Why do we Laugh?

We’ve all had moments of laughter, sometimes so hard we’re reduced to silence, gasping for breath with tears pouring down our cheeks, which usually makes us look ridiculous and laugh harder. Laughter defies language barriers, being one of the only universal symbols of communication. But a few have begun questioning why it is that we laugh, and the answer is more surprising than you’d think.

Given a guess, most of us would assume we laugh because we find something funny and want to express our amusement. However, research suggests that most of the time this is not the case. In fact, laughter itself is a result of our primeval heritage, used as a basic form of communication before language was developed. Babies laugh much earlier than they learn to talk, and even those born blind and deaf can chuckle at something they find humorous. This suggests that laughing isn’t learnt, and instead hard-wired into our instincts.

Laughter is, in most cases, not for our own self expression. Whilst laughing can indicate that we’ve found something funny, its main purpose is to trigger positive feelings in others, with its contagious nature prompting a sense of group unity. This brings us to the question, why do villains laugh in movies? The cackle from a villain serves the same purpose as that of a bunch of laughing children, only this sense of community brought about by the laughter is used to persecute an outside person or persons.

Laughter is contagious too.

Just the sound of laughter can make us laugh or smile, a reaction which Hollywood tries to abuse with laugh tracks over often tragic sitcoms. Robert R. Provine, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland Baltimore County suggests that we laugh up to 30 times more when we’re with others compared to when we are alone.

And so it brings us to the age old question, is laughter really the best medicine? There has been a rise in laughter-based treatments in the past decade, however, the research still isn’t clear on whether it has an actual effect on the health of patients. For now, however, laughter remains as one of the best ways to bring us together.

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