Tag Archives: laughter

Laughter and Psychology

People begin laughing in infancy, when it helps develop muscles and upper body strength. Laughter is not just breathing. It relies on complex combinations of facial muscles, often involving movement of the eyes, head and shoulders.

Laughter – doing it or observing it – activates multiple regions of the brain: the motor cortex, which controls muscles; the frontal lobe, which helps you understand context; and the limbic system, which modulates positive emotions. Turning all these circuits on strengthens neural pathways, and helps a healthy brain coordinate its activity. Laughter is about thinking, emotions, and motor skills, in tandem.

By activating the neural pathways of emotions like joy and mirth, laughter can improve your mood and make your physical and emotional response to stress less intense. For example, laughing may help control brain levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, similar to what antidepressants do. By minimizing your brain’s responses to threats, it limits the release of neurotransmitters and hormones like cortisol that can wear down your cardiovascular, metabolic and immune systems over time. Laughter’s kind of like an antidote to stress, which weakens these systems and increases vulnerability to diseases.

Laughter’s cognitive power
A good sense of humor and the laughter that follows depend on an ample measure of social intelligence and working memory (executive functioning) resources.

Laughter, like humor, typically sparks from recognizing the incongruities or absurdities of a situation. You need to mentally resolve the surprising behavior or event – otherwise you won’t laugh; you might just be confused instead. Inferring the intentions of others and taking their perspective can enhance the intensity of the laughter and amusement you feel.

To “get” a joke or humorous situation, you need to be able to see the lighter side of things, and also utilize higher brain functioning. For people who have frontal lobe damage, it can become hard to recognize jokes or sarcasm.

Laughter’s social power
Many cognitive and social skills work together to help you monitor when and why laughter occurs during conversations. You don’t even need to hear a laugh to be able to laugh. Deaf signers punctuate their signed sentences with laughter, much like emoticons in written text.

Laughter creates bonds and increases intimacy with others. Laughter has a strong social role. Beginning early in life, infants’ laughter is an external sign of pleasure that helps strengthen bonds with caregivers. Later, it’s an external sign of sharing an appreciation of the situation. For example, public speakers and comedians try to get a laugh to make audiences feel psychologically closer to them, to create intimacy.

By practicing a little laughter each day, you can enhance social skills that may not come naturally to you. When you laugh in response to humor, you share your feelings with others and learn from risks that your response will be accepted/shared/enjoyed by others and not be rejected/ignored/disliked.

Laughter’s mental power
Positive psychology researchers study how people can live meaningful lives and thrive. Laughter produces positive emotions that lead to this kind of flourishing. These feelings – like amusement, happiness, mirth and joy – build resiliency and increase creative thinking. They increase subjective well-being and life satisfaction. Researchers find that these positive emotions experienced with humor and laughter correlate with appreciating the meaning of life and help older adults hold a more benign view of difficulties they’ve faced over a lifetime.

Laughter and stress
A research study measure the frequency and intensity of laughter over two weeks, along with ratings of patient’s mental and physical health. The study found that the more laughter experience, the lower the report of stress. In fact, a growing number of therapists advocate using humor and laughter to help clients improve work and home environments. A meta analysis of half a dozen studies found that laughter, whether from watching a comedy, joking with a friend, or reading something funny, was related to significantly less stress, and increased well-being. Although most laughter occurs within a social context, you can even do it alone. Laughing yoga is a strategy used to control breathing muscles to achieve the positive physical responses of natural laughing. Sometimes laughter is the best medicine.

One resource: www.laughteryoga.org

Embolden Psychology
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