The science behind laughter, the best medicine

The study of laughter is known as gelotology. Certain parts of the brain are responsible for certain human functions. But according to recent research, the production of laughter is involved with various regions of the brain. For instance, if you were sitting with a friend and he cracks a joke, the left side of the cortex (the layer of cells that covers the entire surface of the forebrain) would analyse the words and structure of the joke, while the brain's large frontal lobe, which is involved in social emotional responses, would become very active. Meanwhile, the right hemisphere of the cortex would carry out the intellectual analysis required to understand the joke. Ultimately the stimulation of the motor sections would evoke a physical response to the joke.

Research also shows that human beings love to laugh, and the average adult laughs 17 times a day.

But did you also know that humans are one of the only species that laughs? Laughter is actually a complex response that involves many of the same skills used in solving problems.

When the areas of the brain involved with laughter are studied closely, it is the limbic system that appears to be at the centre of things. The limbic system is a network located beneath the cerebral cortex, which is important as it controls some behaviours that are vital for the survival of all mammals. When the structures in this highly developed part of the brain connect, research has shown that the amygdala, a small almond shaped structure deep inside the brain, and the hippo campus, a tiny, seahorse-shaped structure, appear to be the main areas that are involved with emotions. In fact, it is the hypothalamus that has been identified as a major contributor to the production of loud, uncontrollable laughter.

And the adage "Laughter is the best medicine" could well be true as there is strong evidence that laughter can actually improve health and help fight disease! So go ahead and laugh!

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