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What is happening to me when I laugh?

It is important first to distinguish that laughter is not the same as humor. Laughter is a physiological response to humor. Laughter consists of two parts - gestures and sounds. When we laugh, the brain pressures us to conduct those two activities simultaneously. When we laugh heartily, many parts of the body can experience changes - even muscles in the arms, legs and trunk.

Under certain conditions, bodies perform what the Encyclopedia Britannica has described as a "rhythmic, vocalized, expiratory and involuntary action" - this, of course, is better known as laughter. During laughter, 15 facial muscles contract and there is stimulation of the zygomatic major muscle (which is the main lifting mechanism of the upper lip). Meanwhile, the respiratory system is thrown off balance because the epiglottis half-closes the larynx, so air intake occurs irregularly. This makes you gasp. In extreme circumstances, tear ducts can be activated. Now, the mouth is opening and closing, the body is struggling for oxygen intake and the face becomes moist and often red (or even purple). The noises that usually accompany this bizarre behavior can be sedate giggles or boisterous guffaws.

Pioneering laughter researcher Robert Provine, a behavioral neurobiologist, jokes that he encounters one major problem while trying to study laughter. The laughter has a tendency to disappear just when he is ready to observe it. This is especially true in a laboratory setting. One of Provine's studies looked at the sonic structure of laughter. He found that all human laughter consists of variations on one basic form. It consists of short, vowel-like notes that are repeated every 210 milliseconds. You can hear laughter of the "ha-ha-ha" variety or laughter of the "ho-ho-ho" type but never a mixture of both.

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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.