LOL, Haha or Hehe? Online Laughter Differs by Age, Gender

Laughing Face Emoji
(Image credit: Yayayoyo |

Are you an "LOL"-er or a "haha"-er? Or maybe you're the king of "hehe's" or the queen of smiley-face emoji. A new Facebook study shows that your way of expressing laughter on social media may have to do with a few seemingly unrelated factors. 

A team of analysts at Facebook recently looked at data from the social media site, to see how people communicate their giggles and chortles to other users. They found that, although 15 percent of the posts the researchers analyzed contained some kind of laughter, the ways that Facebook users expressed this laughter varied depending on the individual's age, gender and geographic location, said the researchers, who studied data collected during the last week of May 2015 that contained at least one string of letters (or symbols) representing laughter.

The researchers discovered that men tended to use "haha" more than all other expressions of laughter considered, which also included "hehe," "LOL" and laughter-related emoji. The second most common form of Facebook laughter for men was emoji (e.g., smiley faces), followed by "hehe," the researchers said. [Smile Secrets: 5 Things Your Grin Says About You]

Women were also more likely to produce a "haha" than any other kind of textual laughter on Facebook, but they were almost as likely to use an emoji as they were to type "haha". Women were slightly less likely than men to post a "hehe," and a tiny bit more likely than men to post an "LOL," according to the researchers, who found that, overall, the popularity of the once-ubiquitous "LOL" is waning.

Only 1.9 percent of Facebook users included in the study used "LOL" as their primary form of online laughter. That compares to 51.4 percent who write "haha" when they think something is funny on the site. A whopping 22.7 percent are most fond of emoji, and 13.1 percent of Facebook users included in the survey are all about the "hehe's".

Speaking of "hehe," the researchers found that, while one might associate this particular expression of laughter with childish tittering, it isn't necessarily the youngest Facebook users typing this expression regularly. In fact, the median age of emoji users and "haha"-ers was lower than the median age of "hehe"-ers. "LOL"-ers had the highest median age of anyone in the group, which included Facebook users ages 13 to 70.

But it's not just your age or your gender that's connected to your online laughter of choice. Location matters, too, according to the data. If you live in Chicago, you're more likely to express Facebook laughter via emoji than folks in Boston, New York, Phoenix, San Francisco or Seattle. Seattleites, on the other hand, are big "haha"-ers — more so than Facebook users in any of these other cities. San Franciscans are the most likely to "hehe," and those living in Phoenix are no strangers to the "LOL."

But what if you don't live in a city? Well, the researchers also mapped out the online laughing preferences of people living in all 50 U.S. states. They found that "haha" and "hehe" are more popular on the West Coast than anywhere else in the country, whereas the Southern states tend to stick to "LOL." The emoji game is strong in the Midwest, but also truly popular in states like Florida and Wyoming, the researchers said.

Northeast residents' preferences are pretty diverse, with some states preferring "haha" above all else. But New Yorkers seem to really like their emoji, and Facebook users in Massachusetts and New Hampshire are wicked "hehe"-ers. 

The data that the researchers analyzed came from Facebook posts and comments, and didn't include private messages. Therefore, it's possible that the preferences noted by the researchers only show how Facebook users choose to express laughter to a group of people. Furthermore, the study left out laughter in other languages (e.g., no Spanish "jajas" or "jejes" were examined) — a limitation that the researchers mentioned in their blog post about the study's findings.

Follow Elizabeth Palermo @techEpalermo. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth is a former Live Science associate editor and current director of audience development at the Chamber of Commerce. She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from George Washington University. Elizabeth has traveled throughout the Americas, studying political systems and indigenous cultures and teaching English to students of all ages.