TECH 5 for April 9, 2014 – Laughter

ben-harrison-213x300Good afternoon and welcome to another Tech 5 program and a five minute trip into the amazing world of technology. This is Ben Harrison.

The General Assembly of the United Nations has proclaimed March 20 the International Day of Happiness; the aim is to inspire 100 million to promote the universal goal of happiness and well-being around the world.

Importantly, laughing serves a social function. Some suggest that the first human laughter was a group ­gesture of relief at the passing of danger; and since laughter relaxes the biological fight-or-flight response, laughter may indicate trust in one’s company. Likewise, many researchers think that laughter is connected to bonding.

“Laughter occurs when people are comfortable with one another, when they feel open and free. And the more laughter, the more bonding within the group,” according to cultural anthropologist Mahadev Apte.

Behavioral neurobiologist and expert laughter researcher Robert Provine believes that laughter serves as a social signal. Studies show that people are 30 times more likely to laugh in social settings than when they are alone. Laughter is part of a universal human language. It is understood across cultures and unlike words, which we have to learn, we are born with the capacity for giggles and tittering.

When we laugh, it happens unconsciously. We don’t think, “Hey, that’s funny, I’ll respond by laughing.” And while we can consciously be “in the moment” of our laughter, we can’t make true laughter just happen.

But laughter isn’t always sparked by happiness, even though it generally ends up there. Some experts believe that laughter is often used to process things that are difficult to understand. Consider the nervous laughter during an intense event or the seemingly out-of-place laughter during funerals.

Psychology Today notes that these are the moments in life where things don’t make sense, and laughter is the behavior that evolved to respond to such moments. In these cases, maybe laughter can be best considered a defense against suffering and despair; as Psychology Today concludes “If we can joke about a disappointing or traumatic event, we’ll often find ourselves feeling that what’s happened to us isn’t so bad and that we’ll be able to get through it.”

While we know that ce­rtain regions of the brain host certain functions, although researchers do not understand the relationship between laughter and the brain, but some things are known. Laughter appears to be created by a circuit that runs through numerous areas of the brain.

The limbic system – the complex network of nerves beneath the cerebral cortex that deals with instinct and mood – seems to be central in the process of laughing.

The average human laughs 17 times a day, and aside from stress-induced laughter, most laughter is a reaction to humor. Upon a funny scenario, more than a dozen facial muscles contract with the major muscle stimulated, resulting in a smile. The epiglottis interferes with the larynx and disrupts the respiratory system just enough so that air intake becomes irregular, making the laugher gasp. When things really get going, the tear ducts are activated, leaving many of us laughing until we cry.

A study on the sonic structure of laughter found that all human laughter consists of basic short notes repeated every 210 milliseconds. Laughter can be comprised of “ha”s or “ho”s, but not both. Laughter is triggered by other neural circuits in the brain, generating more laughter that explains how sometimes when we start laughing, we can’t stop.

A wonderful thing about laughing – aside from just the pure, feel-good pleasure of laughter – is the health benefits it offers; it can actually change your body. Among other benefits, consider the following:

  • It can stimulate your heart, lungs, muscles and endorphin release by enhancing your oxygen intake.
  • It relieves your stress response, leading to feelings of increased pleasantness.
  • It can tame tension by stimulating circulation and helping muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some physical symptoms of stress.
  • It may improve your immune system. The Mayo Clinic tells us that negative thoughts “manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity.” Conversely, positive thoughts release neuropeptides that help conquer stress and possibly other stress-related illness.
  • It potentially soothes pain by encouraging the body to produce its own natural painkillers.

And perhaps best of all; laughter is infectious. The simple act of laughing can help not only you, but those around you.