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Davis, California

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Laughter as medicine


Research shows laughter can create positive emotional associations

A courtroom artist was arrested today for an unknown reason. Details are sketchy.

Your response to that painful joke might have been an open mouth with a ‘haha,’ a jerking of the body and probably loss of breath. It’s laughter — something that we all should experience more often because it has positive associations with our emotions, social relations and responses.

Emotion theorists have studied the transition from negative to positive emotions that laughter can create. They’ve shown that if a person is undergoing a stressful situation, a quick way to relieve it is to increase positive emotion through laughter. Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, studies laughter. In one of his articles, he describes the relationship between laughter and the mind.

Keltner explains that the first step of laughter involves “a shift in psychological state, from negative to positive emotion,” as well as a movement from “incongruity and violated expectations to understanding and insight.” The second characteristic of laughter involves a “reduction in the distress associated with negative emotion.” Finally, Keltner says that when laughter reduces distress, it creates positive states of feelings such as “humor, amusement, or exhilaration.”

Laughter can also create and improve social relationships with your friends and loved ones through a simple contagious process, according to the study. It has the ability to increase success “with romantic couples [and] solve personal conflicts.” In addition, Keltner shows that laughter has the ability to cause more intimate relationships with greater satisfaction and reduce loneliness. The research proves just how great a method laughter is in helping us become more sociable. Students may find it hard to relate to others on campus, so why not try a painful joke? Someone might find it rather punny and it could spark your next relationship.

Laughter also has immediate effects. You can annoy your friend with bird puns, but they will eventually come to the realization that they toucan play the same game. While you laugh, Keltner has found that, almost instantly, you will have improved psychological functioning, especially during periods of stress. The study also shows how making someone laugh can help reduce the “negative effects of stress.” Participants, after a humorous moment, even “showed lower scores of depression.”

In his book Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Robert Provine, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, argues that laughter can bring people together. It can also help shape one’s character, making them seem “warm [and] cooperative.” Laughter is a positive emotion, and Provine illustrates how “laughter could produce a benevolent body chemistry conducive to health.” The book says that the power of positive emotions, like laughter, is more widely accepted by the medical world and can decrease “stress, anxiety, and anger.”

It’s during times of overwhelming stress that students should engage in humorous activities. UC Davis has a variety of ways to engage in laughter, such as improv shows on campus, open mic nights, humor columns in The Aggie and even just sharing a joke with a stranger. Remember, when you want to make a joke about sodium, it is Na… a very good idea.


Written by: Marison Beas — mbeas@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.



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