Laughter is the best medicine

14 September 2011

Having a good laugh with friends increases your threshold for pain, research published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B reveals.

Scientists based at Oxford University found that when we laugh properly – as opposed to producing a polite titter – the physical exertion leaves us exhausted and thereby triggers the release of protective endorphins, brain chemicals that help us to manage pain and promote feelings of well being.  The research, which was partly conducted at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, suggests that watching just 15 minutes of comedy with others increased the pain threshold by an average of about ten per cent.

Lead author Professor Robin Dunbar, Head of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford, said: “Very little research has been done into why we laugh and what role it plays in society. Using microphones, we were able to record each of the participants and found that in a comedy show, they laughed for about a third of the time, and their pain tolerance rose as a consequence”

In both primates and humans, laughter has been found to play an important role in social bonding, but it has received little attention in academic literature. This latest paper supports other work by Professor Dunbar that emphasises the importance of group activity – such as sport or music making – in producing endorphins.