Laughter really is the best medicine

A rattling good laugh with friends will help you deal with pain thanks to opiate-like chemicals that flood the brain, according to a British study released on Wednesday.

Researchers carried out lab experiments in which volunteers watched either comedy clips from "Mr Bean" or "Friends," or non-humorous items such as golf or wildlife programmes, while their resistance to mild pain was monitored.

Another test was conducted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where the volunteers watched either a stand-up comedy show or a theatrical drama.

In lab conditions, the pain came from a deep-frozen wine-cooler sleeve which was slipped onto the arm or from a blood-pressure cuff that was pumped to the threshold of tolerance.

For the Fringe Festival, the volunteers were asked to do a tough exercise - leaning against the wall with their legs at right angles, as if sitting on a straight-backed chair - before and immediately after the performance, to see if laughter had helped with the pain.

Just 15 minutes of laughter increased the level of pain tolerance by around 10 percent, the study found.

In the lab experiments, the neutral, non-funny programming had no pain-alleviating effect at all. Nor did watching drama at the Fringe Festival.

However, the study notes two important distinctions.

The only laughter that worked was relaxed, unforced laughter that creases the eyes, as opposed to a polite titter.

And this kind of belly laugh is far likelier to happen when you are with others, rather than being alone.

"Very little research has been done into why we laugh and what role it plays in society," said Robin Dunbar, head of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford.

"Using microphones, we were able to record each of the participants and found that in a comedy show, they laughed for about a third of the time, and their pain tolerance rose as a consequence."

The protection apparently comes from endorphins, a complex chemical that helps to transmit messages between neurons but also dulls signals of physical pain and psychological stress.

Endorphins are the famous product of physical exercise - they help create the "buzz" that comes from running, swimming, rowing, yoga and so on.

In laughter, the release comes from an involuntary, repeated muscular exertion that comes from exhaling without drawing a breath, the scientists believe. The exertion leaves us exhausted and thereby triggers the endorphins.

Great apes are also believed to be able to laugh but, unlike humans, they breathe in as well as out when they do so.

The investigators believe the experiments help to understand the physiological and social mechanism of how laughter is generated.

The group seems vital in unleashing the right kind of endorphin-making laughter, they contend.

Previous studies have focussed more on why humans laugh, as opposed to how they do it.

One theory is that laughter helps transmit mating signals or cements bonding between individuals.

Another idea is that, in a group setting, laughter promotes social cooperation and collective identity. It is thus an evolutionary tool to help survival.

The paper appears in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a journal published by Britain's de-facto academy of sciences.

ri/mh/har

 

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Facilities Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Facilities Manager is required to join the m...

    Recruitment Genius: New Business Sales Consultant - Mobile - OTE £35,000

    £14000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent telecoms compa...

    Recruitment Genius: New Business Sales Consultant - Unified - OTE £35,000

    £14000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent telecoms compa...

    Recruitment Genius: Trade Sales Consultant - Furniture

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a besp...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum