Why Laughter is Such Good Medicine
The New York Times reports on why laughing is so good for us.
Although laughter seems like a relative simple concept, the effect it has on our bodies is anything but simple. Research has shown that laughing more can make us happier (overall), slimmer, and healthier.
“Laughter is an early mechanism to bond social groups,” Dr. Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Oxford said. “Primates use it.” He suggests that it is not the intellectual pleasure of humor but the physical act of laughing that is beneficial. The muscle movements involved in laughing cause the brain to produce endorphins and that causes us to feel good. Endorphins are pain relievers and stress reducers.
Dunbar and his colleagues tested resistance to pain in five sets of laboratory studies and one field study at comedy performances. The studies results, which are published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Biological Sciences, provided an answer to the conundrum of whether we laugh because we feel giddy or we feel giddy because we laugh. They also showed that the resistance to pain was not the result of an overall well-being but was from actual laughter.
There is a suggestion that social laughing was originally a part of social grooming, which promotes closeness in a group. “Panting is the sound of rough-and-tumble play,” Dr. Provine said of primate play. It becomes a “ritualization” of the sound of play. And in the course of the evolution of human beings, he suggests, “Pant, pant becomes ha, ha.”
Dr. Dunbar agrees and purports that laughter may have been favored by evolution because it helped bring human groups together, the way other activities like dancing and singing do.