The paper focuses on the analysis of laughter as a therapeutic method. At first, the mechanics and physiology of laughter are explained, and the most common types of laughter are identified. Further, facial expressions with laughter are described, along with the likelihood of females to fake laughter in comparison with males. Finally, the major part of the paper is devoted to the investigation of scholarly studies analyzing the positive effects of laughter on people’s health. Such aspects as the enhancement of stress resistance, the improvement of physical health, and the development of positive thinking are identified by scholars as to the greatest benefits of laughter.
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Laughter is one of the most typical emotions a person can express. The mechanics and physiology of laughter have been investigated long ago, but present-day research focuses on a more interesting dimension of this act. Specifically, scholars analyze the potential of laughter to improve people’s spiritual health, mental condition, and even physical health. The present paper demonstrates research findings indicating the therapeutic value of laughter.
The Mechanics and Physiology of Laughter
Laughter is a complex act consisting of a modified respiratory. Laughter is a physical reaction that involves repetitive vocal sound, muscle contractions, and specific facial expressions (Louie, Brook, & Frates, 2016). In addition to these characteristics, laughter also involves the whole body movement (Cosentino, Sessa, & Takanishi, 2016). Vocal emission is the result of synchronized phonation movements and respiration modulation. A laughter episode includes onset (the pre vocal facial expression), apex (vocalization), and off-set (post-vocalization). The period of repeated vocalization is called a laughter bout, which usually consists of four laughter calls (Cosentino et al., 2016). A laughter call makes up a typical laugh by combining a series of rhythmic expiratory pulse, which includes two phases: the aspiration and the vocalization one. The analysis of the larynx movement during laughter allows distinguishing between four stages: interpulse pause, adduction, vibration, and abduction (Cosentino et al., 2016). Scholars identify a variety of laughter types, such as genuine (spontaneous), simulated (self-induced), stimulated, induced, and pathological (Louie et al., 2016). Laughter is known to have psychological and physiological effects on individuals.
Facial Expressions with Laughter
Facial expressions accompanying laughter are associated with the reduction of certain groups of facial muscles. There is much in common between the changes in facial expressions and breathing of a person who is laughing and the one who is crying. However, laughter is reported to have a more reliable expression, which is more difficult to simulate than sobbing (McKeown, Sneddon, & Curran, 2015). Research also indicates that it is easier for females to fake laughter than for males (McKeown et al., 2015). Laughter is high “behaviorally contagious,” which means that once a person sees someone laugh, he or she will most likely burst out laughing (Scott, Lavan, Chen, & McGettigan, 2014, p. 618). Hence, laughter is not only the expression of one’s good humor but also a discreet way of concealing one’s true emotions.
The Therapeutic Role of Laughter
When a person laughs, special impulses producing a beneficial effect on the nervous system appear. These impulses can enhance brain function by relieving tension. Therefore, it is possible to speak about the beneficial role of laughter in people’s lives. Yim (2016) emphasizes the potential of laughter to promote individuals’ mental health. The scholar notes that laughter can be employed as a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy to bolster psychological, social, and physical relationships and enhance the quality of life (Yim, 2016). Laughter in a non-pharmacological treatment, which can improve a person’s immune system and mental health.
The positive impact of laughter on various health systems has been discussed in many scholarly studies. Heo, Kim, Park, and Kil (2016) have investigated the effect of laughter on hemodialysis patients. The authors have found that such patients’ social interaction level, symptoms, and mood improved as a result of laughter therapy. The therapeutic value of laughter is also greatly esteemed by researchers analyzing people’s psychological wellbeing. Hatzipapas, Visser, & van Rensburg (2017) report an increase in positive coping and emotions in community care workers after being exposed to laughter therapy. Additionally, scholars emphasize the enhancement in interpersonal relationships and a better quality of work of such volunteers. Therapeutic benefits of laughter also include an increase in pain threshold and life satisfaction, the alleviation of insomnia, and the improvement of cardiovascular health (Gilbert, 2014). Also, laughter is employed in team-building exercises to reduce employees’ stress levels (Mihaylova, Dimitrov, & Todorova, 2018). Hence, it is viable to consider laughter as a highly beneficial approach to increasing people’s mental and physical health.
Current scholarly literature indicates that laughter is much more than a reaction to a funny joke or a comical situation. The investigation of laughter mechanisms allows concluding that people’s involuntary laughter has the potential to affect their health, both physical and psychological. What is more, laughter increases individuals’ resistance to stress and helps them socialize. Laughter medicine is gaining more and more popularity due to these beneficial effects.
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Cosentino, S., Sessa, S., & Takanishi, A. (2016). Quantitative laughter detection, measurement, and classification — A critical survey. IEEE Reviews in Biomedical Engineering, 9, 148-162.
Gilbert, R. (2014). Laughter therapy: Promoting health and wellbeing. Nursing and Residential Care, 16(7), 392-395.
Hatzipapas, I., Visser, M. J., & van Rensburg, E. J. (2017). Laughter therapy as an intervention to promote psychological well-being of volunteer community care workers working with HIV-affected families. SAHARA-J: Journal of Social Aspects of HIV/ AIDS, 14(1), 202-212.
Heo, E. H., Kim, S., Park, H.-J., & Kil, S. Y. (2016). The effects of a simulated laughter programme on mood, cortisol levels, and health-related quality of life among haemodialysis patients. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 25, 1-7.
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McKeown, G., Sneddon, I., & Curran, W. (2015). Gender differences in the perceptions of genuine and simulated laughter and amused facial expressions. Emotion Review, 7(1), 30-38.
Mihaylova, T., Dimitrov, T., & Todorova, D. (2018). The team building in collectives as preventive and therapeutic activity in acute and chronic stress. Journal of IMAB, 24(2), 1998-1990.
Scott, S. K., Lavan, N., Chen, S., & McGettigan, C. (2014). The social life of laughter. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18(12), 618-620.
Yim, J. (2016). Therapeutic benefits of laughter in mental health: A theoretical review. The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine, 239(3), 243-249.