Body processes

Laughter – function, task and diseases


Laughter is an innate expression and a natural reflex for reducing stress and for overall individual health. When laughing, the brain reflexively responds to sensory stimuli with commands to contract certain muscles . Laughter in inadequate situations can be pathological and indicate mental disorders.

what is the laughter

Laughter is an innate body reflex and a natural form of expression that is only given to humans in this form. Laughter corresponds either to a knee-jerk reaction to amusing situations or to a knee-jerk defensive behavior. Threatening social conflicts and states of anxiety can be mitigated by laughter, for example.

It is believed that laughter originally corresponded to a threatening gesture to demonstrate strength, as animals also express by baring their teeth. However, within a human community, laughter has always had and still has a connecting function.

Laughter as a body reflex takes place involuntarily as soon as the sensory nerves transmit a stimulus to the brain. This sensory stimulus is transmitted from the brain to the nerve endings of certain muscles. As a result of this reflex transmission, the laughing muscles are contracted. This contraction is, so to speak, a compensatory reflex to certain sensations.

Unlike many other reflexes, laughter can be largely contained through self-control. The reflex movement, on the other hand, also easily results in an involuntary spasm known as a laughing spasm.

function & task

Laughter relieves. It is used for communication , group formation, and sometimes even as a weapon. Strong sensory stimuli are stress for the body. This stress can be reduced by laughing. With laughter, people also demonstrate their current emotional state unequivocally and non-verbally. But it can also weaken a negative emotional state about laughter. 

Laughing with other people connects. Laughing as a group often makes individuals outside the group feel threatened. Accordingly, laughter has many different functions and effects.

The process in the body remains largely the same. When you laugh, it is primarily the breathing movement that changes . The exhalation takes place in quick succession of thrusting movements. Breathing in, on the other hand, takes quick, deep breaths.

The breathing air reaches almost 100 km/h in the lungs . Three to four times more oxygen penetrates into the lungs. This breathing movement triggers the brain as a reflex response to sensory stimuli.

In addition, it sends contraction commands to the mimic facial muscles. The mouth gap widens and the corners of the mouth rise due to contractions of the zygomatic muscle. The eyebrows are also raised, the nostrils are widened and the eyes are narrowed. The vocal cords vibrate during laughter and the diaphragm moves rhythmically. Like any emotional situation, laughter can stimulate the tear ducts, which then release tears of laughter.

In total, the laughter reflex causes 17 facial muscles and a total of around 80 body muscles to contract. However, the leg and bladder muscles are relaxed during these contractions. From this context comes the expression that one peed one’s pants laughing.

As a result of the changed breathing, blood circulation is stimulated while laughing and the pulse increases. Laughter strengthens the cardiovascular system . The immune system also benefits from fits of laughter. After a fit of laughter, there are measurably more killer cells in the blood , which protect people in particular from viruses . The immunoglobulin concentration also increases. Above all, these proteins help to prevent infections caused by injuries.

Laughter increases the immune system. Stress hormones decrease. Happy hormones such as endorphins are released and relaxation sets in. Laughter also stimulates digestion . Laughter also relieves pain through the production of happiness hormones and anti-inflammatory body substances .

Diseases & Ailments

Despite their actually health-promoting effects, strong fits of laughter can also become health-threatening. If food or liquid is in the mouth during a fit of laughter, these substances are often inhaled. 

Headaches are also often described in connection with fits of laughter, which is probably due to the abnormal breathing. Hematomas in the rectus abdominis muscle occur just as often as headaches during extreme fits of laughter . In isolated cases, a pneumothorax in the lungs was observed. For people with cardiac arrhythmia , laughing fits can even be fatal.

Despite these risks, laughter is still rated as healthy overall, since the complications and symptoms mentioned occur very rarely. For these reasons, laughter is still often used today as part of treatment methods. On some children’s wards in hospitals, for example, clowns make the young patients laugh and thus contribute to faster recovery – also because a healthy psyche promotes physical health.

Actual laughter therapy sometimes takes place as part of psychotherapeutic treatments . Psychotherapists sometimes try to reduce their patients’ fears in this way. Patients with chronic diseases in particular are often advised to use laughter therapy.

On the other hand, laughter itself can also have pathological value and initially lead to the consultation of a psychotherapist. For some mental disorders, abnormal laughter behavior is an indicator. Schizoaffective disorders can manifest themselves, for example, in a regular laughing reflex at sad news and a crying attack in funny situations. These manifestations are also referred to as inadequate affect impulses. At what point inadequate affects actually point to an illness can only be assessed on a case-by-case basis and thus in the context of the personality and experiences of those affected.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.