Laughter – Do We Really Need It?

By Sandra Neri
While researching this question I came upon conflicting articles, by several Doctors, but all findings are worth our consideration.

Glenn D. Braunstein, M.D. For Huffington Post
It’s well-documented that chronic stress and anxiety can lead to health problems, including a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, digestive disorders and other susceptibilities. Another research team found that those with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh compared to comparable well people, suggesting the ability to laugh may have heart health implications; or, maybe people with heart disease are too “shell-shocked” to laugh. Humor as a form of complementary or alternative therapy also has been shown to have an overall emotionally positive influence on patients, helping to reduce anxiety and improve attitude. Humor therapy, or therapeutic humor, often is used in medical settings, especially with children. However, studies have been fraught with methodological problems, resulting in conflicting information. For instance, experiments have shown that exposure to comedy leads to an increase in the threshold for feeling pain and increased tolerance to pain. However, so do negative emotional control stimuli, suggesting that it is distraction and not specifically humor that is responsible for the positive effect. The cognitive process that leads us to think something is funny — or not — is complicated. Imaging tests show multiple areas of the brain are involved in the process of humor, including regions associated with positive emotions and reward. Tests also show that “high functioning” areas of the brain are activated, such as the frontal lobe, presumably because the identification and appreciation of humor is a complex process that often draws from one’s past experiences.

Mark van Vugt, Ph.D. For Psychology Today
Why do humans laugh? That question increasingly interests scientists around the globe. People of all ages and cultures laugh spontaneously. Laughter is a feature that we share with other great apes such as the chimpanzee and gorilla, which suggests that it is an ancient behavior.

What evolutionary benefit could laughter give us? There are different hypotheses. One is that laughter signals social interest, especially in a romantic context. Not surprising, scientists find that a sense of humor is one of the most desired traits in a partner. While women like men who make them laugh, men prefer to interact with women who laugh about the jokes they tell them. It is this deeper sexual motive that might drive men to become stand-up comedians.

Yet there are other reasons too why we laugh. For instance, laughter induces positive a affect in people which will facilitate their capacity to learn new things. That’s why laughter and play go hand in hand. Especially in children playful activities are an excellent way to learn new skills. And what laughter does is to signal that they are in a safe environment where they can play and learn. The third reason why humans laugh is to connect socially with each other in groups. Groups are important for human survival and across evolutionary time, groups got larger and socially more complex which raises the interesting question how these groups could be held together. Other primates groom each other to smoothen social interactions but this is impossible when groups get really large. One solution to this problem is laughter. Through laughing we can quickly establish a good relationship with each other, and because it is so contagious it can quickly spread through a crowd. Scientist believe that laughter produces this positive effect by the production of endorphins. During testing in which some groups watched a comedic DVD, while another group watched golf, they were then tested for pain tolerance. The group that watched the comedy had a 50% increase in pain tolerance. Scientist nailed it to humor by having another group watch a romantic type movie. While it left them in a good mood, it did not elevate endorphin levels, or increase pain tolerance. So far their findings suggest that laughter works in the same way as a good massage or an intense jog. It is equally relaxing but much more social.

Wrap Up
During a personal experience, laughter had helped me through a tough time. When finances became strained, and I could not even acquire basic cable or internet, I just happen to have the first three seasons of ‘Family Guy’ on DVD. This collection, along with other DVD’s, such as a few seasons of  ‘Entourage’, Jim Carrey’s ‘Dumb and Dumber’, Will Ferrell’s ‘Anchorman’, and Steve Carrell’s ’40-Year-Old-Virgin’ (just a few comedies in my movie collection) kept my spirits up. Being able to forget the stresses I had faced (financial and others) and laugh despite the situation I was in, helped me immensely. Do we need laughter? I’m not sure…but I do know that it helps.


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