Physiology

Laughter Might Really Be The Best Medicine

It's easy to roll your eyes when someone tells you that laughter is the best medicine, but research says it might actually be true. One study found that laughing releases endorphins that increase the body's ability to tolerate pain.

A Laughing Matter

It would be pretty great if watching an episode of Silicon Valley were as effective at relieving a headache as over-the-counter painkillers. And while researchers don't go that far, they have found that genuine laughter does indeed increase a person's tolerance for pain. In the study, which was released in a 2011 issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers had participants watch episodes of South Park, Friends, The Simpsons or stand-up clips from celebrated comics. These participants were exposed to pain (in the form of a tight blood-pressure cuff, a cold wine sleeve on the arm, or a wall sit — when you sit against a wall on an imaginary chair, holding your legs at a 90-degree angle, and your legs really, really burn ) and tested and how well they handled it pre- and post-laughter. "The results confirmed that when laughter is elicited, pain thresholds are significantly increased, whereas when subjects watched something that does not naturally elicit laughter, pain thresholds do not change (and are often lower). These results can best be explained by the action of endorphins released by laughter."

That last point is key: it had long been accepted by scientists that laughter helps people tolerate pain, but was that benefit from the laughing itself, or the positive feeling that resulted from laughing? After exposing some of the study participants to feel-good, but not funny, content (like the beloved documentary Planet Earth) the researchers saw that only the laughing participants had increased pain thresholds. They found that the physical act of laughing released endorphins, which "play a crucial role in the management of pain."

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Can I LOL Myself To Good Health?

You sure can try. One increasingly popular way to weave laughter into your healthy habits regimen: Laughter yoga. "In 1995, Dr. Madan Kataria created Laughter Yoga, a nonprofit meditative practice that involves breathing and laughing exercises, in Mumbai," explains the New York Times. "There are now thousands of laughter clubs in roughly 100 countries."

And, if you can't join a laughter club near you, you can at least turn on the TV. Feeling good might be just a chuckle away.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. The average person laughs 17 times a day. 00:31

  2. The origins of laughter may lie in a sigh of relief expressed by our ancient ancestors after a frightening incident. 01:58

  3. Laughter helps us to relax by shutting off a valve that transports stress and adrenaline throughout the body. 02:40

Why Do We Laugh When Someone Falls?

It's kind of mean.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Laughter is thought to be a way of releasing cognitive energy. 00:48

  2. It might be the natural reaction from our brains to laugh when someone falls but is not seriously hurt. 01:37

  3. Laughing benefits vascular health. 02:34

Do Animals Laugh?

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Written By
Curiosity Staff
October 17, 2014