A Look at Humor, Laughter, Tickling, and the Brain Essay

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A Look at Humor, Laughter, Tickling, and the Brain

Everybody smiles and laughs at some time or another. The first laughter appears at about 3.5 to 4 months of age (8)., way before we are able to speak. The average adult laughs 17 times a day (4). Even monkeys and apes have some facial expressions that are similar to human smiles. But really, why do we laugh? Why are we not able to tickle ourselves? What part of the brain is responsible for laughter and humor? Why do we say some people have no sense of humor? We never go to the doctor because we feel good or because we think something is funny. Therefore, it is not a clinical problem; that is why there has not been much research done on the topic of laughter and the brain.
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Laughter also increases blood pressure and heart rate, changes breathing, reduces levels of certain neurochemicals (catecholamines, hormones) and provides a boost to the immune system (3). Can laughter improve health? It may be a good way for people to relax because muscle tension is reduced after laughing. Human tests have found some evidence that humorous videos and tapes can reduce feelings of pain, prevent negative stress reactions and boost the brain's biological battle against infection (1). More studies are needed in this field to uncover whether humor or some other component such as distraction, is the predominant factor in these results.

Researchers believe we process humor and laughter through a complex pathway of brain activity that encompasses three main brain components. In one new study, researchers used imaging equipment to photograph the brain activity of healthy volunteers while they underwent a sidesplitting assignment of reading written jokes, viewing cartoons from The New Yorker magazine as well as "The Far Side" and listening to digital recordings of laughter. Preliminary results indicate that the humor-processing pathway includes parts of the frontal lobe brain area, important for cognitive processing; the supplementary motor area, important for movement; and the nucleus accumbens, associated with pleasure (1). Investigations support the notion that parts of the frontal lobe are involved in humor.

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