Having Fun with Greta!

Posted on Tue 30 Apr 2013by by Jennifer Hofmann

The department of Personality and Assessment at the University of Zurich has a new team member! “Greta” has moved in, to be the protagonist of the first large-scale psychological experiment on laughing virtual agents! We plan many new and interesting studies for her in the coming years. We have, however, put her to work already...

This first study, which is an extension of the Laugh Machine prototype of eNTERFACE’12, aims to evaluate the effects of a laughing (virtual) companion on a person’s humor experience.

Many studies within humor research have shown that increases in a companions' laughter increased the displayed laughter, smiling, and ratings of funniness in those who participated in humor studies. Therefore, this study aimed to investigate whether a virtual agent could influence a participant’s feelings and behaviors in a similar way. If so, human-machine interactions in virtual environments could be improved by facilitating positive affect (i.e., amusement) through an adequately laughing agent.

So far we have had 80 participants participating in the experiment. They watched eight funny movies either alone (n = 20), with the agent on a screen laughing at pre-determined fixed time points (theoretically and empirically derived punch lines within the movies, n = 20), or the agent expressing amusement verbally at fixed time points (e.g., “that’s funny”, n = 20), or the agent exhibiting laughter in response to fixed time points, as well as mimicking the participant’s laughter (n = 20). The mimicry of the agent was triggered by the analysis of the participant’s laughter-related vocalizations and the agent, in turn, displayed a similarly intense laughter.

When the participant’s came into the lab, we assessed their humor related personality traits (i.e., gelotophobia, gelotophilia, katagelasticism, trait cheerfulness, seriousness, and bad mood), their mood pre and post the film watching, as well as smiling and laughter were assessed.


We are now ready to analyze the different sources of data to see whether Greta increases the humor experience of the participants.

Jennifer Hofmann