Laughter just might be the most contagious of all emotional experiences. What's more, it is a full-on collaboration between mind and body. Although laughter is one of the distinguishing features of human beings, little is known about the mechanisms behind it. Scientists do know that laughter is a highly sophisticated social signaling system, helping people bond and even negotiate. Interestingly, most social laughter does not result from any obvious joke. Laughter is not limited to communicating mirth. It can be triggered by embarrassment and other social discomforts. Laughter may have evolved to facilitate bonding across large groups of people. In primates, the grooming process releases chemicals that help build social bonds; humans eventually came to live in groups that were larger than the grooming process allowed. Laughter, as well as speech, enables us to bond quickly and easily with a large community.
What Is Laughter?
The Benefits of Laughter
Although laughter is not generally under voluntary control, yukking it up has numerous health benefits. Bouts of laughter can boost the immune system, relax muscles, aid circulation, and protect against heart disease. They abet mental health, too; laughter can lower anxiety, release tension, improve mood, and foster resilience. Of course, laughter also enriches social experience, by strengthening relationships, helping to defuse conflict, and allowing people to successfully operate as a team. The benefits of laughter, for both bodies and minds, show that contagious convulsions are anything but frivolous.