Laughter is surely as old as time and according to some evidence, laughter came before speech. Biologically, laughter is a cue that indicates a feeling of safety and has also been shows as a no-verbal way of communication between mothers and infants. Anywhere you go in the world, a similarity of language is not needed to share and understand the meaning of a laugh.
Compiled by Professor Sophie Scott, a neuroscientist and stand-up comic, here are some surprising facts about laughter:
1) Rats Laugh When Tickled: from as early as the 1990’s, scientists have known that rats laugh amongst themselves as they play. Their laughter is high-pitched and had to be heard with special instrumentation
2) You’re More Likely to Laugh with Others, With or Without Jokes: laughter expert Dr. Robert Provine observed 1,200 people in their natural environment and found that laughter followed jokes only 20-30% of the time. The rest of the time laughter was evoked by silly comments, even those not directly aimed at being funny. This demonstrated that a person’s presence is a much bigger factor for laughing rather than content itself.
3) Our Brains Can Detect Fake Laughter: Professor Sophie Scott’s research found that when we hear laughter that is forced or staged, areas of the brain associated with emotional analysis light up, showing that we can tell the laughter is different than true laughter and that we are trying to decipher the cause.
4) Laughter is Contagious: The famous phrase that ‘laughter is contagious’ is supported by scientific findings that the premotor cortical region of your brain is activated when you see or hear someone else laughing and this prepares your facial muscles and vocals to mobilize and join in.
5) Jokes Are Funnier if You Know the Comedian: Research indicates that there is a strong preference for familiarity when it comes to humor. People are much more likely to laugh at a joke if it is told by someone they know or a famous comedian as opposed to someone with whom they are unfamiliar.
6) Laughter Benefits Relationships: Not surprisingly, laughter is good for our relationships. Studies have shown that couples who laugh and smile when discussing a sensitive topic feel immediately happier about their relationship and have an overall more positive feeling about it. They are also more likely to stay together in the long-term.
7) Laughter is Cultivated Through Timing: Different parts of the brain are at work for speaking and for laughing and it has been observed that laughter happened after speech, in the space in between. Also known as ‘comical timing’ this is a knowledge comedians use to draw laughter and energy from an audience.
8) Laughter is Attractive in Gender-Specific Ways: It was found that women laugh 126 times more than men in male-female conversations. Studies also indicate that men seeking partners are more likely to advertise their ability to make a woman laugh while women are more likely to seek a partner who can make her laugh.
9) Some Things Universally Provoke Laughter: Though no one thing across the board can make everyone laugh, one clinical study found that a clip depicting people trying not to laugh in a situation where laughing would be extremely inappropriate was able to make almost all participants laugh.
The Moral of the story? Get more laughter in your life, it’s medicine!! Enjoy.