The Science of Laughter was shared by Erman Misirlisoy, PhD for Medium/Elemental, 6 August 2019.  He raises the question: What happens in your brain when you get the giggles? 

People laugh about five times in every 10 minutes of conversation. They are also 30 times more likely to laugh when they are with other people compared to when they are alone. It’s common to think of laughter as a loud reaction to a funny joke, but most of the time it’s simply a recurring feature of normal social interaction.

Sophie Scott is a scientist and professor at University College London who leads much of the current research about laughter. Interestingly enough, she says, “most of the laughter you produce is not helpless” but rather the result of a voluntary act.

Laughter comes in two shades: voluntary and spontaneous. Voluntary laughter is the social lubricant that helps a conversation run smoothly, while spontaneous laughter erupts following a particularly humorous remark. Each form uses a different network in the brain. Voluntary laughter typically features more activity in frontal and motor areas of the brain associated with action planning and language. Spontaneous laughter includes greater activity in deeper structures such as the hypothalamus, which regulates basic physiological processes like hormonal balance.

Thanks to its deeply social nature, laughter can be incredibly infectious. People who find it most infectious are better able to distinguish between spontaneous and voluntary laughs. Indeed, sensitivity to laughter and its cues is a sign of healthy social function.

Electrical stimulation studies are important because they provide a glimpse into what specific brain areas can do when they are activated. This same method has recently implicated other brain areas in laughter, too, including the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex for more emotional laughter, and the frontal operculum for more voluntary laughter. The common thread across many laughter-related brain areas is that they generally play a critical role in social actions and emotional awareness.

But what about those giggle fits? Most laughter is social and relatively voluntary, but occasionally people will experience an outburst that they can’t control. Some researchers say that they are, in effect, experiencing the infectiousness of their own laughter. “The worst thing to think,” says Sophie Scott, “is ‘I must stop laughing,’ because then all you can think about is laughing.” Laughter’s infectious social quality means that even the thought of laughter can set people off, especially if they’ve already primed themselves with previous laughs. This is exactly why comedians on stage often want an audience “warmed up” before their performance. If they’re already laughing, they’re more likely to continue.

All the evidence points toward a simple conclusion: Laughter is communication. This is naturally true for voluntary laughter, which is used as a pleasant tool to complement speech in everyday conversations. But even when people laugh uncontrollably, it is almost always in a social setting. Whether it’s a news anchor nervously stumbling over their words in front of a live camera, or simply a friend bursting into a fit of laughter upon hearing an unexpected joke, the laughter is automatic, contagious, and sometimes difficult to stop. Whatever the context, laughter sends a message of joy and friendly engagement, making it an indispensable tool for a healthy social life.

Read more:  The Science of Laughter


Laughter yoga (Hasyayoga) is a practice involving prolonged voluntary laughter. This type of yoga is based on the belief that voluntary laughter provides the same physiological and psychological benefits as spontaneous laughter. It is done in groups, with eye contact, jokes and playfulness between participants. Forced laughter often turns into real and contagious laughter.

In the mid-1990s, laughter yoga was practiced in the early mornings in open parks, primarily by groups of older people. Laughter yoga is an exercise routine developed by Indian physician Madan Kataria, who writes about the practice in his 2002 book Laugh For No Reason.

Laughter yoga is found in 53 countries. There are about 5,000 Laughter Yoga clubs worldwide, with roughly 200 of those in the United States.

Many years back, while I was teaching yoga classes, I learned about Laughter Yoga … and actually became a Certified Laughter Yoga Teacher through the program founded by Dr. Madan Kataria, founder of Laughter Yoga Movement.   I found the practice  to be a most unusual, sometimes awkward and yet physically challenging program, based on a scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter.  One gets the same physiological and psychological benefits.  Clinical research conducted at Bangalore, India and in the United States has proved that Laughter lowers the level of stress hormones (epinephrine, cortisol, etc) in the blood.

5 Benefits of Laughter Yoga

    • Good Mood and More Laughter: Laughter Yoga helps to change your mood within minutes by releasing certain chemicals from your brain cells called endorphins. You may remain cheerful and in a good mood throughout the day and may laugh more than you normally do.
    • Healthy Exercise to Beat Stress: Laughter Yoga is like an aerobic exercise (cardio workout) which brings more oxygen to the body and brain thereby making one feel more energetic and relaxed.
    • Health Benefits: Laughter Yoga reduces the stress and strengthens the immune system.You may not fall sick easily and if you have some chronic health conditions, you may heal faster.
    • Quality of Life: Laughter is a positive energy which helps people to connect with other people quickly and improves relationships. If you laugh more, you will attract many friends.
    • Positive Attitude in Challenging Times : Everyone can laugh when life is good, but how does one laugh when faced with challenges? Laughter helps to create a positive mental state to deal with negative situations and negative people. It gives hope and optimism to cope with difficult times.  Plus it is good practice for those times when laughing just does NOT come easily, but the benefits are needed.

Read more:  Laughter Yoga International


When I was a senior in college in upstate New York studying psychology, I heard about a new organization nearby called The Humor Project, Inc., the first organization in the world to focus full-time on the positive power of humor. Our mission is to make a difference by being a unique, pioneering, and cutting-edge organization that touches the lives of individuals, organizations, and nations. We seek to help people get more smileage out of their lives and jobs by applying the practical, positive power of humor and creativity.

I’ve attended several of their most amazing weekend retreats and learned … and laughed … about all aspects of humor and health and laughter. 

  • I learned to juggle by Dr. Steve Allen, Jr. (son of the famous TV comedian pioneer, Steve Allen).
  • I was transported by the humor and silliness of the keynote speaker, Victor Borge, Danish comedian, conductor and pianist. (see his hilarious and famous performance on Phonetic Punctuation below!)
  • And I was riveted to my seat during the presentation by Dr. Patch Adams, founder of the Gesundheit Institute, who, as a medical doctor and a clown, spent his career as a social activist devoted to changing America’s healthcare system (see link below)

 

Dr. Joel Goodman, founder and Director of The HUMOR Project, is a popular speaker whose programs have tickled and touched the lives of millions in his presentations in all 50 states and countries on all 7 continents (Antarctica, Argentina, Australia, Panama, Japan, Taiwan, Russia, Norway, Sweden, England, Germany, South Africa, North Dakota, and funny places in between). He is one of only two professional speakers in the world to have presented on all 7 continents. Joel has authored eight jest-selling books (including Laffirmations: 1,001 Ways to Add Humor to Your Life and Work), an international column, and hundreds of articles. He also has edited the LAUGHING MATTERS magazine, generating rave reviews from thousands of people throughout the U.S. and 20 other countries.  Joel’s wife, Margie Ingram, Co-Director of The HUMOR Project, is one of the pioneers in the fields of stress management and the humor-resilience connection. 

Described as “the first full-time humor educator in the world,” Joel founded The HUMOR Project in 1977 (two years before Norman Cousins’ best-selling book was published). Joel was delighted to join Willard Scott and Meadowlark Lemon in receiving the prestigious International Lifetime of Laughter Award. He also has been honored by the Business Review as the Business Person of the Year and was the first recipient of the International Punster of the Year Award (but don’t hold that against him).

Joel founded AHA!, the American Humor Association, which includes over 165,000 humor conspirators. He believes that it is important for business to “do well and do good” at the same time: The HUMOR Project has provided grants to 475+ schools, hospitals, and human service agencies to help them develop services and resources that tap the positive power of humor.

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