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A Few Facts About Laughter

laughter-limbicIt’s said that the average man laughs around 15 times a day. Laughter and humour seem to occupy a big part of our lives. Just take a look at all the comedy blockbusters and the comedy shows on TV. Laughing is something that we all take for granted, yet do we really know why we laugh? What’s the purpose of laughter?

Well, we don’t know all the answers, but here’s a bit of what we know:

  1. Do we laugh at funny things? Surprisingly, according to expert Robert R. Provine only 10%-20% of laughs are generated by anything resembling a joke. The other 80%-90% of comments are dull non-witticisms like, “I’ll see you guys later” and “It was nice meeting you, too.”. Provine suggests that it has to do with the evolutionary development of laughter.
  2. Laughter is contagious – just think of the laugh tracks of television situation comedies. British researchers played a series sounds (pleasant or unpleasant) to volunteers whilst measuring their brain’s response using an fMRI scanner. All of the sounds triggered a response in the volunteer’s brain in the premotor cortical region. However, positive sounds, such as laughter, were found to produce greater response than the negative ones. The researchers suggest that this finding may explain why we respond to laughter with an involuntary smile.
  3. Many brain parts are involved in laughter. One of them is situated in the left superior frontal gyrus. This “laughter” centre was discovered by Itzhak Fried, Charles L. Wilson, Katherine A. MacDonald & Eric J. Behnke, while mapping the brain of 16 year old epileptic girl, known as A.K. The same area is also involved in the initiation of speech. Other areas that may also participate in laughter and humour are the limbic system and the auditory and somatosensory fields primarily in the right hemisphere.
  4. Newborn infants can smile and laugh, according to Kiyobumi Kawakami and his team Holowka and Petitto showed that infants from 5 to 12 months babies open the right side of their mouth while babbling, and open the left side while smiling. They claimed that left hemisphere cerebral specialization while babbling suggests language functionsin humans are lateralized from a very early point in development. Sroufe and Waters suggest that laughter appears at about 4 months.
  5. V.S. Ramachandran suggests the false alarm hypothesis which is based upon the idea, that every humorous situation is composed of a tension-building phase, concluding in a shift, which denies the expectations of the viewer. The false alarm hypothesis assumes, that when the shift reveals the anomaly as of ’trivial consequence’, the viewer sends a loud signal –in the form of laughter – which informs those around that there’s no need to be alert, there’s no danger. That could explain the tendency that most people have to laugh when seeing people falling down. Notice that we rarely laugh when a person is seriously injured by the fall.

(picture from health.howstuffworks.com)

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