Laughter can play key roles in group communication and group dynamics — even when there’s nothing funny going on. That’s according to new research from North Carolina State University that examined the role of laughter in jury deliberations during a capital murder case. The researchers were given access to the full transcript of jury deliberations in the 2004 Ohio trial of Mark Ducic, a white male charged with two murders and 30 additional counts, largely related to drug violations.

Here is a summary of the research:

“Laughter is one way of dealing with ambiguity and tension in situations where a group is attempting to make consequential decisions and informal power dynamics are in play,” Keyton says. “There are very few opportunities to see group decision making, with major consequences, in a public setting,” Keyton explains. “It is usually done in private, such as in corporate board meetings or judicial proceedings. But laughter is something that occurs frequently, and not only because something is funny. Nobody in the jury was laughing at jokes.”