A new study offers evidence that sensitivity to laughter can thwart a person’s success in romantic relationships and is linked to insecure attachment. The findings were published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
Gelotophobia is a social phobia characterized by an excessive fear of being laughed at. People with these tendencies are oversensitive to laughter and often misconstrue passing sounds of laughter as ridicule directed at themselves. As might be expected, gelotophobia has been linked to difficulty within romantic relationships.
Study authors Kay Brauer and René T. Proyer aimed to add to the current understanding of how and why this fear of laughter leads to lower relationship satisfaction. “An explanation that has been put forward is that gelotophobes misinterpret potential partners’ expressions of positive emotions (e.g., smiling and laughter on the first date) and then lose interest, because they feel ridiculed,” the researchers say. Yet, despite this roadblock, people with gelotophobia do desire long-term romance.
Preliminary studies have suggested that gelotophobia impedes romantic success through its relation to anxious attachment — an attachment style characterized by worries surrounding the relationship. Brauer and Proyer wanted to extend this research by replicating these findings among a larger sample.
A total of 531 adults between the ages of 18 and 80 completed a survey that included assessments of gelotophobia as well as measures of anxious attachment and avoidant attachment in close relationships.
When the researchers analyzed the data, it was clear that the fear of being laughed at was linked to a reduced chance of having been in a relationship. The researchers further found evidence that gelotophobia is linked to a person’s attachment style — and specifically, insecure attachment. The fear of being laughed at was linked to both anxious and avoidant attachment styles.
However, only anxiety mediated the link between gelotophobia and the likelihood of having been in a relationship, suggesting that anxious attachment may partially explain why those who fear being laughed at have lower relationship success. Even though singles with gelotophobia desire romance, like those with anxious attachment, their plans are likely thwarted by a hypersensitivity to rejection. Specifically, their fears may lead them to misinterpret a potential partner’s laughter as malicious instead of friendly.
Although the study involved a larger sample than seen in previous research, it was limited in that it only examined romantic attachment and not attachment styles across different relationships. The researchers suggest that future studies should additionally consider attachment toward peers and family members and examine the interplay between gelotophobia and attachment over time.
The findings suggest that interventions targeting anxious attachment in those with a fear of being laughed at may help improve their satisfaction in romantic relationships.
The study, “Gelotophobia in romantic life: Replicating associations with attachment styles and their mediating role for relationship status”, was authored by Kay Brauer and René T. Proyer.