The science of funny

Life is better when you're laughing. As growing research shows, the benefits of laughter extend to our mind and our physiology.

Why Laughter?

Beyond the fact that laughing out loud is just rollicking good fun, there is a growing body of empirical reasons why laughter and humor are good for us. A growing body of research from a variety of scientific and medical fields suggests that laughter, in particular, coincides with a number of positive mental, social, cognitive, and physiological effects.

Anxiety/Depression

Perhaps the most obvious effect of laughter is on our mood. Stressed-out folks with a strong sense of humor become less depressed and anxious than those whose sense of humor is less well developed, according to a study by psychologists Herbert Lefcourt, PhD of the University of Waterloo and Rod Martin, PhD of the University of Western Ontario. In a study of depressed and suicidal senior citizens, the patients who recovered were the ones who demonstrated a sense of humor, reports psychiatrist Joseph Richman, professor emeritus at Albert Einstein Medical Center in the Bronx, New York.

Pain Relief

In addition to giving us a feel-good “buzz,” endorphins act as our natural pain killers. These chemicals are produced whenev*er we exercise, eat spicy food, experience excitement, or feel pain. What about when we laugh? A team of researchers led by Professor Robin Dunbar, director of the Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group, has found that watching about 15 minutes of comedy in a group setting increases our pain threshold by 10%. Dr. Dunbar’s team believes that the long series of exhalations that that accompany true laughter cause physical exhaustion of the abdominal muscles, in turn, triggering endorphin release.

Heart Health

According to the American Heart Association, laughing not only increases the amount of HDL (“good”) cholesterol in your body, but also brings down inflammation in your blood vessels and reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Research by Michael Miller, MD, director of the Center of Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, has shown that laughter coincides with the dilation of the endothelium, the tissue that forms the inner lining of blood vessels, which in turn increases blood flow. The endothelium is the first line in the development of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Dr. Miller’s research suggests that laughter may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Immunity

Laughter brings comprehensive benefits to our immune system. Lee Berk, DrPH, MPH, associate professor at Loma Linda School of Medicine and Stanley Tan, MD, PhD, endocrinologist and diabetes specialist at Oak Crest Health Research Institute, have found that laughter activates T-lymphocytes and natural killer cells, both of which defend the body against invading microorganisms. They have also shown that laughter increases production of immunity-boosting gamma interferon, speeds up production of new immune cells, and reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can weaken the immune response.

Psychological-Cognitive Benefits of Laughter

Counteracts Depressive Features
Counteracts Anxiety
Counteracts Psychosomatic Problems
Improves Cognition
Encourages Creativity
Improves Mood
Promotes Restful Sleep
Relieves Stress
Releases Negative Feelings and Emotions
Amplifies Resiliency
Improves Brain Function
Improves Memory and Alertness
Builds Rapport With Others

Physiological Effects of Laughter

Eases / Relaxes Muscle Tension
Reduces Cortisol
Increases Lymphocyte Blastogenesis
Decreases Physical Pain Receptors
Increases Dopamine
Increases Oxygen Levels
Prevents Heart Disease
Lowers Stress Hormones
Boosts Immunity
Increases Endorphins
Improves Respiratory System
Increases T-cells