Marshall Brain has studied laughter and tells us that the average adult laughs 17 times a day. When we laugh heartily, changes occur in many parts of the body, even the arm, leg and trunk muscles. Laughter seems to be produced via a circuit that runs through many regions of the brain. (This means that damage to any of these regions can impair one's sense of humor and response to humor, experts say.)
- The left side of the cortex (the layer of cells that covers the entire surface of the forebrain) analyzed the words and structure of the joke.
- The brain's large frontal lobe, which is involved in social emotional responses, became very active.
- The right hemisphere of the cortex carried out the intellectual analysis required to "get" the joke.
- Brainwave activity then spread to the sensory processing area of the occipital lobe (the area on the back of the head that contains the cells that process visual signals).
- Stimulation of the motor sections evoked physical responses to the joke.
Behavioral neurobiologist and pioneering laughter researcher Robert Provine believes that laughter is a decidedly social signal, not an egocentric expression of emotion. In the absence of stimulating media (television, radio or books), people are about 30 times more likely to laugh when they are in a social situation than when they are alone. Humor that creates laughter in these situations may be:
The incongruity theory suggests that humor arises when logic and familiarity are replaced by things that don't normally go together.
The relief theory - an actual story or situation creates tension within us. As we try to cope with two sets of emotions and thoughts, we need a release and laughter is the way of cleansing our system of the built-up tension and incongruity.
In some respects laughter may be a signal of dominance/submission or acceptance/rejection. Consider the distinction between laughing with and laughing at someone.
The superiority theory comes into play when we laugh at jokes that focus on someone else's mistakes, stupidity or misfortune.
A speaker, in other cases, may buffer an aggressive comment with laughter or deliver a remark using "laugh-speak," a consciously controlled hybrid of laughter and speech. In this sense laughter may modify the behavior of others by shaping the emotional tone of a conversation.
Laughter, in its highest form, can also be intentionally used to uplift the spirits of others, as in the case of clowns and comedians who visit hospitals and hospices to bring smiles to those in most need of them. In the Presence of Humor: A Guide to the Humorous Life by Cy Eberhart is a systematic and comprehensive guide, written to increase your ability to find and achieve the humorous life by activating your comic viewpoint. It's designed to help you realize the spiritual strengths that come from experiencing the humor present in your living.
What do YOU think?