Having a good laugh with friends really does help to deal with pain, suggests a new study by an international research team led by Oxford University.
The team found that when we laugh genuinely, as opposed to producing a polite titter, the physical exertion leaves us exhausted and triggers the release of protective endorphins. These endorphins manage pain and promote feelings of well- being. According to the team’s research paper, published online in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, watching just 15 minutes of comedy with others increased the pain threshold by an average of about 10%.
The fact that only this type of laughter releases endorphins has probably evolved as a way of promoting socialising amongst humans, says the paper. It points out that many studies have already shown that laughter is 30 times more likely to occur if you are with others than when you are alone. The endorphin rush appears to be limited to a good belly laugh shared with others. The study concludes that when we laugh heartily, we produce a series of exhalations without drawing breath, and this appears to trigger the release of endorphins.
The paper is based on more than 10 years of research to discover what determined our level of pain tolerance. Subjects were asked to watch TV clips or live stage shows. Their pain thresholds were measured before and after doing this, using a number of different pain manipulations.