Why are we laughing? The causes that make laughter innate

For a long time, the focus has been on why we are sad or have a disorder, with the clear intention of “correcting” the problem.

however, what many psychologists and psychiatrists forgot was to understand why we laugh, To encourage laughter and promote long-term psychological well-being.

While research has widened this question a bit more in recent years, the truth is that this question still raises a lot of unknowns. Let’s take a closer look at this problem.

    Why do we laugh at humans?

    Throughout the history of psychology, much attention has been paid to the negative and pathological aspects before the positive ones in trying to understand their origin. Whether it is anxiety, stress, depression or anger, these emotions have been studied extensively in an attempt to find out how to correct them. Instead, positive emotions were seen only as the desired outcome, without understanding why they are occurring.

    Fortunately, the vision has changed. It is now about understanding the source of the person’s discomfort, connecting it in a healthier way and achieving well-being, but understanding how to produce this positive situation and maintain it. This idea has been widely defended in currents such as positive psychology, by Martin Seligman, promote acceptance and understanding of positive emotions, Without pathologizing negative emotions or treating them as terribly undesirable.

    Laughter is undoubtedly good, having multiple organic benefits. It has been linked not only to our greater physical and emotional well-being, but also to it. acquires a very important role at the evolutionary level, Demonstrated in our social relationships. Despite all of this, it wasn’t until recently that there was an attempt to approach laughter scientifically, with the intention of answering the question of why we laugh. This question is so simple and, at the same time, so complex, that its answer remains, in the broad sense, a mystery.

    The importance of laughter

    Happiness, joy, humor and laughter are positive phenomena necessary for our body. In most cases, and as long as it occurs in the right contexts, these emotions have a clear adaptive function, both personally and socially. normally when we laugh with other people, we are clearly acting in a prosocial way, Giving them signals that we love being with them, which strengthens relational bonds.

    Laughter is a very important non-verbal component in communication. It is the non-explicit way of indicating that what we are saying is either a joke or something to be interpreted with humor. For example, if we say something that seems serious but at the same time we laugh, it is as if we are fixing the problem. This softens the blow and keeps you from having an awkward time with other people, preserving relationships.

    And this is where it acquires its evolutionary importance. Laughter is a phenomenon that has been observed in other species, many of which are close to humans (bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans) and has also been observed in foxes. Laughter in the animal world is used to indicate that when a certain action is performed it does not go seriously, for example in “fights” or bites between foxes. This is their way of saying: “they are just playing, there is nothing to fear”.

    Another important aspect of laughter is its regulating function of group behavior, attributed to the fact that it can be transmitted. As with yawning and posture, laughter is contagious, forcing members of a group to sync up by laughing all at once, even if they have no clear reason for it.

    The reason laughter is contagious has to do with neurons that are very important to humans: mirror neurons. These neurons are of great importance in our behavior, because it is what allows us to reproduce the gestures of others. The same would happen with laughter: seeing another person laughing, these neurons would be activated and we would reproduce their behavior.

      What are the benefits of laughter?

      Laughter influences very positively on an organic level. It stimulates the immune system, which results in greater resistance to pathogens. It has also been observed that thanks to this our pain threshold increases, that is, it makes us less sensitive to pain. It is for this reason that therapies such as laughter therapy have been found useful in hospital settings and in various medical treatments. Although the disease is not cured, the person with chronic pain feels it less.

      Laughter has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels and improve blood oxygenation. You shouldn’t think that laughing is synonymous with running-1 marathon, but it turns out to be good aerobic exercise. Thanks to its effects, it has been possible to link being a laughing person to having up to 40% less vascular problems, which makes you live an average of four and a half years longer. In other words, you could say that this popular saying of “laughter prolongs life”.

      But in addition to the physical, it is obvious that laughter influences our mental health. Laughing helps calm anger, which in addition to reducing the risk of heart problems, prevents relationship problems. In addition, it helps improve mood, by increasing the levels of dopamine and endorphins, hormones involved in psychological well-being.

      What happens to our brain when we laugh?

      Thanks to modern neuroimaging techniques, we have been able to see how the brain behaves when we laugh.

      First, for laughter to occur, it is necessary for our brain to interpret a received stimulus as something incongruous. In other words, when we relate to the world, our brain expects things to happen according to its rational predictions. If something comes out of this reasoning, the brain interprets it as an incongruity, which surprises it.

      It’s easy to understand when they tell us a joke. It makes us laugh because the “Punchline” surprised us. This surprising perception of incongruity would occur in the dorsolateral prefrontal region and the temporoparietal junction of the dominant hemisphere.

      Subsequently, and in response to this incongruity, the brain activates the reward circuit. It does this by releasing dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter that produces that pleasant sensation associated with laughter and happiness. It is for this reason that it can be said that laughter is very closely related to other pleasurable phenomena, in which the reward circuit is also activated, such as drug use, sex, being in a social relationship or to feed.

      The phenomenon of humor

      In our species, laughter is innate and begins to manifest itself beyond the first five weeks of life.. The fact that laughter is something universal can be verified with people who are deaf, blind or deafblind. In these three groups, as long as there is no comorbid disorder associated with relationship problems, laughter is a naturally occurring phenomenon, even if they have never seen and / or heard it.

      Anything that is simple and mundane can make us laugh. However, laughter should not be confused with humor, an element which, while closely related to it, is not universal. Humor depends on cultural, personality, and developmental factors, so each person has a very different idea of ​​what makes them laugh.

      It is for this reason that some people are more serious than others, because their idea of ​​what is funny can be much stricter than ours. Factors such as age and gender also have an influence. Women laugh more, appreciate humor more, because we have seen that they activate two specific areas of the brain linked to the brain: that of language and that of short-term memory.

      We have seen, moreover, that we do not laugh not all in the same way. Psychologist Paul Ekman, a pioneer in the study of emotions, was able to differentiate up to 16 different types of smiles and laughter, each with different emotional meaning and interpretation. In addition, research has been conducted on how laughter is true or false, with Guillaume Duchenne as a pioneer of these studies, who observed that the way the eyes are fixed on false laughter is very different from the way it is done. in the real world.

      Pathological laughter syndrome

      Just as laughter can be synonymous with happiness and involve multiple organic benefits, it can also indicate that you are suffering from a serious problem. There is laughter caused by stress, anxiety, tension or following a neurological injury.

      Dysfunctional laughter, manifesting itself uncontrollably and with disproportionate intensity is called pathological laughter syndrome, which can also turn into crying and quickly alternate between euphoria and sadness.

      This syndrome can be seen in many medical and psychiatric conditions, such as schizophrenia., Different types of dementia, Angelman syndrome, epilepsy, stroke, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease or brain tumors. In these cases, laughter is an indicator that you are suffering from a health problem and that medical, surgical, psychiatric, and psychological intervention is required.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Gervais, M. and Wilson, DS. (2006). The evolution and functions of laughter and humor: a synthetic approach. The quarterly journal of biology. 80, 395-430. 10.1086 / 498281.

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