The science behind a smile: is laughter contagious?

Posted on June 13, 2014

"Laugh and the whole world laughs with you" - Ella Wilcox

Humour has great health benefits and it seems that the age old saying 'laughter is the best medicine' has some truth to it. It can strengthen your spirit, make you smile and change your perspective on life whilst bringing you joy and filling you with positivity.

The health and psychological benefits of laughter: 

  • Eases anxiety, relieves stress by relaxing the whole body
  • Improves mood by releasing endorphins
  • Strengthens and enhances relationships 
  • Promotes positivity by boosting your frame of mind
  • An optimistic outlook helps to attract others to you

Psychologists consider laughter to be behavioural. It occurs through everyday interaction, passing from person to person - much like the well-documented case of the Tanganyika laughter epidemic. Laughter is defined as a series of short vowel like exhalations that last for, and are repeated, every few seconds. It has always existed as a universal language bringing together differing generations and nations. Unlike other forms of expression, laughter occurs unconsciously. It's a spontaneous, relatively uncensored reaction to certain situations. Whilst there's no certainty as to the specific reasons for laughter, we do know that it is triggered by varying sensations and thoughts.

We laugh at laughter itself. The irresistibility of other people's laughter is considered to have roots in the neurological mechanism of laugh detection, according to Psychology Today. Sophie Scott, researcher at University College London said, "It seems that it's absolutely true that 'laugh and the whole world laughs with you'. We've known for some time now that when we are talking to someone, we often mirror their behaviour, 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."

One person's laughter is soon another person's joy

Laughter has great social importance, it bonds us through humour. It's an emotional response to face to face interaction with peers. By seeing an expression of happiness in others, such as laughter or a smile, it prompts the same emotional reaction. This synchronisation enables people to connect and communicate with each other - acting as a social bond. Shared laughter triggers positive feelings which, in turn, helps to build stronger, lasting relationships.

You can gain a great deal from shared laughter, so you'd be wise to introduce ways of encouraging more into your life. Start by smiling more often - it, too, is contagious. Look for the things and people that bring you the most joy. Happiness spreads - surround yourself with people that make you happy and bring a smile to your face.

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