Laughter just might be the most contagious of all emotional experiences. Although laughter is one of the distinguishing features of human beings, little is known about the mechanisms behind it. Laughter is not limited to communicating mirth. It can be triggered by embarrassment and other social discomforts. Laughter may have evolved to facilitate bonding across large groups of people. In primates, the grooming process releases chemicals that help build social bonds; humans eventually came to live in groups that were larger than the grooming process allowed. Laughter, as well as speech, enables us to bond quickly and easily with a large community.
Although laughter is not generally under voluntary control, it has numerous health benefits. Bouts of laughter can boost the immune system, relax muscles, aid circulation, and protect against heart disease. It can abet mental health, too; laughter can lower anxiety, release tension, improve mood, and foster resilience.
A hearty chuckle releases endorphins, feel-good neurotransmitters that have an effect similar to narcotics, and endorphins are part of the reason laughing is so contagious. Laughing also has many health benefits such as increasing blood flow and improving mental and physical resilience. In fact, it’s not unlike a vigorous workout session.
We don’t make much effort to find cheer and laughter, though we should. We’re too busy or too cynical or too grumpy. Yet simple laughter can make life feel more manageable by masking pain, sharpening your ability to remember things, and alleviating the pressures of the day-to-day grind.
The eminent psychologist on laughter, Robert Provine, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland, agrees that laughter isn’t really about humor. He contends that it’s more about relationships. Cutting-edge humor straight out of Comedy Central is great, but people actually laugh more in conversation and through interaction. Provine has unearthed a few facts on laughter including:
- Laughter bonds people through prosocial behavior
- It’s a contagion
- Women laugh 126 percent more than men
- Mating would be nowhere without it
- Men want to generate laughter and they need women who will laugh
- Women are commonly laughter appreciators
One person laughs and the next person does the same, even if the joke isn’t that funny. But laughter as a contagion is well-known; think of the laugh tracks used by television comedy shows that prod the enjoyment of the audience. And when two people share a chuckle, they experience the relationship itself to be emotionally strong.
There is plenty of evidence showing how being funny makes a person more attractive. Funny people are considered to be more social and more intelligent. And women seek men who are humorous, while funny men do indeed attract more women. On top of that, women with partners who have a great sense of humor enjoy more orgasms and stronger ones as well.