Is Laughter Really Contagious?

Is Laughter Really Contagious?

Are human emotions really contagious? Why one person’s laughter is soon shared by another’s?

Seeing emotional expressions such as smiles and laughter in someone else often triggers a corresponding emotional response in the watcher.

This may be a basic element of social interation: synchronyzing a common emotional state in all members of a group whose brains process what they see of the environment around themin a similar fashion.

“It seems that it’s absolutely true that ‘laugh and the whole world laughs with you. We’ve known for some time that when we are talking to someone, we often mirror their behavior, copying the words they use and mimicking their gestures. Now we’ve shown that the same appears to apply to laughter, too–at least at the level of the brain.” said Sophie Scott, neuroscientist at the University College London. “

Controlled by the limbic system, laughter is also considered to be a healing for the human body because it reduces the stress response, boosts immunity, increases resilience, combats depression and relieves pain.

Credit: Getty + Bernine

According to Adjunct Professor Lauri Nummenmaa from Aalto University, sharing others emotional states provides the observers a somatosensory and neural framework that facilitates understanding others intentions and actions and allows to tune in or sync with them. Such automatic tuning facilitates social interaction and group processes.

The new study can be compared with with one by researchers at University College (UCL) and Imperial College London published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2007 showed a possible mechanism for contagious laughter.

Positive sounds like laughter trigger a response in the area of the listener’s brain activated when we smile, as though preparing facial muscles to laugh.

“We usually encounter positive emotions, such as laughter or cheering, in group situations, whether watching a comedy program with family or a football game with friends,” Scott said. “This response in the brain, automatically priming us to smile or laugh, provides a way or mirroring the behavior of others, something which helps us interact socially. It could play an important role in building strong bonds between individuals in a group.”

Do you remember this video from the subway? This is the perfect example:

Article references: 1  2

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