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Laughter: A Scientific Investigation

by Robert R. Provine

Provine: Laughter

Dr. Robert Provine, the world's leading scientific expert on laughter, investigates the topic carefully, examining its evolution, its role in social relationships, its contagiousness, its neural mechanisms, and its health benefits. This is an erudite, wide-ranging, witty, and fascinating exploration of a frequently surprising subject.

The Healing Power of Humor

by Allen Klein

healing power of humor

Comedian Jerry Lewis has said that Allen Klein is "a noble and vital force watching over the human condition." The ability to laugh at annoyances, crises, and even outright disasters can literally save your life. The author presents a series of proven techniques for overcoming the negative effects of loss, setbacks, upsets, disappointments, trials, and tribulations.

laughing out loudWhat is Laughter and Why Is It Good For Us?
by Marjorie Dorfman

Statistics indicate that the average adult laughs 17 times a day. There are industries built around this fact: television sitcoms, jokes and stand-up (and down) comedians. To laugh translates into feeling good, something human beings crave and cherish. Read on to learn more about the mechanics of laughter, which buoys the human spirit and makes every day bearable.

Laughter is a complex response that is more of a mystery than the modern world might imagine. Its function as an emotional balancing mechanism in response to stress is not totally understood. It is most definitely a reaction to certain stimuli and is considered universally to be a visual expression of happiness or a reflection of joy.

horse laughRelief theory may explain the power of laughter. Sigmund Freud firmly believed that laughter was a mechanism that released tension and “psychic energy.” From this and other similar theories comes the belief that laughter is both beneficial to human health and can be utilized to cope with anger and/or sadness.

Researcher Robert Provine suggests that laughter was probably the very first form of communication known to man, which later evolved into language and verbal expression. His study, which involved the “Giggle Twins,” suggested that laughter is genetic as well as primitive. The twins were separated at birth and didn't know each other until they were reunited some 43 years later. They discovered they laughed heartily in similar fashion despite the fact that their adoptive parents were unhappy and lacked senses of humor. Provine concluded that aspects of laugh patterns could be inherited.

healthy laughterIn his own words: “Laughter is a mechanism everyone has; laughter is part of universal human vocabulary. There are thousands of languages, hundreds of thousands of dialects, but everyone speaks laughter in pretty much the same way.”

It might surprise some to learn that animals exhibit patterns of laughter as well as humans, although it is not a common occurrence. In the animal world, laughing is often related to the grooming process, which bonds individual creatures to one another. Apes have demonstrated a panting mechanism when playing, as do dogs. Rats have a special chirp when they are playing or are being tickled, and seem to seek out other rats that chirp too.

In an odd aside, animal behaviorists have noted that primates often induce laughter by tickling, which might suggest a possible common origin between primates and humans.
group laughter
The link between laughter and good health is complex but definitive. In 2005, researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center determined that laughter directly affects the healthy function of blood vessels by causing the dilatation of the vessel's inner lining which is known as the endothelium. This in turn increases blood flow.

The study of humor and laughter, and its psychological and physiological effects on the human body, is called gelotology. Laughter affects other biochemical aspects, including the reduction of stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. By boosting the number of antibody-producing cells and enhancing the power of T-cells, laughing aids in building a stronger immune system. Although unconventional, Norman Cousins has developed a recovery program for pain relief that includes mega doses of Vitamin C, a positive attitude and exposure to laughter incurred by exposure to the antics of the Marx brothers.

whatcha laughin at In his own words: “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep. When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.”

The belief that laughter originated as a kind of shared relief at the passing of danger is a theory fostered by philosopher, John Morreall. German philosopher, Nietzsche, on the other hand, theorized that laughter is a reaction to loneliness and mortality.

Laughter provides a signal for integration within a group setting. It signifies social acceptance and interaction. It is also sometimes very contagious and serves as positive, personal feedback. Researchers have discovered that infants as early as 17 days old exhibit vocal laughing sounds or laughter. Babies have the ability to laugh before they even speak.

The Journal of the American Medical Association describes the neurological causes of laughter in its December, 1984 issue: “Although there is no known laugh center in the brain, its neural mechanism has been the subject of much, albeit inconclusive, speculation. It is evident that its expression depends on neural paths arising in close association with the… centers concerned with respiration.”

laughing maskLaughter can also be negative. Unpleasant laughter spells, which are known as “sham mirth,” usually occur in people who have a neurological condition and excessive elation is often associated with bi-polar (manic-depressive) psychoses. Some believe that fits of laughter represent a form of epilepsy.

While a total conclusion about laughter and its relevance to the human condition is not possible at this time, so far studies have indicated that laughter does contribute to pain relief and happiness. In the world of psychology, the propensity for laughter and the possession of a sense of humor is considered one of 24 major human strengths. Supporting this belief is the fact that laughter yoga clubs are springing up all over the nation.

So smile, though your heart is aching, as the old song says.

After all, what do you really have to lose?

Did you know . . .

Copyright © 2012 Marjorie Dorfman
How Stuff Works
Collegiate Times

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