Laughter is contagious - it can evoke giggling fits in those that hear it. It's more infectious than the common cold and easier to catch. It's also been said that laughter is the best medicine - an antidote to stress and a cure for the blues. Yet, the very basics we know about laughter are just the tip of the iceberg.
Whether it's a quiet little giggle, a throaty chuckle or one of those loud laughs that has everyone turning to see what's so funny, we all know what it means to laugh. What we may not know is why we do it.
Dr. Robert Provine, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, has authored the books Curious Behavior and Laughter: A Scientific Investigation. He believes that the modern-day "ha-ha" probably evolved from our primitive ancestors making a similar sound (perhaps a pant) to reassure one another that their rough-housing was all in good fun and not an attack. He has speculated that this eventually became an automatic response.
Laughter is considered an innate behavior, something that doesn't need to be taught. However, a study published in the journal Infant Behavior and Development reported that when observing the interactions between mothers and children, the more the mothers laughed, the more their children laughed.
Dr. Caspar Addyman, a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of London, believes that the behavior is similar to crying. Infants realize that laughter garners an adult's attention and so they quickly develop laughter as a communication too.
Contrary to popular belief, the number one cause of laughter isn't a funny joke but is in fact interaction with another person. On average there will be about 6 bouts of laughter in a typical 10-minute conversation and, according to Dr. Provine's research, there is a 30% increased probability of laughing if there is laughter nearby - as opposed to when alone. However, the odds of a funny joke causing laughter is actually, surprisingly less likely.
Dr. Scott Weems, a research scientist at the University of Maryland, and the author of Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why, says there isn't a magic formula for what's funny. In general, laughter is typically the result of our brain
expecting one thing but then experiencing another: the surprise is what's humorous.
Other studies suggest that what is considered funny may be regional. British psychologist, Dr. Richard Wiseman, the author of Quirkology, says that research has shown a distinct regional preference for what is funny. While Americans tend to like jokes that include a sense of superiority, Europeans tend to laugh at jokes that make light of something that most would find serious or anxiety causing.
Experts are unsure of the reason for these differences but Dr. Weems suspects that the regional preferences may have a lot to do with our regional personalities. Americans are expressive and encouraged to be themselves so aggressive humor isn't surprising; whereas the British, he concludes, are more easily entertained by word play.
Regardless, it is impossible to accurately assess what will cause laughter: a joke, a gag gift, slap-stick, coincidence, etc. What one person finds humorous, another might find offensive or even cruel.
Contrary to popular belief, the number one cause of laughter isn't a funny joke but is in fact interaction with another person.
Dr. Provine proposes, "The definitive research into the potential health benefits of laughter just hasn't been done yet." Nevertheless, whether or not it's the act of laughter or just having the kind of life where laughter more naturally and frequently occurs, it's clear that it doesn't hurt.
Laughing actually causes physiological changes: muscles stretch throughout the face and body; blood pressure goes up; the pulse quickens; and respiration increases, sending more oxygen to the body's tissues. Steve Wilson, a psychologist and laugh therapist, says that the effects of laughter are very similar to exercise, "Combining laughter and movement, like waving your arms, is a great way to boost your heart rate."
Other, perhaps coincidental but clearly beneficial, results of laughter may include:
While these benefits may not be directly related to laughter, they are common with those who find it easy to laugh.
While laughter is almost instinctive, a healthy sense of
humor isn't. Realistically, life can be cruel and sometimes there aren't a lot of reasons to laugh; that doesn't mean that laughter can't be developed. Like a muscle, it can be trained - with a few routine exercises.
Your Family Wellness Chiropractor recognizes the benefit of laughter and understands that we are innately meant to express joy. We are integrative: mind, body and spirit. So next time you're in for your chiropractic adjustment don't forget to take a moment to laugh.