Posts Tagged ‘laughter’


When people are feeling playful, they giggle and laugh, making others around them want to laugh and play too. Now, researchers have found that the particularly playful kea parrot from New Zealand has a ‘play call’ with a similarly powerful influence. When other kea hear that call, it puts them into a playful mood.

The findings make kea the first known non-mammal to have such an “emotionally contagious” vocalization, the researchers say. Earlier studies had made similar findings for chimpanzees and rats.

“We were able to use a playback of these calls to show that it animates kea that were not playing to do so,” says Raoul Schwing of the Messerli Research Institute in Austria. “The fact that at least some of these birds started playing spontaneously when no other birds had been playing suggests that, similar to human laughter, it had an emotional effect on the birds that heard it, putting them in a playful state.”

Schwing and his colleagues got interested in this particular call after carefully analyzing the kea’s full vocal repertoire. It was clear to them that the play call was used in connection with the birds’ play behavior. That made them curious to know how kea in the wild would respond to the recorded calls.

To find out, the researchers played recordings of play calls to groups of wild kea for a period of five minutes. The researchers also played other kea calls and the calls of a South Island robin as controls. When the birds heard the play calls, it led them to play more and play longer in comparison to the other sounds.

“Upon hearing the play call, many birds did not join in play that was already underway, but instead started playing with other non-playing birds, or in the case of solitary play, with an object or by performing aerial acrobatics,” the researchers write. “These instances suggest that kea weren’t ‘invited’ to play, but this specific call induced playfulness, supporting the hypothesis that play vocalizations can act as a positive emotional contagion.”

While it might be a bit anthropomorphic, they continue, the kea play calls can be compared to a form of infectious laughter. The researchers say that they now plan to explore the effects of play and play calls on kea social groups more generally.

For the rest of us, the findings come as an intriguing reminder: “If animals can laugh,” Schwing says, “we are not so different from them.”

Journal Reference:
1.Raoul Schwing, Ximena J. Nelson, Amelia Wein, Stuart Parsons. Positive emotional contagion in a New Zealand parrot. Current Biology, 2017; 27 (6): R213 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.02.020

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170320122838.htm

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The mechanics of laughter

Posted: November 28, 2016 in laughter
Tags: , ,

When the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed March 20 the International Day of Happiness, it was more than a frivolous feel-good holiday. The aim was to inspire 100 million to promote the universal goal of happiness and well-being around the world.

And while the U.N. admirably frames the day as way to talk about a more “inclusive, equitable and balanced approach” to the economic growth that can lead to more global happiness, we’re taking another approach. We’re talking laughter.

But there’s a funny thing about laughter: It’s so much more than an indication of happiness.

Laughing serves a social function. Some suggest that the first human laughter was a group ­gesture of relief at the passing of danger; and since laughter relaxes the biological fight-or-flight response, laughter may indicate trust in one’s company.

Likewise, many researchers think that laughter is connected to bonding.

“Laughter occurs when people are comfortable with one another, when they feel open and free. And the more laughter, the more bonding within the group,” says cultural anthropologist Mahadev Apte.

Behavioral neurobiologist and expert laughter researcher (that’s a thing) Robert Provine believes that laughter serves as a social signal. And indeed, other scientists concur; studies show that people are 30 times more likely to laugh in social settings than when they are alone.

The social science of laughter

Laughter is part of a universal human language. It is understood across cultures … and unlike words and syntax, which we have to learn, we are born with the capacity for giggles and tittering.

When we laugh, it happens unconsciously. We don’t think, “Hey, that’s funny, I’ll respond by laughing.” Although we can consciously be “in the moment” of our laughter, we can’t make true laughter just happen.

And while laughter isn’t always sparked by happiness, it often ends up there. Some experts believe that laughter is used to process things that are difficult to understand. Consider the nervous laughter during an intense event or the seemingly out-of-place laughter during funerals. These are the moments in life where things don’t make sense, and laughter is the behavior that evolved to respond to such times.

In these cases, maybe laughter can be best considered a defense against suffering and despair; as Psychology Today notes when addressing the topic of tittering, “If we can joke about a disappointing or traumatic event, we’ll often find ourselves feeling that what’s happened to us isn’t so bad and that we’ll be able to get through it.”

And then, happiness ensues.

Interestingly, researchers have found that a way a person laughs is a good indicator of his or her social power. People with high status tend to laugh louder and higher in pitch with fewer inhibitions, while people with lower status have laughter that is shorter, lower in pitch and more airy. The study, which was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found that it observers can immediately pick up on someone’s social standing by listening to how he or she laughs.


Laughter and your brain

While we know that ce­rtain regions of the brain host certain functions, researchers have found that the production of laughter happens in various parts of our gray matter. The relationship between laughter and the brain is not fully understood, but some things are known. Although emotional responses are thought to be distinct to specific sections of the brain, laughter appears to be created by a circuit that runs through numerous areas. Furthermore, the limbic system — the complex network of nerves beneath the cerebral cortex that deals with instinct and mood — seems to be central in the process of laughing.

The average human laughs 17 times a day, and aside from stress-induced laughter, most laughter is a reaction to humor. Upon a funny scenario, more than a dozen facial muscles contract and the zygomatic major muscle becomes stimulated, resulting in a smile. The epiglottis interferes with the larynx and disrupts the respiratory system just enough so that air intake becomes irregular, making the laugher gasp.

When things really get going, the tear ducts are activated, leaving many of us laughing until we cry.

Provine did a study on the sonic structure of laughter and found that all human laughter consists of basic short notes repeated every 210 milliseconds. Laughter can be comprised of “ha”s or “ho”s, he says, but not both. Provine also says that we have a “detector” that reacts to laughter by triggering other neural circuits in the brain, which ends up generating more laughter. This explains how sometimes when we start laughing, we can’t stop; why this seems to happen so frequently in church and lecture halls has yet to be determined.

A wonderful thing about laughing – aside from just the pure pleasure of it – are the health benefits bestowed by the act; it can actually change your body. Consider the following:

It can stimulate your heart, lungs, muscles and endorphin release by enhancing your oxygen intake.

It relieves your stress response, leading to feelings of increased pleasantness.

It can tame tension by stimulating circulation and helping muscle relaxation, both of which help reduce some physical symptoms of stress.

It may improve your immune system. The Mayo Clinic tells us that negative thoughts “manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity.” Conversely, positive thoughts release neuropeptides that help conquer stress and possibly other stress-related illness.

It potentially soothes pain by encouraging the body to produce its own natural painkillers.

And perhaps loveliest of all; laughter is infectious. The simple act of laughing can help not only you, but those around you. It’s the best kind of contagion.

http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/stories/happiness-101-the-mechanics-of-laughter

Laughter signals social status

Posted: October 26, 2016 in laughter
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Perhaps the most memorable scene in the movie Goodfellas (1990) was not originally in the script but came out of actor Joe Pesci’s own experience as a young waiter who made the mistake of calling a mobster he served a wiseguy. “Funny how?” asks Pesci, as the mobster Tommy DeVito in the film, when Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) makes the same mistake of calling him “funny.” In the tense exchange that follows, which director Martin Scorsese allowed Pesci and Liotta to improvise before their genuinely surprised fellow mobsters, the result is not only one of Hollywood’s finest mob moments but a lesson in the role of laughter within social hierarchies.

In fact, according to a new study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, which confirms the deep human intuition of Pesci’s scene, laughter signals social status.

Human laughter is omnipresent — occurring in 95 percent of conversations by one estimate — and, as demonstrated in Goodfellas, we laugh for a number of reasons: because we are amused, to signal agreement or defuse tension, or just because others are laughing. Believed to have evolved from the “play face,” a relaxed, open-mouth display visible in chimpanzees, laughter signals that a behavior is safe, even playful. “By using laughter alongside aggressive statements,” says the study’s lead author, Christopher Oveis, a professor of economics and strategic management at the University of California, San Diego, “laughter can render an aggressive behavior less serious and more socially appropriate.”

Several studies have suggested that laughter plays a key role in social bonding and getting others to like us, and when you are lower in the status hierarchy, you are especially likely to laugh, often unconsciously, at just about anything remotely funny your boss, professor or higher-ranking mobster has to say. But it’s not just low-status individuals using “submissive” laughter to ingratiate themselves to their superiors. More dominant individuals like Tommy DeVito also use laughter as a means of expressing that dominance and negotiating rank in a way that, according to the new findings, can signal status to your peers sitting around at the bar.

As their test subjects, Oveis and his colleagues chose not a group of mobsters but 48 fraternity brothers at a public American university, whom they divided into low-status “pledges” and high-status members, and then recorded them doing what fraternity brothers do best (besides drinking) — exchanging jokes and teasing each other. They found that high-status brothers were more likely to engage in “dominant” laughter that was louder, less inhibited and — somewhat surprisingly (unless you’re Joe Pesci) — higher in pitch than the shorter, more inhibited and lower-pitched laughter exhibited by the low-status pledges.

Even more interestingly, when the researchers played audio clips of the frat-boy laughter to other undergraduate students, the participants were able to distinguish dominant and submissive laughter, not to mention accurately identify the higher- and lower-status brothers by their laughter.

But do such dynamics hold true outside the frat house? It’s a defensible sample, says Tyler Stillman, a management professor at Southern Utah University who has studied laughter extensively, but one that still differs from the general population, among other things, because “fraternities can have clearly defined hierarchies — something one might find at work but not among friends.” The study also looked exclusively at men, something Oveis tells OZY they are in the process of remedying with ongoing research into women’s laughter. They also plan to investigate how laughter works in other types of relationships, including between co-workers or romantic partners.

http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/1XJyGA/:1t1v4NMRZ:Y_JM1oh_/www.ozy.com/acumen/does-your-laugh-reveal-your-social-status/71963

South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and workers often report feeling stressed. So in order to make people appreciate life, some companies are making employees take part in their own pretend funerals.

In a large room in a nondescript modern office block in Seoul, staff from a recruitment company are staging their own funerals. Dressed in white robes, they sit at desks and write final letters to their loved ones. Tearful sniffling becomes open weeping, barely stifled by the copious use of tissues.

And then, the climax: they rise and stand over the wooden coffins laid out beside them. They pause, get in and lie down. They each hug a picture of themselves, draped in black ribbon.

As they look up, the boxes are banged shut by a man dressed in black with a tall hat. He represents the Angel of Death. Enclosed in darkness, the employees reflect on the meaning of life.

The macabre ritual is a bonding exercise designed to teach them to value life. Before they get into the casket, they are shown videos of people in adversity – a cancer sufferer making the most of her final days, someone born without all her limbs who learned to swim.

All this is designed to help people come to terms with their own problems, which must be accepted as part of life, says Jeong Yong-mun who runs the Hyowon Healing Centre – his previous job was with a funeral company.

The participants at this session were sent by their employer, human resources firm Staffs. “Our company has always encouraged employees to change their old ways of thinking, but it was hard to bring about any real difference,” says its president, Park Chun-woong. “I thought going inside a coffin would be such a shocking experience it would completely reset their minds for a completely fresh start in their attitudes.”

“After the coffin experience, I realised I should try to live a new style of life,” says Cho Yong-tae as he emerges from the casket. “I’ve realised I’ve made lots of mistakes. I hope to be more passionate in all the work I do and spend more time with my family.”

As the company’s president, Park Chun-woong believes an employer’s responsibility extends beyond the office. For example, he sends flowers to the parents of his employees simply to thank them for bringing his workers up.

He also insists that his staff engage in another ritual every morning when they get to work – they must do stretching exercises together culminating in loud, joint outbursts of forced laughter. They bray uproariously, like laughing asses together. It is odd to see.

“At first, laughing together felt really awkward and I wondered what good it could do,” says one woman. “But once you start laughing, you can’t help but look at the faces of your colleagues around you and you end up laughing together.

“I think it really does have a positive influence. There’s so little to laugh about in a normal office atmosphere, I think this kind of laughter helps.”

Certainly, some laughter is needed in the South Korean workplace. The country has the highest rate of suicide in the industrialised world. There is a constant complaint of “presenteeism” – having to get to the office before the boss and stay until he – invariably he – has gone.

The Korean Neuropsychiatric Association found that a quarter of those it questioned suffered from high stress levels, with problems at work cited as a prime cause.

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34797017

Five places in the world are now considered so-called “Blue Zones” – geographic areas where people are living much longer and more active lives. The first Blue Zone identified was Sardinia’s Nuoro province, which researchers Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain found to have the greatest number of male centenarians. Four other Blue Zones have since been identified by National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner and his team of longevity researchers. In these Blue Zones people are reaching the age of 100 at a much greater rate than anywhere else in the world. So what exactly sets these places apart from the rest? In his book The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, Dan Buettner discusses the lessons he learned from the people inhabiting the Blue Zones and what specific lifestyle characteristics allow these people to live longer and better lives.

Ikaria, Greece

The tiny Mediterranean island boasts nearly non-existent rates of dementia and chronic disease and an isolated culture with a focus on socialization. Residents often drink goat’s milk and herbal teas and eat a Mediterranean diet full of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, potatoes, and olive oil. Because this population is comprised traditionally of Greek Orthodox Christians, many fast for nearly half the year (caloric restriction has been linked to a slowing of the aging process in mammals). They also exercise by gardening, walking, or completing yard work but also nap regularly.

Loma Linda, CA

It may be surprising that one of the Blue Zones is located in the U.S., but Loma Linda is home to about 9,000 Seventh-day Adventists who form an extremely close community. Many Seventh-day Adventists adhere to a vegetarian diet rich in fruits and vegetables and consume water and nuts in lieu of soda and unhealthy snacks. They also spend time with family and friends, particularly during the weekly 24-hour Sabbath, and give back by volunteering.

Nicoya, Costa Rica

Besides their diet, the secret to a longer life for Nicoyans may be in their sense of purpose and strong social connections. They eat a traditional diet of fortified maize and beans, drink water with the country’s highest calcium levels, and eat a light dinner early in the early evening. Nicoyan residents often live with family members for support and strongly wish to contribute to a greater good. Their physical work keeps them fit and is embraced in everyday life.

Okinawa, Japan

Although this area is experiencing a decline in life expectancies from the influence of factors like fast food, older residents have consumed a plant-based, soy-rich diet most of their lives and eat pork only for infrequent ceremonial occasions in small amounts. Okinawans spend time outside every day and nearly all grow or have grown gardens (a source of vitamin D and fresh vegetables). It is also traditional to form a moai, or social network, for emotional and financial support.

Shuri Castle in Okinawa, Japan

Shuri Castle in Okinawa, Japan

Sardinia, Italy

Sardinia has nearly 10 times more centenarians per capita than the U.S., which could be attributed to a combination of genetics and a traditional lifestyle. The rare genetic M26 marker is common in this population and has been associated with longevity; due to the geographic isolation of the island, this gene is not prevalent in other areas worldwide. Sardinians eat a plant-based diet with pecorino cheese made from grass-fed sheep that is high in omega-3 fatty acids and drink wine in moderation. Laughter may be good medicine on this island – men in particular here are known for their afternoon laughing sessions in the street.

View of Cala Domestica beach, Sardinia, Italy

View of Cala Domestica beach, Sardinia, Italy

They say laughter is the best medicine. But what if laughter is the disease?

For a 6-year-old girl in Bolivia who suffered from uncontrollable and inappropriate bouts of giggles, laughter was a symptom of a serious brain problem. But doctors initially diagnosed the child with “misbehavior.”

“She was considered spoiled, crazy — even devil-possessed,” Dr. José Liders Burgos Zuleta, ofAdvanced Medical Image Centre, in Bolivia, said in a statement.

But Burgos Zuleta discovered that the true cause of the girl’s laughing seizures, medically called gelastic seizures, was a brain tumor.

After the girl underwent a brain scan, the doctors discovered a hamartoma, a small, benign tumor that was pressing against her brain’s temporal lobe.The doctors surgically removed the tumor, and the girl is now healthy, the doctors said.

The girl stopped having the uncontrollable attacks of laughter and now only laughs normally, the doctors said.

Gelastic seizures are a form of epilepsy that is relatively rare, said Dr. Solomon Moshé, a pediatric neurologist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. The word comes from the Greek word for laughter, “gelos.”

“It’s not necessarily ‘hahaha’ laughing,” Moshé told Live Science. “There’s no happiness in this. Some of the kids may be very scared,” he added.

The seizures are most often caused by tumors in the hypothalamus, especially in kids, although they can also come from tumors in other parts of brain, Moshé said. Although laughter is the main symptom, patients may also have outbursts of crying.

These tumors can cause growth abnormalities if they affect the pituitary gland, he said.

The surgery to remove such brain tumors used to be difficult and dangerous, but a new surgical technique developed within the last 10 years allows doctors to remove them effectively without great risk, Moshé said.

The doctors who treated the girl said their report of her case could raise awareness of the strange condition, so doctors in Latin America can diagnose the true cause of some children’s “behavioral” problems, and refer them to a neurologist.

The case report was published June 16 in the journal ecancermedicalscience.

Thanks to Michael Moore for sharing this with the It’s Interesting community.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/girls-uncontrollable-laughter-caused-by-brain-tumor/