10 Things You May Not Know About Laughter

Story at-a-glance

You’re much more likely to laugh in the presence of others, if others are laughing, and if you’re familiar with the comedian

Laughing for 15 minutes burns up to 40 calories

Laughing is beneficial for your short-term memory and stress levels

If  you want to communicate with someone from across the globe who speaks a  different language, all you have to do is laugh.  Laughter is a form of communication that’s universally recognized, which  suggests it has deep importance to humankind.1

It’s thought that laughter may have occurred before humans  could speak as a playful way for mothers and infants to communicate, as a form  of play vocalization, or to strengthen group bonds. Even today our brains are  wired to prime us to smile or laugh when we hear others laughing.

Yet,  laughter is a largely involuntary response;  it’s not generally something you can force yourself to do. Instead, laughter is  thought to be triggered by mechanisms in your brain and impacts breathing  patterns, facial expressions, and even the muscles in your arms and legs.

It  plays a role in your health, too, and has many quirks and mysteries that make  it one of the most fascinating physical reactions that a human (and certain  other species) can make.

10 Fascinating Facts About  Laughter

Professor  Sophie Scott, a neuroscientist and stand-up comic, put together these  surprising facts about laughter.2

1. Rats Laugh When They’re  Tickled

Rats laugh when they’re tickled, and the more they play together,  the more they laugh. Psychologist Jack Panksepp first observed laughing rats in  the 1990s; he needed special equipment to hear it, as rats’ laughs are very  high pitched.

2. You’re More Likely to  Laugh Around Others – Not Because of Jokes

      If  you’re laughing, you’re far more likely to be surrounded by others, according to  research by laughter expert Dr. Robert Provine. The critical laughter trigger  for most people is another person, not a joke or funny movie.

After  observing 1,200 people laughing in their natural environments, Dr. Provine and  his team found that laughter followed jokes only about 10-20 percent of the  time. Social laughter occurs 30 times more frequently than solitary  laughter.

In most cases, the laughter followed  a banal comment or only slightly humorous one, which signals that the person is  more important than the material in triggering laughter.

3. Your Brain Can Detect  Fake Laughter

Professor Scott’s research has shown that your brain can tell the  difference between real or staged laughter. When you hear staged, or  deliberate, laughter, it prompts more activity in your brain’s anterior medial  prefrontal cortex, which helps you understand other people’s emotions.

This suggests your brain automatically goes to work deciphering  why someone is deliberately laughing.

4. Laughter Is Contagious

The saying “laugh and the whole  world laughs with you” is more than just an expression: laughter really is  contagious. The sound of laughter triggers regions in the premotor cortical  region of your brain, which is involved in moving your facial muscles to  correspond with sound and prepare to join in.3

5. Jokes Are Funnier if  You Know the Comedian

Familiarity is a key part of humor and laughter, and research  shows people find jokes told by famous comedians to be funnier than the same  joke told by someone they’re not familiar with.

6. Laughing Burns Calories

Laughing raises both your energy expenditure and heart rate by  about 10 percent to 20 percent. This means you could burn about 10-40 calories  by laughing for 10 to 15 minutes. While this sounds good in theory, you’d have  to laugh solidly for an hour or more for this calorie burning to have any  meaningful effect.

7. Laughing Is Good for  Your Relationships

Research shows that couples who use laughter and smile when  discussing a touchy subject feel better in the immediacy and report higher  levels of satisfaction in their relationship. They also tend to stay together  longer.

8. Laughter Requires  Timing

      Laughter has a distinctive pattern. It rarely occurs in the middle of a  sentence. Instead, laughter tends to occur at the end of sentences or during a  break in speech, which suggests language is given the priority. According to  Dr. Provine:4

“The occurrence of speaker laughter at the end of  phrases suggests that a neurologically based process governs the placement of  laughter in speech.

Different brain regions are involved in the expression of  cognitively oriented speech and the more emotion-laden vocalization of  laughter.”

Comedians also use the natural tendency for laughter to grow and  fade to their advantage, and will leave spaces at the end of a sentence for the  audience to fill in with laughter.

9. Laughter Is Attractive

Research by Dr. Provine found that  women laugh 126 percent more than men in cross-gender conversations, with men  preferring to be the one prompting the laughter.

In a review of more than 3,700  newspaper personal ads, Dr. Provine revealed that women were 62 percent more  likely to mention laughter, including seeking a mate with a sense of humor,  while men were more likely to offer humor in their ads.

10. Some Things Can Make  Virtually Everyone Laugh

While there’s no one joke that makes everyone laugh, Professor Scott found that one of the best tools  for making people laugh in her lab is a clip of people trying not to laugh in a situation where it  would be highly inappropriate to do so.

Laughter Is Good for Your  Memory Too

Researchers at California’s Loma Linda University looked into the role that  humor can have on your health. They broke 20 older adults into two groups – one  that watched funny videos and one that sat silently for 20 minutes. Before and  after the session, both groups took a short-term memory test…

The  humor group showed significantly more improvement on the test, 43.6 percent  compared to 20 percent in the non-humor group.5 Those in the humor group  also had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. According  to the researchers, laughter represents an enjoyable tool to help counteract  age-related memory decline in older adults:

The study’s findings suggest that  humor can have clinical benefits and rehabilitative implications and can be  implemented in programs that support whole-person wellness for older adults.  Learning ability and delayed recall are important to these individuals for a  better quality of life–considering mind, body, spirit, social, and economic  aspects. Older adults may have age-associated memory deficiencies. However,  medical practitioners now can offer positive, enjoyable, and beneficial humor  therapies to improve these deficiencies.”

Laughter Enhances Immunity,  Improves Sleep, and More

    What  else is laughter good for? Research has shown laughter may reduce stress hormones and boost your immune function,6 while also inducing optimistic feelings.7 Laughter has demonstrated a wealth of physiological, psychological, social,  spiritual, and quality-of-life benefits, such that increasing numbers of health  care centers are adopting laughter therapy as a form of complementary care. Opportunities  that provide for group laughter, such as laughter yoga and laugh parties, are  also becoming increasingly popular around the world. Just a short list of the  benefits of laughter therapy are noted below:

          Relaxing your muscles Triggering the release of your body’s natural painkillers    (endorphins) Improving sleep
Enhancing creativity and memory Easing digestion Enhancing oxygen intake
Improving well-being and positive emotions Boosting immune function Improving blood pressure

Laugh Each and Every Day

Children  laugh easily and often, but adults may forget to make room for laughter in  their daily lives. If you can, incorporate laughter into your daily routine by  finding what makes you laugh. Remember that you’re more likely to laugh in the  company of others, so try to find the humor in life when you’re spending time  with friends, family, and co-workers.

Some experts even recommend everyone get 15 to 20 minutes of  laughter a day, much like you should exercise regularly and eat your  vegetables. If you haven’t had your daily dose of laughter yet, check out the  video below. It’s living proof that laughter is contagious…


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