Science Questions

Does laughing alter your brain chemistry?

Fri, 26th Jul 2013

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Tickling your brain: why do we laugh?

Question

Mark Burgess asked:

Does a fake, or real, laugh alter your brain chemistry?

Answer

We put this question to Professor Sophie Scott from University College London.

Sophie -   You absolutely do.  So, itís been shown by Prof Robin Dunbar over in PET Image of the human brain showing energy consumptionOxford that you increase your endorphins when you laugh.  That seems to be, whether or not you're really laughing or you're pose laughing.  That's probably because of the physical work that you're having to do to laugh.  You're doing exercise, and doesnít feel like it, but you're intercostals muscles which move when you're laughing move so much more than they do when you're normally moving: like breathing or talking.  That is a bit like sort of sprinting for your rib cage.  Well, like sprinting with your legs, laughing with your rib cage.  So, you get the same kick from your increased uptake of endorphins that you would get from doing any other kind of exercise.  There's nothing particularly special about laughter in that respect.  Itís a sort of exercise you can do sitting down with friends, which isnít normally the place that you do a lot of exercise.  You're getting a good feeling from it via that route.  Again, Robin Dunbar has shown that you get raised pain threshold when you've been laughing.  The consequences they think is endorphins physically makes you better able to tolerate pain.

Hannah -   Fabulous!  The power of laughter makes you less susceptible to pain, releasing endorphins, exercising your body, and engaging your social brain.  Thanks to Professor Sophie Scott from the University College London and Dr. Tristan Bekinschtein from Cambridge.

 

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