguistic items (humour), it is a social signal as well (it is always consciously or unconsciously addressed to other parties), it has positive-negative valence, and it may be wrapping other emotional contents present in the relational episode (herein the most general classes of emotional-laden laughs will be discussed). Actually, laughter becomes one of the most interesting instances to discuss the common information processing that underlies intelligence and emotions. Adaptability to the environment becomes the key unifying dynamics: brain processing has to instantiate individual fitness in an open-ended environment on an almost instantaneous basis. Thus, in the crucial evolutionary scenario of humans fitness, the social group, laughter plays a highly strategic role linking intelligence and emotions for the solution of highly complex group problems often related to really fast verbal utterances—to which laughter provides an automatic collective solution loaded with intellective, emotional, and neuromolecular adaptive tricks. But it should not be contemplated restricted only to the cognitive humorous dimension. For instance, can a computer “laugh”? According to Hurley et al., (2011) the response would be positive, as they see laughter and humour as a way of debugging inconsistent information in the cortical databases. However, would such implementation be meaningful? See also Shah, Warwick and Carpenter (2008): “Can a Machine Tell a Joke?” The preliminary explorations by the present authors suggest that the formal properties of laughter reflect a deep layer of cognitive and emotional intelligence, from the neurodynamic to the neuromolecular, addressed to the systematic adaptation to the social environment, particularly to automatic problem solving and to the creation and maintenance of the neural “engrams” subtending social bonds: The bonds of laughter (Marijuán & Navarro, 2011).

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