Episode available within Canada only.

“Ha ha,” “hee hee,” “boo hoo,” “waaa, waaa”….

The unmistakable sounds of laughing and crying are recognizable all over the world. They’re pillars of human communication and the soundtrack to our lives’ most memorable moments: births, first words, first loves and final losses.

Yet some researchers say that when it comes to studying human behaviour, there’s nothing as poorly understood as laughs and tears.

Why did we develop these unusual vocal communication techniques? How uniquely human are these sounds?

In Laughing and Crying, we meet neuroscientists, psychology researchers and evolutionary biologists who are exploring every scientific angle of these bizarre and beautiful emotional behaviours.

In London, cognitive neuroscientist and amateur stand-up comedian Sophie Scott puts her ideas about laughing to the test. Taking to the stage, Scott reveals how laughter can hijack the human body.

In Baltimore, Robert Provine, the esteemed “dean” of laughter research at The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, introduces us to “sidewalk neuroscience” — studying laughter in the wild. By observing students on campus, Provine discovered that the vast majority of laughing we do is social and not in response to jokes. (We also laugh up to 30 times more in social situations than we do when we’re alone.)

At England’s Royal Holloway University, Carolyn McGettigan — an expert in human vocal communication — delves into the way our ears and brains perceive spontaneous and social laughter differently. McGettigan also takes us on a delightful detour to a school to watch a class of youngsters play “laughter scientists” for the morning.

We meet Marina Davila-Ross, an evolutionary biology researcher at the University of Portsmouth. Davila-Ross’s research, which included tickling gorillas, shows that the roots of laughter can be traced back approximately 13 million years to our shared primate ancestors.

In Vermont, Gina Mireault takes another unique approach to studying laughter, running a very exclusive comedy club … just for infants! Working with her research assistant, Mireault investigates babies’ senses of humour. She believes when a baby laughs and what a baby laughs at can give us tantalizing insight into how developed their brains are.

Toronto-based David Haley studies the other end of the spectrum: infant crying. He suspects that babies’ cries are about much more than immediate concerns like feeding and changing. Infants may actually be using their tears to turn mom and dad into super-parents, caregivers who are ready to juggle multiple tasks while responding with empathy.

4 giant myths about laughing and crying
7 surprising facts about laughing and crying
Laughing and crying is the soundtrack to our lives

In the Canadian prairies, evolutionary biologist Susan Lingle is fascinated with infant cries of all kinds, including those of baby seals, mule deer and human newborns. Her provocative theory suggests mammal mothers are hardwired to respond to the infant distress calls of a wide variety of species — even those separated by tens of millions of years of evolution.

Finally, back in Portsmouth, Marc Baker focuses his research on “super-criers,” people who can experience intense bouts of weeping. Baker’s aim is to investigate the true power of tears: like laughter, can a good cry really make someone feel better?




Credits (Click to expand)

Directed by
Mike Downie

Written & Produced by
Mike Downie
David Wells

Edited by
Tony Coleman

Director of Photography
Michael Grippo csc

Animation by
ThinkLink Graphics

Original Music Composed by
Jamie Shields
Adam White

Production Manager
Diana Warmé

Local Producer (London)
Brittany-Reneé Quinn

Researcher & Production Coordinator
David Wells

Additional Camera
Nigel Kinnings
Nathan Skillen
Jamie Napier

Sound Recordists
David Daoud
Mike Josselyn
Brian Maier
Sanjay Mehta
Andy Paddon
Aaron Webster
Adam White

Visual Research & Clearances
Gina Cali

Laurel Toews
Christine Yoon

Production Assistant
Roman Komarov

Hair & Make Up
Jena Jacquot

Post Production Supervisor
Christopher McEnroe

Post Producer Coordinator
David Wells

Online Editor
Colin Campbell

Ian Maxwell

Ike Murphy

Re-Recording Mixer
Stephen Traub

Dialogue Editor
Jeremy Laing
Luka Toma

SFX Editor
Joseph Facciulo

Cheryl Grossman

Accounting Services
Jeff Kulbak, Franklin & Daurio

Jeremy Katz

Ryan Dias
Kim Findlay
Pam Leeuwestein

Stock & Archival Material
Marina Davila-Ross
Susan Lingle
Skype Laughter Chain (2008)
The Fault in Our Stars (2014)
starring Shailene Woodley, 20th Century Fox
The Armstrong Williams Show, America’s Voice
C-Span / National Cable Satellite Corporation
Getty Images / BBC Motion Gallery
Getty Images
Lion Mountain Media
Vimeo, Inc.
Wave Break Media
United Nations
The views in the film are not those of the United Nations

Thank You
TASIS The American School in England
Festival of the Spoken Nerd
Backyard Comedy Club
Isabelle Charrier
Kelsey Saboraki
Cora Romanow
Shawn Old Shoes
McIntyre Ranching Company, Ltd
Elizabeth Lyon
Melissa Kempton
Erika English
Jennifer Alberts
Julie Ryley
Troy Dare
Laura Reino
Elisabeth Patrick
Michelle Hayes
Sabrina Handa
Katelin Chipura
Brady Rainville
Kassandra Cousineau
Ad Vingerhoets
Dr. Jochen Hinkelbein
Lars von Lennep
The Spice Island Inn, Portsmouth UK

Produced with the participation of

Rogers Telefund

The Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit

Ontario Film and Television Tax Credits


Produced by
2480331 Ontario Ltd. 
Copyright 2019 - 2480331 Ontario Ltd.

For the CBC
General Manager, Programming
Sally Catto

Executive Director, Unscripted Content
Jennifer Dettman

Senior Director, Documentary
Sandra Kleinfeld

Senior Director of Production, Unscripted Content
Alexandra Lane

Executive in Charge of Production
Sue Dando

The Nature of Things with David Suzuki
Produced by
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

“produced in association with” animation Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

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