… as the saying goes. But what is laughter? Why do we do laugh? What causes laughter?
Laugh researchers, called gelotologists (I know, right? I didn’t know such a profession existed), have done a lot of research on laughter.
Laughter is a physiological response that involves the face, the respiratory system, the brain limbic system, and if something is really funny, the tear ducts and your whole body.
Why do we laugh?
Laughter is rooted in strengthening social bonds and so it usually involves people in groups. We laugh when other people are around and we laugh with familiar folks like friends or family. We also laugh to express relief or lighten stressful moments.
Gelotologists have several theories as to why we laugh:
The incongruity theory - “which thing is not like the other”
Imagine a dingy bar, dark and dusty. All of sudden, a talking bear in a tutu walks in. Folks are snickering and laughing at the completely random situation (and others are scared for their lives because a bear just walked in).
This is an example of incongruity theory: where something completely random can happen in a predictable or boring situation or when two things that normally don’t go together come into play in a situation.
The relief theory - “the punch line”
Now shift your imagination and imagine a tense situation: a courtroom scene. Everyone is silent. Everyone is tense. Everyone is waiting for the final verdict. Then all of a sudden, a person trips over a banana and flails all of his papers in the air, and everyone bursts into laughter. This is an example of the relief theory. This is often called, “the punch line” or the “tension cutter”
Sometimes people crack jokes to lighten the moment. Humor helps cope with stressful situations. Laughter is handy in stressful moment; it’s a way to give your brain a happy surprise and a recharge.
The superiority theory - laughing at the misfortune of others
So now imagine a mean king laughing at someone on their way to a guillotine (I guess I have a vivid imagination….). This form of laughter may seem mean and cold-hearted yet it is still promotes social bonding in a way where one is against another. Gelotologists believes that this is a way to maintain social order versus using physical aggression.
Health benefits of laughing
So remember my blog title? Well, there is some truth in it.
Laughter is great both physically and emotionally. If you think about it, we laugh hardest at what we know best and what stresses us out the most.
1) Reduces the release of stress hormones
2) Lower blood pressure to allow oxygenation of your blood
3) Increase T-cell levels that help immune response
4) Helps burn calories
For example, researchers at the University of Maryland studied the effects on blood vessels of people who watched either comedies or dramas. After watching one of these genres of shows, the blood vessels of the group who watched the comedy behaved normally -- expanding and contracting easily. But the blood vessels in people who watched the drama tended to tense up, restricting blood flow.
(Thanks fellow blogger Claire!)
As you may have laughed at my vivid imaginations, take a step back and think about laughter. There are a lot of benefits to laughing; it reduces stress, it helps burn calories, just to name a few. It also brings us together and promotes social bonding. Laughing can also bring happiness and a little brightness to the world, which we can use now and again. So you know what’s funny out there? Laughter! So keep on laughing.
M.P. Mulder, A. Nijholt (2002) "Humour Research: State of the Art"
D. H. Monro. (1988) "Theories of Humor." Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum 3rd ed. Laurence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen, eds. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman and Company, 349-55.
J. Wilkins, A.J. Eisenbraun (2009) “Humor theories and the physiological benefits of laughter.” Holistic Nursing Practice. November/ December 2009