Why laughter is really the best medicine
A British study has revealed that laughter really is the best medicine when it comes to dealing with pain, as it releases opiate-like chemicals that flood the brain. Read on for more.health and fitness Updated: Sep 14, 2011 18:13 IST
In a lab experiment, volunteers were made to watch either comedy clips from Mr Bean or Friends, or non-humorous items such as golf or wildlife programs, while their resistance to mild pain was monitored.
Another test was conducted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where the volunteers watched either a stand-up comedy show or a theatrical drama.
In lab conditions, the pain came from a deep-frozen wine-cooler sleeve, which was slipped onto the arm, or from a blood-pressure cuff that was pumped to the threshold of tolerance.
For the Fringe Festival, the volunteers were asked to do a tough exercise leaning against the wall with their legs at right angles, as if sitting on a straight-backed chair, before and immediately after the performance, to see if laughter had helped with the pain.
The study found just 15 minutes of laughter increased the level of pain tolerance by around 10 percent.
In the lab experiments, the neutral, non-funny programming had no pain-alleviating effect at all. Nor did watching drama at the Fringe Festival.
The study also pointed out two differences, one being that it only works when it is laughter that is relaxed, unforced and which creases the eyes, and the other that does not work is a polite titter.
"Very little research has been done into why we laugh and what role it plays in society," ABC Science quoted Robin Dunbar, head of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford, as saying.
"Using microphones, we were able to record each of the participants and found that in a comedy show, they laughed for about a third of the time, and their pain tolerance rose as a consequence," Dunbar stated.
The protection apparently comes from endorphins, a complex chemical that helps to transmit messages between neurons but also dulls signals of physical pain and psychological stress.
Endorphins are the famous product of physical exercise, creating the "buzz" that comes from running, swimming, rowing, yoga and so on.
In laughter, the release comes from an involuntary, repeated muscular exertion that comes from exhaling without drawing a breath, the scientists believe.
The exertion leaves us exhausted and thereby triggers the endorphins.
The results appear in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.