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The science of laughter - and why it also has a dark side

http://theconversation.com/the-science-of-laughter-and-why-it-also-has-a-dark-side-76463

theconversation.com

The science of laughter - and why it also has a dark side
When you hear someone laugh behind you, you probably picture them on the phone or with a friend - smiling and experiencing a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Chances are just the sound of the laughter could make you smile or even laugh along.

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Laughter

It is generally considered a positive emotion and is a vital social, emotional and cognitive function. It is a communal activity that encourages bonding, reduces any possible conflict, and eases stress and anxiety. Laughter can be classified in different types:

  • Genuine and spontaneous
  • Simulated or fake
  • Stimulated (from tickling, for example)
  • Induced (by drugs)
  • Pathological

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Laughter is a Complex Emotion

The complex emotion of laughter has the power to override other emotions. The neurotransmitters (brain circuits) are controlling the facial muscles and vocal architecture, giving priority to positive emotions.

There are several brain pathways that contribute to laughter, like the regions of decision-making, behavior control, and our brains emotional circuitry.

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The Underlying Neural Functions

Various studies and research have shed some light on the underlying neural functions of the brain features that result in laughter being expressed by the body.

Pseudobulbar Affect Syndrome is a condition involving an unsettling exhibition of laughter, characterized by frequent, involuntary and uncontrollable outbursts of laughing and crying. This Syndrome is due to a disconnect between the frontal pathways of the brainstem, which control emotional drives, and is associated with several disorders like Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and stroke.

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Abnormal Brain Wiring

Abnormal brain wiring gives rise to a number of specific conditions:

  • Dementia: A twisted sense of humor and laughing at inappropriate times can be an indication of dementia.
  • Gelotophobia: An intense fear of being laughed at.
  • Gelotophilia: A pleasure obtained from being laughed at.
  • Katagelasticism: The joy of laughing at others.

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Still The Best Medicine

Laughter may have a dark side, but it is generally a positive emotion, as it enhances cardiovascular functions, fortifies our immune and endocrine systems.

Laughter therapy has amazing positive effects on our body and mind like an increase of serotonin levels, decreased stress and anxiety, improved respiration, and an enhancement in mood and resilience.

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Laughter's Physical Power

Laughter's Physical Power

We learn to laugh at a young age, most at infancy. Being able to laugh during our infancy years helps develop our muscles and upper body strength.

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Laughter's Cognitive Power

It's an amazing thing what laughter can do because when we laugh, our brains are actually recognizing the absurdity of a situation. It allows us to take a look at another person's perspective and understand their intentions which can increase the intensity of the current situation.

Most of us have heard "learn to take a joke" once in our lives and to be able to "get" a joke, you need to see the lighter side of things and that other possibilities besides the literal exist.

Laughter's Social Power

We bond with others through many different means and laughter is one of them. We tend to build intimacy with others when we laugh with them and being happy with other people is being able to appreciate your present.

When we bond with laughter we are sharing our feelings and our emotions with others and feel accepted by them instead of feeling rejected or disliked.

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A new disorder

The World Health Organization officially added a new disorder to the section on substance use and addictive behaviors :

The term "addiction"

Addiction can include:

  • Addiction as a moral transgression, like excessive drinking or drug use.
  • Addiction as a scientific disease, which characterize alcoholism and drug addiction as biological.
  • Colloquial violation, which applies the term to almost any fixation. 

The idea that someone can be addicted to a behavior, as opposed to a substance, remains debatable.

Arguments against gaming addiction

  • Excessive gameplay is a symptom of a larger problem, like anxiety or depression.
  • The fear of possible addiction arrises from moral panic about new technologies, not scientific research or clinical data.
  • Making excessive gaming a disorder can harm the gaming industry by stigmatizing their products. 

Love sets the stage

Love sets the stage

When a loving mother holds the newborn baby in her arms for the first time, she intuitively knows to care for the child. A relationship is formed, a bond created. The child will emerge in abilities...

The neurobiology of bonding

The neurobiology of affiliation is the new scientific field that describes the neural, endocrine, and behavioral systems sustaining our capacity to love. There are three factors in the neurobiology of bonding:

  • Oxytocin that drives both care and prejudice
  • The affiliative brain
  • Synchrony.

Oxytocin and attachment

Oxytocin - a large molecule produced by neurons in the hypothalamus - is known for coordinating bonding, sociality, and group living. Oxytocin targets mainly the amygdala, a center for fear and vigilance, the hippocampus, and the striatum, a locus of motivation and reward.

Oxytocin is released through the central part of the neuron as well as its extensions, called dendrites. The dendrites increase oxytocin release whenever attachment memories are used and prime us for a lifetime. Early attachment memories help us move without fear. It imprints the infant's brain with distinct social patterns.