There are few things that leave a better feeling than to really laugh. Traditionally associated with well-being and comfort, laughter is an element that has always been part of the way we act and is an emotional expression that we share with other species such as chimpanzees.
But while we usually laugh when we’re feeling happy and full, we can also laugh nervously, and even cynically and falsely at something that hurts, infuriates or disgusts us. We can actually laugh about a lot of things and in very different ways. And although this is something that we see and experience very often, we have to ask What is laughter? Why is it? How many types are there? In this article, we will do a brief exploration of the topic.
Laughs: what is it?
What we mean by laughing is the union of a set of mouth and facial movements that we perform at the same time as we emit. Laughter is an alteration of different systems such as the respiratory system (The air supply becomes irregular as the laughter lasts) and heart, which are stimulated by this action, while contracting and dilating a total of about fifteen facial muscles.
Blood runs down the face, making it more or less red, and if the laughter is sincere and loud, it is possible to cry or even suffer from gastrointestinal disturbances. As for the sound emission, we emit a chain of sounds of the same tone which repeats every 210 milliseconds.
Laughter is a physiological response that occurs in response to external or internal stimulation. It is a reaction to stimulation that helps us to discharge energy caused by certain generally emotional aspects. What exactly causes laughter is something that is analyzed and discussed, and there are differences depending on the type of emotional reaction that causes it.
Laughter is not something unique and specific to humans, but has been reflected in other primates as well., Dogs and even rats. It usually occurs at times when the subject feels good and appreciates the situation they are in at the moment, the content of the interaction, or the inferred aspects of their own behavior or that of someone else.
Brain disorders during laughter
The neurological pathways that are activated during laughter can be multiple depending on the type of laughter emitted., The emotions they arouse or the sincerity with which they are emitted.
If laughter is generated due to an external stimulus, such as a conversation, it is first detected by Wernicke’s area of the left parietal bone to later connect with the hippocampus, basal ganglia, and limbic system ( in which the emotional significance of the fact that will make you laugh). The brain’s reward system synthesizes and releases a torrent of dopamine if the information is found to be positive and original.
Endorphins and oxytocin are also generated, which explains the feelings of relaxation and fullness of genuine laughter.
So, in general, we can say that by laughing, the limbic system and its connection with the prefrontal cortex (which regulates social stimuli and the inhibition of emotions and contributes to the processing of information), as well as with basal ganglia (especially the nucleus accumbens) and the brain reward circuit in general. The primary motor and premotor cortex are also linked, although in this case laughter is usually voluntary and forced. To finish, the autonomic nervous system responses that produce redness and tearing.
Functions and benefits of laughter
We talked about what laughter is and the brain structures involved in it, but Is this beneficial to us? What is the function of laughter?
The answer to the first question is whether, because of the different functions and benefits that laughter causes.
1. It allows the release of energy caused by emotions
We can imagine laughter as an explosive reaction, which occurs more or less suddenly. The movements performed allow the externalization of emotions and reduce the level of internal tension that they generate on the body. So it is with positive and negative emotions.
2. It causes physical and mental activation
Although the previous point refers to the fact that it helps release energy, the truth is that another function of laughter is to cause an increase in one’s own activity. Laughter tends to clear our minds and recharge our energy stores, improving our mood and pushing us into action.
3. Reduces stress and pain
Laughter has been shown to increase dopamine and oxytocin levelsIn addition, this action generates a significant decrease in the level of cortisol in the blood. In this way, laughter reduces the level of stress and anxiety. It also decreases the level of perceived pain.
4. Improve our health
One of the many benefits of laughter is that it improves our health. improve immune system function and oxygenation capacity, Stimulates our heart rate and lowers blood pressure.
5. Function of adaptation to the social environment
Laughter is an act of communication that humans and most species that demonstrate the ability to do so use as a binding mechanism. It is an action that facilitates social interaction and connection with others, Enhanced aspect because to the contagious being it facilitates in others the same emotional state. In addition, hormones are released that make it easier to feel and get closer to the environment with which we laughed.
In the social functions of laughter we find the fact that it allows us to approach and promote belonging to a group, as well as reducing tensions between its members. It also allows conflict management in which the perspectives existing in the group on certain realities can be negotiated, shared and contrasted.
6. It generates sexual attraction
Several studies point out that a sense of humor and the ability to laugh greatly influence how one person is attracted to another. usually straight men are attracted to women who tend to laugh sincerelyWhile women do not make men who, although they do not have to laugh often, show humor and know how to make them laugh.
7. It has defensive functions
Laughter also has a psychic function linked to self-defense. Through laughter, humans are able to reduce the level of fear and anxiety generated by various external or internal stimuli. It also allows situations to be put into perspective, and even links with the capacity for resilience or to overcome adversity.
It is also an element which generally arises when one realizes a cognitive dissonance., As a mechanism to reduce the level of tension that this produces to us.
8. But also offensive
While laughter is generally associated with positive feelings, we cannot ignore that in many cases it is also used aggressively to attack or control our fellow human beings. This is what happens when you use laughter to mock or laugh at others. Through laughter, the attacker may attempt to feel superior to the attacker, either by controlling the specific situation or by reducing his own state of dissatisfaction. It can happen on a conscious or unconscious level.
Different types of laughter
There are several classifications in terms of types of laughter, To be able to create typologies according to the level of intensity, the function they have or if the laugh in question is genuine or voluntary.
Technically, they could describe hundreds of them. Here are a few.
1. Genuine laughter
It’s the kind of natural, involuntary laugh, Caused by stimulation or emotions without target for its emission. It’s the kind of laughter that generates significant benefits. It is usually related to happiness or positive aspects.
2. Simulated laughter
It’s a laugh that happens intentionally and on purpose. Within this group can include social laughter. It’s usually done when the sender has a specific purpose, whether it’s to belong to the group, bond, express displeasure or irony, or attack someone.
3. Social laughter
This laughter is usually a subtype of those simulated, although it can actually happen as well. It is about using laughter as an element of communication with our comrades, Aims to express approval or love or to bond.
4. Laughter induced by a substance
Certain substances, medications, and drugs can induce states of happiness, well-being, and expansive humor in people that can end up causing laughter. They can also cause laughter without eliciting positive emotions..
5. Pathological laughter
Certain neurological and / or psychiatric pathologies can occur with sudden laughterOut of place or without there is a reason for such a laugh. These can be laughs empty of content, and unless accompanied by the appropriate emotional response, they don’t generate any health benefits.
6. Laughter from tickling
Tickling, the pleasant stimulation of certain sensitive areas of our body such as the armpits, feet, neck or even the hands, can generate a reaction in the form of laughter in a large number of people. This type of laughter is special because the stimuli that provoke it are physical. However, it should be noted that they also occur in a context in which we are in contact with other people, usually in a playful environment (although there are related tortures).
7. Denigrating laughs
This kind of laughter serves the function of making fun of another person.. It is laughter provoked for a specific purpose, usually simulated.
8. Nervous laughter
This type of laughter is usually genuine, but not because of pleasant feelings, but the need to reduce the level of internal tension that the person suffers from due to nervousness or stress. Basically, the subject laughs because he does not know how to react to a situation or what to do next.
- Díez, S. (2005). Laughs, the best stress reliever. Ment Sana Magazine, 5 years old; 134-136.
- Wildgruber, D .; Szameitat, DP; Ethofer, T .; Brück, C .; Alter, K .; Grodd, W. and Kreifelts, B. (2013). Different types of laughter modulate connectivity in different parts of the laughter perception network. PLOS ONE 8 (5). e63441. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0063441