As someone who genuinely enjoys laughing, I get hyper-sensitive when I feel like I’m not doing it enough. Sometimes you just don’t feel like laughing, or you just don’t see the humor in the same things that you normally would. Well, I have good news: new research is showing that there is truth behind the old cliche that “laughter is contagious”. If you are one of the people that thinks the old cliche is just that, I’ll prove to you that it works.
To understand why laughter is contagious, let’s first talk about the phenomenon that is laughter. Believe it or not, laughter is somewhat of a mystery to science. It is purely instinctual, and for year scientists have tried to figure out why. Think about it, you don’t have to teach a baby how to laugh – it just happens. I’ve pointed out before, that laughter preceded language by millions of years. One theory is: “laughter developed from the “whoops” that apes make when they play fight. It’s a vocalization that lets their ape buddies know “hey, Greg, we are just playing around” (the ape in this example’s name is Greg). It was a social thing.”
Another very interesting of laughter is that according to another study that I read, somewhere around 80% of laughter isn’t at something funny. We laugh at statements in which we are seeking approval. Laughter in the form of chuckles of brief guffaws is almost like a punctuation in our speech. Think about it: Listen to people throughout your day, and see how often someone makes a casual statement followed by a short, huffy, “Ha”. We even do it in digital communication with the beloved “LOL”. It’s weird to think that LOL is technically an aspect of evolution.
Laughter Really IS Contagious
In 2007, researchers at University College (UCL) and Imperial College London published a study in the Journal of Neuroscience that showed a possible mechanism for contagious laughter. Participants in the study were played sounds that were either happy and pleasing, or disturbing and angry. While they listened, their brains were monitored using fMRI scanners. What they found was that the happy sounds created a response in the part of the brain that activates when we smile. Almost like it was preparing the brain to send the signal to the facial muscles that create a smile. Dr. Sophie Scott, a senior researcher at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said: “It seems that it’s absolutely true that ‘laugh and the whole world laughs with you’. We’ve known for some time now that when we are talking to someone, we often mirror their behavior, copying the words they use and mimicking their gestures. Now we’ve shown that the same appears to apply to laughter, too – at least at the level of the brain.”
Scott went on to say: “We usually encounter positive emotions, such as laughter or cheering, in group situations, whether watching a comedy program with family or a football game with friends. This response in the brain, automatically priming us to smile or laugh, provides a way of mirroring the behavior of others, something which helps us interact socially. It could play an important role in building strong bonds between individuals in a group.”
Okay, so now that we understand a little more about WHY we laugh, I will prove to you that hearing other people laugh will make you laugh. I’m sure you’ve been in a situation before where someone starts laughing, and the next thing you are both laughing uncontrollably and have no idea why.
Try this out: Watch the following short video of newscaster laughing uncontrollably – even with your eyes closed, and see if you don’t find yourself smiling.