Humor and Laughter May Influence Health: III. Laughter and Health Outcomes

Mary Payne Bennett; Cecile Lengacher

Disclosures

Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2008;5(1):37-40. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

This is part three of a four-part series reviewing the evidence on how humor influences physiological and psychological well-being. The first article included basic background information, definitions and a review of the theoretical underpinnings for this area of research. The second article discussed use of humor as a complementary therapy within various clinical samples, as well as evidence concerning how a sense of humor influences physiological and psychological wellbeing. This third article examines how laughter influences health outcomes; including muscle tension, cardio-respiratory functioning and various stress physiology measures.

As discussed in the first two parts of this series, there has been some evidence that sense of humor and exposure to a humorous stimulus can influence specific health outcomes.[1,2] However, more conclusive evidence for possible physiological effects of humor is documented in studies that examine the actions of the natural outcome of humor—mirthful laughter. If humor has a role in physical healing, one might expect some measurable physical changes in response to the action of laughing. Over the years, several studies have been conducted to document various physiological outcomes related to laughter. Some of these investigations were conducted during the infant stages of psychoneuroimmunology theory, with little subsequent comment or replication effort. Most researchers in this area have noted that it is very difficult to obtain funding for humor studies, particularly those involving expensive physiological outcome measures. In addition, it should be noted that most of the early studies used all male samples, and all of the studies have small sample sizes. Given these limitations, we have outlined what is known about the physiological effects of laughter.

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