How does laughter affect the brain?

The physiological study of laughter is gelotology. As we know, certain areas in the brain control certain human functions. For example, the frontal lobe is the brain's largest region and controls emotional responses. But researchers have learned that laughter involves various regions of the brain.

For example, Humor researcher Peter Derks traced the brainwave activity in subjects responding to humorous material. Using an electroencephalograph (EEG) their brain activity was measured when they laughed. In every case, a regular electrical pattern was produced in the brain. The cerebral cortex, the largest part of the brain, exhibited a wave of electrical current. If the wave took a negative charge, the subject laughed. If it maintained a positive charge, there was no response, researchers said.

During the experiment, researchers observed certain specific activities:

  • On the left side of the cortex the words and structure of the joke were analyzed.
  • The brain's large frontal lobe became quite active.
  • The right hemisphere of the cortex worked to "get" the joke.
  • Brainwave activity then spread out to the sensory processing area of the occipital lobe.
  • Stimulation of the motor sections evoked physical responses to the joke.

Laughter seems to affect many regions of the brain. Some experts say that this means damage to any of these regions might impair one's sense of humor or response to humor.

When we look closely at the areas of the brain during laughter, the limbic system seems to be central. This limbic system is a network of structures beneath the cerebral cortex.

The structures in this highly developed part of the brain interconnect, but research has shown that the amygdala and the hippocampus seem to be the main areas which involve emotions. The amygdala connects with the hippocampus and the medial dorsal nucleus of the thalamus. Through these connections, the amygdala plays an important role in the mediation and control of major human activities such as friendship, love and affection, and mood. And the hypothalamus, especially its median part, is a major contributor to loud, uncontrollable laughter.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.