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Does Laughter do Do a Mind and Body Good?
Laughter aids overall health, and mirth is now shown to yield meditative brain waves
5/1/2014By Craig Weatherby
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Image You've probably heard the proverb, “laughter is the best medicine”.

This idea was expressed in the Bible (Proverbs 17:22:) as “A joyful heart is good medicine”.

And Reader’s Digest – the world’s most-read magazine – features a very popular column, “Laughter, the Best Medicine”.

To a remarkable degree, modern scientific research is finding that the Bible and Digest are on to something very real.

Humor Associated with Mirthful Laughter or HAML – the dry scientific term for real, spontaneous laughter – is gaining more attention as a drug-free way to promote health and wellness.

Clinical studies find that laughter can ease physical and psychic pain, boost the body’s immune response, and improve risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

It now looks like laughter may also yield some of the mind and brain benefits of meditation.

New findings show that genuine, joyful laughter produces brain wave frequencies like those seen in people who reach a “true state of meditation.”

But they've got be real giggles or guffaws ... as related research found, forced laughter just isn't the same (see “Fake laughter doesn’t fool the brain”, below).

Laughter yields meditative brain waves
The new clinical study – presented at the Experimental Biology 2014 conference in San Diego – examined the impacts of laughter on people’s brain-wave activity.

Researchers from Loma Linda University’s School of Medicine recruited 31 subjects for the study, and attached an electroencephalograph (EEG) to nine areas on their scalps.

The team uses an EEG monitor called the B-Alert 10X System, which measures a range of brain wave frequencies … from 1 to 40 Hz, for the brain experts out there.

At predetermined intervals, the subjects were randomly asked to watch a 10-minute video clip that were humorous, distressful, or spiritual in nature. 

The brain wave measurements showed that when watching humorous videos, the brain produced significant levels of gamma waves – the same brain electrical impulses produced by someone who meditates.

According to lead author Lee Berk, DrPH, MPH, “What we have found is that Humor Associated with Mirthful Laughter sustains high-amplitude gamma-band oscillations.”
“Gamma is the only frequency found in every part of the brain. What this means is that humor actually engages the entire brain – it is a whole brain experience with the gamma wave band frequency and humor, similar to meditation, holds it there; we call this being ‘in the zone’.” (LLU 2014)

“When there is mirthful laughter, it’s as if the brain gets a workout because the gamma wave band is in synch with multiple other areas that are in the same 30-40 hertz frequency. This allows for the subjective feeling states of being able to think more clearly and have more integrative thoughts.”
“This is of great value to individuals who need or want to revisit, reorganize, or rearrange various aspects of their lives or experiences, to make them feel whole or more focused,” Berk said (LLU 2014).

Based on prior research, gamma wave band frequencies ranging from 30 to 40 Hz are similar to those experienced by people who meditate and reach a state of contentment and happiness.

Subsequent findings showed that, while watching spiritual videos, the subjects experienced significant levels of alpha brain wave bands, similar to those experienced when a person is at rest.

While watching distressful videos, subjects experienced flat brain wave bands across the board, similar to those experienced by people who feel detached, non-responsive, or would rather not be in the situation.

As Dr. Berk said, “Laughter may not only be a good medicine for the health of your body but also a good medicine for your brain.” (LLU 2014)

Fake laughter doesn’t fool the brain
Last month, British scientists published research showing clear differences between how our brains respond to genuine and fake laughter.

Researchers from the University of London recorded the brain responses of participants as they listened to people produce genuine laughter – caused by watching funny YouTube videos – and forced laughter.

The participants were unaware the study was about laughter perception, and demonstrated different neurological responses when they heard false laughter.

This suggested that our brains not only distinguish between the two types of laughter, but attempt to work out why the fake laughter isn’t genuine.

Lead investigator Dr. Carolyn McGettigan made a key point: “Our brains are very sensitive to the social and emotional significance of laughter. During our study, when participants heard a laugh that was posed, they activated regions of the brain associated with mentalizing in an attempt to understand the other person’s emotional and mental state.” (UL 2014)

(The term “mentalizing” means the sense we have of ourselves and others as beings whose actions flow from desires, needs, feelings, logic, beliefs and more.)

She went on to say, “Some of the participants engaged parts of the brain that control movements and detect sensation. These individuals were more accurate at telling which of the laughs were posed, and which were real, when we tested them after their scan.” (UL 2014)

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