Psychological Effects of Laughter:
Laughter is a healthy part of our lives most of us take for granted. It makes a part of human interaction in all kinds of big events and small moments in life. Laughter in conversation and meetings makes these moments enjoyable, and sometimes unforgettable. This is because humor makes an important part of our psychological health, it is a cheap multi-vitamin written inside our genetic code. Language changes from one region to the other, but laughter is universal, and even animals such as grooming laboratory rats express a similar sound when frequency is transformed below 20,000 Hz. Dr. Sven Svebak defines laughter as an “affective display elicited by the experience of joy, excitement, and the perception of humor.” But what’s so beneficial about it in the psychological ground?
It is a natural remedy:
First of all, laughter is a natural solution to many different psychological problems. As a natural remedy, laughter does not have any side effects and you can’t possibly overdose, it just feels good and leaves you with an overall sensation of wellness and satisfaction. Since it’s written in our genetic code, it can be accessed anywhere, it is a type of drug you won’t ever buy and will be carrying anywhere you go.
Promotes a positive emotional climate:
Modern medicine is taking a new approach on positive emotions. Positive psychology is becoming increasingly important, and shows that by focusing the brain away from negative emotion people see the same situations in a less threatening light. With humor and laughter, real problems will not likely make you feel overwhelmed and prone to making bad decisions. In this regard, laughter adds joy, optimism, resilience and positivity to life, it helps you if you are going through hardships, disappointments and really hard times. By remaining positive you will relieve the unhealthy levels of stress that comes from our hectic living, and your decision-making will be calmed and wise.
Improves your mental health:
Humour and laughter are a good aid for your mental stability. It reduces levels of anxiety, stress, tension, fear, and worry. And you are the proof: when you are genuinely laughing these feelings go away for a while, or at least remain attenuated for a minute or two. This is because humor and laughter acts on your brain releasing serotonin and endorphins, hormones related to happiness, better mood, and pleasing sensations such as chocolate and sex. Endorphins released through laughter can be 10 times more effective at eliminating pain than morphine, and this is why people who laugh often usually require less pain medications after surgery. As a matter of fact, a 2011 study from Oxford University showed that continuous laughter may increase people’s pain threshold by 10%. On the other hand, if you feel it’s difficult to express your feelings, keep in mind laughter creates a positive environment that releases inhibitions and sets aside irrational fears and social anxiety.
Enhances mental function:
Studies have shown that good mood, humor and laughter helps improving memory, retention, alertness, problem-solving abilities, and creative thinking. Laughter increases the release of gamma waves by the brain, which is related to many brain processes and cognitive functions. A recent study by Dr. Lee Berk showed that 10-minute funny videos increased the gamma activity on the electroencephalographic reading of subjects. These are classically related to a better neuronal function, and improved mental health. Additionally, it is known that mirthful laughter reduces the release of the stress hormone, cortisol, which can damage neurons in the hippocampus when it’s released chronically. Since hippocampus is a brain structure closely related to memory and learning, a recent study with healthy and diabetic older adults tested how humorous videos affected learning, visual recognition and recall in these two groups. According to the results, learning improved by up to 38.5%, delayed recall by 48.1% and visual recognition improved by up to 16.7%.
Laughter creates a healthy link between mind and body:
It’s not only gamma waves and stress relief, many areas in the brain become active when stimulated with humour. For example, there’s a region in our brain called limbic system. It is located in the center of our brain, and it’s the most important area to recollect emotions, both positive and negative. When we start laughing, the hippocampus and the amygdala are the parts of the limbic system with the biggest impact. The hippocampus is one of the most important sites for memory and emotional processing, and the amygdala is especially responsible to modulate the response in front of threatening situations. A third component, called hypothalamus, is a small region in the limbic system, and most likely the one to blame when we are unable to stop laughing after finding something extremely hilarious.
In this regard, there’s a lot to talk about. There’s a medical field in ongoing investigation called psychoneuroimmunology. It’s based on the principle that emotions are linked to our brain and therefore to the way it coordinates the rest of the body. Basically, negative emotions release chemicals that make changes in our whole body, including the immune system. The immune system of a happy individual will be less likely to get an illness or infection because it does the job it was meant for effectively.
However, what if you just don’t feel like laughing at all? Even if you simulate laugh, it is still beneficial. A Georgia State University study showed that simulated laughter incorporated into an exercise program improved the aerobic performance and mental health in older adults. What’s more, simulated laughter often triggers spontaneous and genuine bouts of humor. Good humor is gathering mounting evidence for the last years, it’s becoming more than just a good time with friends to turn into an important change in many people’s lives. Having a moment of good old laughter can be an easy way to get over stress, make yourself feel better, avoid negativity, improve mental function, and even control pain. There’s no doubt laughter can be a good ally for our mental health, and the only decision we need to make is start smiling.
Berk, L., Lee, J., Mali, D., Lohman, E., Bains, G., Daher, N., ... & Shah, S. (2016). Humor associated mirthful laughter increases the intensity of power spectral density (μV2) EEG gamma wave band frequency (31–40Hz) which is associated with neuronal synchronization, memory, recall, enhanced cognitive processing and other brain health benefits when compared to distress. The FASEB Journal, 30(1_supplement), 1284-9.
Svebak S. (2014) Laughter. In: Michalos A.C. (eds) Encyclopedia of Quality of Life and Well-Being Research. Springer, Dordrecht
Seligman, M. E., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Positive psychology: An introduction. In Flow and the foundations of positive psychology (pp. 279-298). Springer Netherlands.
Bains, G. S., Berk, L. S., Lohman, E., Daher, N., Petrofsky, J., Schwab, E., & Deshpande, P. (2015). Humor’s effect on short-term memory in healthy and diabetic older adults. Altern Ther Health Med, 21(3), 16-25.