The science of laughter and why it is good for us

(CNN) – Everyone likes to laugh from time to time, and science backs up this sentiment.
Studies have shown that laughter is related to our well-being physical, emotional and mental, and even with our relationships.

These are some of the things you may not know about laughter.

Laughter was a survival tool

Laughter is believed to have evolved as a form of social bonding in animals and as a way of expressing a playful intention. Many mammals laugh when they are tickled and when they participate in physical games.

But humans don’t need a physical trigger to laugh, although we generally can’t help but laugh if we’re tickled.

Janet Gibson, emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at Grinnell College in Iowa, says that laughter evolved in humans as a communication signal.

Hundreds of years ago, “laughter was the glue that held the group together,” CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta told his Chasing Life podcast.

“The idea was that laughter was an external signal that can tell the group that everything is fine, that we can relax. (There is) no need to be anxious or threatened by what is going on around us. So this would really be a great survival tool for human groups, ”he explained.

“And the belief is that, over the centuries, the brain maintained these connections so that now we laugh when… we hear relaxing, funny, surprising, entertaining things.”

Anthropologists believe that laughter is universal, but that doesn’t mean that all cultures find the same things funny.

Laughter is a primitive noise

Laughter is a surprisingly complicated process, involving multiple regions of the brain and body.

The frontal lobe is believed to help interpret the various bits of information that are received, sounds and images, and then decide whether they are funny. This triggers an emotional response in the limbic system, which controls feelings like pleasure and fear, and which in turn stimulates the motor cortex, Gupta explained on the podcast.

This controls the physical response: laughter, snoring, and laughter.

“When you start to laugh, there is a fairly large contraction in the rib cage, very large and very fast. Those contractions push the air… ha ha ha. It is a very primitive way of making noise. At the brain level, it is associated with a change in circulating endorphins, ”explains Sophie Scott, professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London.

This can cause a feeling of pain relief. Laughing lowers adrenaline levels and, in the long run, levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, he explained. Thus, laughter can improve mood and make the physical and emotional response to stress less intense.

“You are more relaxed, less stressed, and have a pleasant sense of well-being,” he said.

Couples who laugh together stay together

A long study of couples from the University of California, Berkeley, of more than 150 long-term relationships that began in 1989, has suggested that laughter is the glue that holds people together.

Satisfied couples laugh more than dissatisfied ones, according to the study team, directed by Robert Levenson, professor of psychology.

On an experiment, the couples were asked to discuss a problem or conflict in their relationship while being videotaped, and a polygraph measured different physiological and emotional signals.

Laughter during stressful conversation was associated with more positive emotions.

“You see people start to get stressed, and what you find is that couples who are faced with a greater sense of stress, those who react to it with laughter not only get less stressed immediately, but are couples who tend to be happier in their relationships and they tend to stay together longer, ”said Scott, who was not involved in the study.

Not that laughter is magic dust. It is rather that laughter is a sign of a relationship in which people can use it to negotiate a better path together, “he added.

By mitigating stressful situations, he said that laughter can facilitate communication between couples and maintaining the bonds of the relationship, which are important pillars of relationship satisfaction.

It is very difficult to explain why something is funny

There is no universal theory that explains what makes something funny, although psychologists and comedians have tried to come up with one.

People sometimes find amusement in the misfortunes of others, in expressing emotions that would otherwise be forbidden, or in violating a rule but in a non-threatening way, Scott said.

But sometimes sounds or words can be inherently funny.

“Any theory of humor always fails because we cannot explain all the things that are funny, and it cannot be used to generate jokes. Laughter is a really important part of the game, and perhaps that is where much of the playful behavior of the adult human being lies, that is, it becomes humor.

Laughter can also have a dark side.

Inappropriate laughter can sometimes be a sign that something is cognitively wrong. According A study, a early sign of dementia It is the alteration of the sense of humor and laughter at inappropriate times.

In addition, laughter does not always accompany genuine emotions, but can also be a form of social display. People will use laughter to defuse a stressful situation or a joke to break the ice. However, whether or not it works depends on the other person joining in and laughing with you, as anyone who has had a useless joke knows.

Laughter is about people, not jokes

It’s 30 times laughter is more likely to occur in the company of others than when one is alone. It is also contagious. You are much more likely to laugh if you hear someone else laugh.

“When you have endorphins circulating in your brain, you feel good. When you laugh, you inhale more oxygen. Thus, all brain cells receive more oxygen, as do the cells of the body, “explains Gibson.

It’s a tool in your medicine cabinet to help you feel better. And I’d say it’s free, and it brings all these other benefits that it’s a great tool to use and not to be dismissed as silly or worthless. “

It is difficult to separate the benefits of laughter and the context in which you laugh. So if you want to harness the healing power of laughter, a funny movie can help, but what really counts are the connections that laughter makes with other people.

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