Humor and Health The Evolutionary Benefits of Essay

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Humor and Health:

The evolutionary benefits of laughing easily

According to Mora-Ripoli (2012), the old cliche that laughter is the best medicine is really true: laughter, even in the absence of something that is funny, can actually be healing. "Laughter can lead to direct physiological changes to the muscular, cardiovascular, immune, and neuroendocrine systems, which would have immediate or long-term beneficial effects to the body" (Mora-Ripoli 2013:57). Although humor can provoke laughter, the two are not necessarily conjoined and even forced laughter produces positive physiological changes in the body in terms of heart rate, blood pressure, and other critical factors that have benefits for the subject. This suggests that laughter is not a cultural product but an advantageous biological 'adaption' of the human species as a social animal.

The unique benefits of laughter (as opposed to humor or enjoying something entertaining) are tied to its mutuality. Although it is certainly possible to laugh in isolation, because laughter is a form of articulated expression, people are far more likely to laugh when they are part of a group, and sociability is linked to good health. In fact, evolutionary biologists have speculated that laughter began as a positive "biological adaptation, a trait that gave humans some sort of evolutionary benefit. What could that be…laughter signals social interest, especially in a romantic context" (Van Vugt 2012). Yet another cliche is true: the idea that 'he makes me laugh' as a reason to love someone may actually be hard-wired into our DNA.

The 'feel good' chemicals stimulated by laughter in the modern human body and brain are the result of centuries of evolutionary selection of people who like to laugh and who are more likely to marry and pass on their genes to their offspring. Laughter stimulates positive social interactions, 'smoothing' relationships between people. In contrast, humor such as sarcasm does not have the same effect and may be very cerebral and isolating in nature. On an articulated level, what seems funny can be very culturally 'bound.' While all societies laugh, the subject of humor is not always a universally transmissible concept and many cultural miscommunications have arisen because of a different understanding of what is funny. Certain subjects may be taboo in one culture but not in another culture. For example, "a content analysis of the jokes revealed a striking difference between Singaporeans and Americans: Americans were far more likely to tell sexual jokes. Thirty-seven percent of Americans told sex jokes, but only 23% of Singaporeans did the same" (White & Jackson 2012). The humor of centuries ago does not always translate into modern terminology on a verbal or visual level because it is located in a different context. Humor alone cannot connect people: but the physical interaction provided by laughter can.

The social bonds facilitated by laughter may even have a palliative effect. An experiment which gave a group of subjects a pain test (putting a frozen wine cooler sleeve on their arm); then showed one group a comedy video and the other group a non-humorous clip found that "after watching the comedy pain tolerance went up by as much as 50% in some of our studies," due to, the researchers speculated, the release of endorphins (Van Vugt 2012). On a purely biological level, people who laugh more frequently and release such endorphins are more likely to be mentally hardier and have positive social connections -- and once again, this increases their likelihood that they will marry, have children, and pass on these genes to the next generation. The content of the humor that the subjects witnessed did not matter; rather it was the act of laughter that was positive in its effects.

Interestingly, however, not all forms of laughter are created alike "the human brain is not able in the end to distinguish spontaneous from self-induced laughter ('motion creates emotion' theory); therefore, their corresponding health-related benefits are alleged to be alike" (Mora-Ripoli 2013:58). However, stimulated laughter, induced laughter by another person, and pathological laughter do not have the same benefits. One possible reason might be that these other types of laughter do not reinforce the same social connections as do other types of laughter. For example, both spontaneous laughter at someone's joke and even forcing yourself to laugh for politeness' sake at someone else's joke foster social connections.…[continue]

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