Laughter is the physiological reaction to occasions of humor or the
'comic': an outward expression of amusement. Aristotle noted that "only the
human animal laughs". No satisfactory theory of laughter that explains why we
laugh has yet gained wide acceptance. A number of competing theories have been
written. For Aristotle, we laugh at inferior or ugly individuals, because we
feel a joy at being superior to them. Socrates was reported by Plato as saying
that the ridiculous was characterized by a display of self-ignorance.
Schopenhauer wrote that it results from an incongruity between a concept and the
real object it represents. Hegel shared almost exactly the same view, but saw
the concept as an "appearance" and believed that laughter then totally negates
that appearance. For Freud, laughter is an economical phenomenon whose function
is to release psychic energy that had been wrongly mobilized by incorrect or
Use laughter to beat the Stress
Movie Video Clip film
Laughter leader Beth invites you to BE
the fruitcake and laugh stress away
Physiologically laughter can be subcategorised into various groupings
depending upon the extent and pitch of the laughter: giggles, clicks (which can
be almost silent), chortles, chuckles, hoots, cackles, sniggers and guffaws are
all types of laughter. Smiling may be considered a mild silent form of laughter.
Some studies indicate that laughter differs depending upon the gender
laughing person: women tend to laugh in a more "sing-song" way, while men more
often grunt or snort. Babies start to laugh at about 4 months of age.
Philosopher John Morreall theorises that human laughter may have its biological
origins as a kind of shared expression of relief at the passing of danger.
Recently Peter Marteinson theorised that laughter is our response to the
perception that social being is not real in the same sense that factual states
of affairs are real, and that we normally blur the distinction between cultural
and natural truth types so that we do not notice their differing criteria for
truth and falsehood. This is an Ontic-Epistemic Theory of the comic.
On the other hand, laughing at somebody is considered to be ridiculing
the individual. Some consider this form of laughter to be the mind's way of
"purging" negative, unwanted things and thoughts not of the self. For example,
when a young boy sees another boy fall down, he may laugh because he knows that
he does not want to fall down himself, therefore by "laughing" he is pushing the
negative thought of falling down out of his mind.
Laughter is a part of human behaviour regulated by the brain. It helps humans
clarify their intentions in social interaction and provides an emotional context
to our conversations. Laughter is used as a signal for being part of a group —
it signals acceptance and positive interactions. Laughter is sometimes
contagious and the laughter of one person can itself provoke laughter from
others. This may account in part for the popularity of laugh tracks in situation
comedy television shows.
However, laughter in certain contexts can feel threatening as in drama. For
instance, the Batman supervillain The Joker is an insane clown-like criminal who
finds violent crime hilarious and often laughs hysterically for the slightest
reason, especially when committing murder. Furthermore, one of his favourite
methods is a deadly poison that causes the victims to laugh uncontrollably
Certain medical theories attribute improved health and well-being to laughter
as it triggers the release of endorphins. A study demonstrated neuroendocrine
and stress-related hormones decreased during episodes of laughter, which
provides support for the claim that humour can relieve stress.
Norman Cousins wrote a book, Anatomy of an Illness As Perceived by the
Patient, in 1979, on his experience with laughter in helping him recover
from a serious illness.
In 1989, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an
article, wherein the author wrote that "a humor therapy program can increase the
quality of life for patients with chronic problems and that laughter has an
immediate symptom-relieving effect for these patients, an effect that is
potentiated when laughter is induced regularly over a period".
Another article, some years later, reported on a medical situation, laughter
syncope, where laughter causes a person to lose consciousness.
Research has shown that parts of the limbic system are involved in laughter.
The limbic system is a primitive part of the brain that is involved in emotions
and helps us with basic functions necessary for survival. Two structures in the
limbic system are involved in producing laughter: the amygdala and the
J.Y.T. Greig writes, quoting ancient authors, that laughter is not believed
to begin in a child until the child is forty days old.
Researchers frequently learn how the brain functions by studying what happens
when something goes wrong. People with certain types of brain damage produce
abnormal laughter. This is found most often in people with pseudobulbar palsy,
gelastic epilepsy and, to a lesser degree, with multiple sclerosis, ALS, and
some brain tumours. Inappropriate laughter is considered symptomatic of
psychological disorders including dementia and hysteria.
Robert A. Heinlein's view of why people laugh is explained in one of his most
praised novels, Stranger In A Strange Land, as simply seeing someone being hurt
in one form or another.
In most people, laughter can be induced by tickling, a phenomenon in itself.
Laughing gas is sometimes used as a painkiller. Other drugs, such as cannabis,
can also induce episodes of strong laughter. At rare times, pain can sometimes
be used to create laughter, though not necessarily with sadistic or masochistic
The December 7, 1984 Journal of the American Medical Association describes
the neurological causes of laughter as follows:
"Although there is no known "laugh center" in the brain, its neural
mechanism has been the subject of much, albeit inconclusive, speculation. It is
evident that its expression depends on neural paths arising in close association
with the telencephalic and diencephalic centers concerned with respiration.
Wilson considered the mechanism to be in the region of the mesial thalamus,
hypothalamus, and subthalamus. Kelly and co-workers, in turn, postulated that
the tegmentum near the periaqueductal gray contains the integrating mechanism
for emotional expression. Thus, supranuclear pathways, including those from the
limbic system that Papez hypothesized to mediate emotional expressions such as
laughter, probably come into synaptic relation in the reticular core of the
brain stem. So while purely emotional responses such as laughter are mediated by
subcortical structures, especially the hypothalamus, and are stereotyped, the
cerebral cortex can modulate or suppress them."
Laughter might not be confined to humans. Chimpanzees show laughter-like behavior in response to physical contact, such as wrestling, chasing, or
tickling, and rat pups emit short, high frequency, ultrasonic vocalizations
during rough and tumble play, and when tickled. Rat pups "laugh" far more than
older rats. Chimpanzee laughter is not readily recognizable to humans as such,
because it is generated by alternating inhalations and exhalations that sound
more like breathing and panting. The differences between chimpanzee and human
laughter may be the result of adaptations that have evolved to enable human
speech. However, some behavioural psychologists argue that self-awareness of
one's situation, or the ability to identify with somebody else's predicament,
are prerequisites for laughter, so animals are not really laughing in the same
way that we do.