Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Potential connection between Autism and gelotophobia -- the fear of being laughed at

Andrea C. Samson, Oswald Huber and Willibald Ruch in the April 2011 issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that 45% of their subjects with Asperger's Syndrome had gelotophobia-- the fear of being laughed at-- as opposed to just 6% of the control group. This is an extraordinarily high percentage and may be an anomaly; the authors are attempting to replicate their findings.

However, presuming it is even half that number, it is worth an examination of the link between Autism and gelotophobia. Before an further comments let me state that it is clear most of us do not like to be laughed at derisively or in a humiliating situation regardless of ASD or NT classification. Gelotophobia is a more extreme reaction to laughter that interferes with the daily activities of the individual including limiting actions, intruding upon thoughts and physiological responses like tension, headaches and sleep disturbances.

The study also found that the AS group had less capability to laugh at themselves and an increase in the ability to laugh derisively at others, a.k.a. katagelasticism, which runs contrary to earlier studies without ASD/NT differentiation showing a link between laughing at yourself and at others.

It would be very premature to speculate if there is a causal relationship (e.g. Autism leads to gelotophobia) so preventative actions are not easy to suggest. In the The Mirror of Laughter p.77, Alexander Kozintsev discusses the processing of humor in the brain in depth including a mention of several studies showing the perception of humor being processed in the emotional centers of the amygdala, a familiar area of study for the Autism spectrum.

So we must turn our attention to aftercare. The Gelotophobia Assessment and Research Association offers several links to online assessments at that can help indicate the level of gelotophobia you may or may not posses. While not the same as a trained professional it is a good starting point to see how aggressively you would want to combat the phobia. Due to  the complex nature and lack of understanding on causality it may be that a symptom by symptom approach would work best such as addressing social anxiety through medication, therapy and social exercises or body awareness work for the Pinocchio syndrome (Ruch, 2009).


Kosinzstev, A. Trans: Martin, R. The Mirror of Laughter. Published June 2011.

Ruch, W. Fearing humor? Gelotophobia: The fear of being laughed at Introduction and overview. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research; 2009, Vol. 22 Issue 1-2, p1-25

Samson, A., Huber, O. and Ruch, W. Teasing, Ridiculing and the Relation to the Fear of Being Laughed at in Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, April 2011, pp 475 - 483

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