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A Conversation Analytic Study of Laughter in Psychotherapy

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posted on 2021-11-13, 12:20 authored by Pomeroy, Lani

This thesis is an investigation into laughter in psychotherapeutic interactions. Conversation analysis was the method used to analyse laughter practices by client and therapist that aid in the business of psychotherapy. Analysing naturally occurring talk is important as it reveals how actions are accomplished, as some past studies on laughter in psychotherapy rely on anecdotal evidence and categorical analysis. Additionally, past psychological literature on laughter can view the phenomenon of laughter as random, and as a by-product of humour. An assumption of conversation analysis is the view of talk being systematic and organised. There is no detail too small that it does not contribute to an interaction (Jefferson, 1985). With this viewpoint in mind conversation analysts have revealed laughter to be an orderly phenomenon that is capable of other actions in talk besides appreciating humour. However, there is a lack of conversation analytical work in laughter during therapy; a gap this thesis sought to address. In particular there were two research questions. If laughter does not have the sole role of appreciating humour, what can it do in psychotherapy? Additionally, past studies in psychotherapy have linked laughter to affiliation in therapy sessions, but do not illustrate the specific sequence of how rapport is achieved in the interaction itself. Psychotherapy can be known as the „talking cure‟ (Perakyla, Antaki, Vehvilainen, & Leudar, 2008), thus, the second question is how does laughter display affiliation in therapeutic talk? Using the fundamental literature of conversation analysis there were two findings regarding laughter in psychotherapy found in this thesis. Firstly, clients would laugh responsively to an action of therapeutic import, the laughter functioned as a marker of dis-preference and an invitation for the therapist to laugh. The therapist would dis-attend the client‟s laughter in order to prompt talk which progressed the therapy from the client. Secondly, therapist could affiliate with the client by display a shared stance towards a matter spoken of by the client. During or after these displays the therapist invited laughter from the client so that the two could laugh together in a further display of shared emotional alignment. These results expanded conversation analytical work on laughter regarding laughter invitations (Jefferson, 1979) and work on psychotherapeutic interactions regarding the prompting of talk (Muntigl, & Hadic Zabala, 2008). The findings also provide empirical evidence for how therapists affiliate with their clients using laughter at the micro-analytical level. The findings of this thesis contribute to psychological, conversation analytical, and psychotherapeutic knowledge on laughter.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Science

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970117 Expanding Knowledge in Psychology and the Cognitive sciences

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Psychology


Weatherall, Ann