Laughing Matter

I am intrigued by the concept of laughter so after today’s discussion I did a little research. I found the work that Melissa talked about here. The article tackles a lot but I found the discussion of the nature of human laughter the most interesting being around pg. 10. It’s worth a look even if its only to see the word “coochi-coochi-coo’ used seriously in a scientific publication. The lack of research in the area was rather shocking considering that laughing is something found across cultures, and is also something that consistently developes at a very young age. I also found it rather strange that laughing disorders aren’t more popular. I can see how some brain damage can lead to inappropriate laughter but I have never heard of someone who was unable to stop laughing. Does it exist? Or is it such a basic human function that it never really goes wrong?

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5 thoughts on “Laughing Matter

  1. Lauren –
    I was shadowing in a neuropsych lab a couple years ago, and the researchers in the lab were interested in studying laughter. The problem they consistently ran into was that ‘recording’ laughter is remarkably hard to do for a couple of different reasons (and you can probably guess what they are) – everybody’s laugh is unique, it’s difficult to know why the person is laughing, some individual’s rarely laugh even when they find something humorous, etc. At the time I was shadowing in the lab, I had just finished taking Bio Basis, and remembered learning that when you are genuinely laughing, a muscle around your eye is engaged. I proposed to the researchers that they somehow use the engagement of this muscle to indicate how humorous the subjects found a video clip to be. But, they wanted to study laughter specifically, so were back to the original problems of ‘recording’ laughter. You get the point. Maybe you should pioneer this field… 🙂

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  2. There actually is a broad category of pathological laughter called forced laughter where people suddenly burst into laughter and can’t stop. They also have disturbances in heart rate, vasomotor control, and sphincter tone (yikes). Also the experience, while genuine in all appearances, is extremely unpleasant and uncomfortable. One of these disorders is called fou rire prodromique where uncontrolled laughter lasting longer than half an hour signals a stroke in the brainstem. It’s really creepy to think about, but in some cases people literally laughed to death. Apparently it’s an issue of dis-inhibition rather than issue of excessive excitement, which is interesting because laughter doesn’t seem like something we need to inhibit under normal circumstances. I have to look into it more, but does that mean our laughter pathway is constantly being suppressed rather than occasionally activated? I got this information from a really cool book called The Psychology of Humor by Rod Martin if you’re interested in laughter.

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