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​Laughter Was a Survival Tool

  • Laughter is thought to have evolved as a form of social bonding in animals and as a way to express playful intention.


  • Janet Gibson, a professor emerita of cognitive psychology at Grinnell College in Iowa, said that laughter evolved in humans as a communication signal. 

  • Over the centuries, the brain kept these connections so that we now laugh when we hear things that are relaxing, funny, surprising, amusing.

  • Anthropologists think that laughter is universal, but that doesn’t mean every culture finds the same things funny.

  • Laughter is about people, not jokes.

  • Laughter is 30 times more likely to occur in the company of others than when one is alone. It’s also contagious. You’re much more likely to laugh if you hear someone else laughing.

       From CNN's Katie Hunt 7/1/21

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­We've all heart the phrase, 'Laughter is the best medicine' and it's true!


Laughter has been clinically researched for decades but was not generally perceived to have any healing benefit until 1979 when Norman Cousins published his book, Anatomy of an Illness.

Some of the health benefits of laughter, now widely accepted are:

  • Helps treat insomnia

  • Supports the immune system

  • Enhances creativity and problem solving

  • Improves heart health

  • Boosts memory

  • Helps treat depression and anxiety

  • Relieves pain

  • Decreases cortisol levels

  • Increases oxygen in the body

  • Revs up the sympathetic nervous system without raising blood pressure

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­Behavioral neurobiologist and pioneering laughter researcher Robert Provine jokes that he has encountered one major problem in his study ­of laughter. The problem is that laughter disappears just when he is ready to observe it -- especially in the laboratory. One of his studies looked at the sonic structure of laughter. He discovered that all human laughter consists of variations on a basic form that consists of short, vowel-like notes repeated every 210 milliseconds. Laughter can be of the "ha-ha-ha" variety or the "ho-ho-ho" type but not a mixture of both, he says. Provine also suggests that humans have a "detector" that responds to laughter by triggering other neural circuits in the brain, which, in turn, generates more laughter. This explains why laughter is contagious.

Humor researcher Peter Derks describes laughter response as "a really quick, automatic type of behavior." "In fact, how quickly our brain recognizes the incongruity that lies at the heart of most humor and attaches an abstract meaning to it determines whether we laugh," he says.

Excerpts from How Laughter Works by Marshall Brain

Other Interesting Facts About LAUGHTER
  • People begin laughing in infancy - even before they understand humor.


  • 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 connections and helps a healthy brain coordinate its activity.


  • 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.

  • 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 or disliked.

Excerpts from The Science of Laughter and Its Physical, Cognitive and Emotional Power   

by Janet M. Gibson, Professor of Cognitive Psychology at Grinnell College

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