Laughter Effects
12th Feb, 2019

Laughter Effects

It is common knowledge that the mind influences the body and vice versa. An ancient medical principle, “vis medicatrix naturae” includes reference to the innate ability of the body to heal itself.

Recent decades have witnessed the growing links in research between neuroscience and the immune system.

Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is an expanding field of research that suggests in addition to its established psychological benefits, humour including laughter may have physiological effects on immune functioning. According to PNI theory and some humour studies, humour may influence health through moderation of stress chemicals and/or immune-enhancement (1-9).

Laughter is a highly complex process. Joyous or mirthful laughter is considered a positive stress (eustress) that involves complicated brain activities leading to a positive effect on health. Norman Cousins was a pioneer in the idea that beliefs, thoughts and emotions have biological effects (“biotranslation”). In his ground-breaking work (10), Cousins documented his use of laughter in treating himself for autoimmune disease, with medical approval and oversight, into remission (11).

Though studies have been small, researchers have found humour and laughter may improve our health in some of the following ways;

  • Recent research observed a 43% decline in moderate pain intensity after a six-week humour therapy program in elderly people with chronic pain. The program consisted of 6, weekly, one-hour group sessions which included humorous video clips, games, comical stories, humorous music and jokes. It was concluded that humour therapy can have an impact on pain intensity and, thus, be employed in social groups of elderly individuals such as those in nursing homes (12).
  • A 2018 randomized controlled trial found cortisol levels significantly decreased in laughter yoga (LY) and comedy movie groups. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) levels were not affected.

120 healthy university students experienced LY which involved watching a comedy movie (spontaneous laughter), or reading a book. Effect of spontaneous laughter on cortisol lasted longer than that of simulated laughter  (13).

  • A study exploring the modulation of neuro-immune parameters during mirthful laughter found increases in natural killer cell activity, increase in immunoglobulins G and M (IgG  and IgM ) with several of these effects lasting 12 hours into recovery from initiation of the humour intervention (6).
  • Researchers examined the effects of laughter on neuroendocrine hormones involved in classical stress responses. It was found that mirthful laughter reduced serum levels of cortisol, dopac , epinephrine, and growth hormone. The authors concluded that since increased cortisol and epinephrine levels during stress are immunosuppressive, decreasing their levels may diminish the suppression of the respective immune components and laughter may play a role in immune-modulation (4).
  • Researchers found that even the anticipation of a laughter event reduced the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine and dopac for their experiment group. Epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and dopac were reduced by 39%, 70% and 38% respectively (statistically significant compared to the control group) (11, 14).

There are numerous challenges in researching humour and laughter, particularly when the focus of study is spontaneous humour in health‐care interactions. Humour is multi-faceted, with social, cognitive, perceptual and emotional aspects.

What it is determines, to some extent, if or how it is recognized, understood and reciprocated (or not) (15). Humour might be complex, but, according to patients, it is an activity worth engaging in, with one study exploring patients’ perspectives on the use of humour in health care (15).

Humour and laughter is a resource that is easily available and can be a low-cost strategy to reduce stress.

Researchers conclude that more studies are needed, however with a growing body of biological evidence, there is increasing support that laughter plays an important factor in understanding humanity and in contributing to human well-being (16).

1Bennett MP, Zeller JM, Rosenberg L, McCann J.The effect of mirthful laughter on stress and natural killer cell activity. Altern Ther Health Med. 2003;9(2):38-45.
2Berk L, Tan S, Eby B, Carmons M, Vorce D. Modulation of human natural killer cells by cate- cholamines. Clin Res. 1984;32(1):51A.
3Berk L, Tan S, Nehlsen-Cannarella S, et al. Humor associated laughter decreases cortisol and increases spontaneous lymphocyte blastogenesis. Clin Res. 1988;36:435A.
4Berk L, Tan S, Fry W, et al. Neuroendocrine and stress hormone changes during mirthful laughter. Am J Med Sci. 1989;298(6):391-396.
5Berk L, Tan S, Fry W. Eustress of humor associated laughter modulates specific immune system components [abstract]. Ann Behav Med. 1993;15(suppl):S111.
6Berk L, Felten D, Tan S, Bittman B, Westengard J. Modulation of neuroimmune parameters during the eustress of humor-associated mirthful laughter. Altern Ther Health Med. 2001;7(2):62-72, 74-76.
7Lefcourt H, Davidson-Katz K, Kueneman K. Humor and immune-system functioning. Humor: Int J Humor Res. 1990;3(3):305-321.
8Martin R, Dobbin J. Sense of humor, hassles, and immunoglobulin A: evidence for a stress-moderating effect of humor. Int J Psych Med. 1988;18(2):93-105.
9Morreall J. Humor and work. Humor: Int J Humor Res. 1991;4(3-4):359-373.
10American Physiological Society. & Anticipating A Laugh Reduces Our Stress Hormones, Study Shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 April 2008.
11American Physiological Society. & Anticipating A Laugh Reduces Our Stress Hormones, Study Shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 April 2008.
12Behrouz, S., Mazloom, S. R., Kooshyar, H., Aghebati, N., Reza, H., & Vashani, B. (2017).Investigating the Effect of Humor Therapy on Chronic Pain in the Elderly Living in Nursing Homes in. Evidence-Based Care Journal, 7(2), 27– DOI: 10.22038/EBCJ.2017.24247.1529
13Akiko Fujisawa Atsuhiko Ota Masaaki Matsunaga Yuanying Li Masako Kakizaki Hisao Naito Hiroshi Yatsuya Effect of laughter yoga on salivary cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone among healthy university students: A randomized controlled trial here.
14Lee S Berk, Stanley A Tan, and Dottie Berk. Cortisol and Catecholamine stress hormone decrease is associated with the behavior of perceptual anticipation of mirthful laughter The FASEB Journal 2008 22:1_supplement, 946.11-946.11
15McCreaddie M, Payne S. Humour in health‐care interactions: a risk worth taking.Health Expectations: An International Journal of Public Participation in Health Care and Health Policy. 2014;17(3):332-344. doi:10.1111/j.1369-7625.2011.00758
16JongEun Yim, Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review, The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine, 2016, Volume 239, Issue 3, Pages 243-249, Released July 16, 2016.