The Joys of Laughter

by on October 13th, 2011 at 7:00 am

The Joys of LaughterHave you ever wondered why laughter makes us feel good? Numerous studies have been conducted over the past decades linking laughter to health and happiness, but why?

According to Robert Dunbar of Oxford University, it’s not some deep intellectual pleasure, but the physical act of laughing itself. Dunbar found muscle contractions resulting from laughter release endorphins to the brain, which, in turn, make us feel good. Endorphins functions as neurotransmitters, and are released during exercise, excitement, pain, consumption of spicy food, and love. They act as opiates and are the main reason laughter makes us feel good.

Dunbar conducted an experiment consisting of 5 lab studies and 1 field study at a comedy club. The subjects watched numerous video clips, one meant to induce laughter, one neutral, and one meant to promote good feelings, but not laughter. After watching a combination of these clips, they were asked to rate feelings of pain. This was accomplished by placing an ice cold wine sleeve, or a blood pressure cuff on the patients arm. They were then asked when the pain was too much to bear. Their voices were also recorded in order to calculate the time spent laughing. Pain resistance is used to measure endorphin levels, because endorphins are too difficult to measure in the brain.  The results were posted in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. Dunbar found subjects who laughed had a higher tolerance for pain. It was thought that feeling good would also make us more resistant to pain, according to the study this is not the case. Subjects who watched the video meant to induce good feelings, but not laughter had the same tolerance as the subjects who watched the neutral video. This study is just another in a long line, but proves the simple physical act of laughing is what makes us feel good.

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