“Laugh and the world laughs with you” may be more than just a saying that we learnt in childhood. It turns out that there is scientific evidence that laughter is contagious. Research suggests that when we see emotional expressions of any kind on other people’s faces, our brain will try to mirror them so that we can have a shared reality with the other person, helping us to bond with them. Bonding with group members was important from an evolutionary perspective and still continues to be, and that is why the brain acts this way. This ability helps us to survive in our social environment.
However, it turns out that for positive emotions, our brain responds a lot more and much faster. This is because more bonding is likely to happen over positive emotions. These are also considered to strengthen the immunity system, and so the brain responds more to them. Therefore, when we see someone laugh or when we hear a joke, our brain involuntarily prepares the facial muscles to laugh, but forming a smile.
Dr. Sophie Scott, head of this research project, commented:
"We usually encounter positive emotions, such as laughter or cheering, in group situations, whether watching a comedy programme 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 behaviour of others, something which helps us interact socially. It could play an important role in building strong bonds between individuals in a group."
This is perhaps the reason why humour is used as an ice-breaker in most situations where two unknown people are interacting. This could also be why one of the most important social skills rated over time in both formal and informal situations.
Laughter therapy helps depressed to feel good.
For depression and other psychological disorders, laughter therapy tends to help a lot for the same reason. In laughter therapy, no jokes are used, but simple laughing of the instructor tends to induce laughter from the participants.
This is where the brain mechanisms of mimicking a positive state of emotions tends to kick in and be useful. In depression, it can be very difficult to find anything pleasant, however, laughter therapy works on the automatic systems of the brain and tends to trigger positive emotions and a release of the feel good emotion, dopamine. The effect multiplies as one sees the whole group laughing.
Your minus points ignored if you have ability to make us laugh
Laughter also promotes liking. For example, children tend to like adults and teachers that can make them laugh. It makes it easy for us to ignore the person’s minus points if they have an ability to make us laugh and put us at ease.
Laughing boost our immune system
There is also research which suggests that the reason some of yoga’s facial exercises include laughing poses and expressions, is because our ancient ancestors had already discovered the health benefits of laughing. Along with it being contagious, it is also healthy. Even using the same facial muscles as those which are used in laughing tend to make us feel good, boost our immunity and promote our health.