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Child Laughing

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 false expectations.


Use laughter to beat the Stress

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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

of the 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.

In humans

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 before death.

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". [1]

The Incredible Human Journey By By Alice Roberts

The Incredible Human Journey By By Alice Roberts from

"I am gripped by the central idea that only about 200 families originally emerged out of Africa and between them populated the whole world."

Another article, some years later, reported on a medical situation, laughter syncope, where laughter causes a person to lose consciousness.[2]

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 hippocampus.

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. [3]

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.

Benefits of Laughter

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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 reasoning.

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.

References and Notes

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