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Most of us feel better when we laugh. Crack a joke and you’ll find that a difficult or awkward situation suddenly feels a bit lighter and easier. But there’s a lot about laughter you may not know. Neuroscientist and part time stand-up comic Professor Sophie Scott reveals some of these things in an article on the BBC. Below is my take on her list of 10.
- Animals laugh as they play. Lots of mammals, including rats, chimps and dogs all laugh when they’re playing – they’re not laughing at jokes. This suggests human laughter has evolved from the vocalization of play.
- Laughter isn’t about jokes. We’re 30 times more likely to laugh when we’re with other people. We’re laughing as a way to communicate, and to show we like and understand that person. Our laughter is a positive reaction to their comments and statements, not necessarily their jokes.
- Your brain can recognize fake laughter. Lab research from brain scans shows that we try and comprehend someone’s deliberate laugh – to find out why they are doing so.
- Laughter is contagious. When you see someone else laughing, your facial muscles start to prepare themselves to join in.
- Expectation fuels laughter. When you expect someone to be funny they often are. If you heard the same joke by a person on the street or a famous comedian, you’d most likely laugh at the comedian.
- Laughter makes you healthier. While laughing doesn’t quite make you fitter – it would probably take about three hours of solid laughter to burn off a packet of chips – it can alleviate stress and lift your mood.
- Laughter helps you stay together. Laughing together helps relationships last. It makes you feel closer.
- Laughter requires timing. In conversation, laughter usually occurs when you finish a sentence. This even applies to conversations in sign language, where people could laugh at any time.
- Laughter is attractive. One study found both men and women valued a sense of humour in a prospective partner more frequently than intelligence, education or profession.
- Unstoppable laughter. When people are trying desperately not to laugh, that’s often when laughter becomes incontrollable. Newsreader bloopers are evidence of this.
Classic British humor is the one thing that can usually get me laughing. And in a typically British fashion, I’d also recommend laughing at yourself from time to time.