18 Matching Annotations
  1. Nov 2015
    1. it’s not hard to understand how, in any highly social species, natural selection might favor those who laugh. Laughter may help some animals avert an attack, and according to Panksepp, animals may be attracted to others who laugh, seeing their laughter as a sign that they have a positive temperament and can get along well with others—and some of those positive interactions could lead to reproduction. “Laughter indicates emotional health, just as a peacock’s tail indicates physical health,” he says. Indeed, just as humans like to spend time with their funny friends, Panksepp has found that rats gravitate towards those who “chirp” the most.
    2. when rats are sizing each other up in the moments before a potential fight, which may mean that laughter can help diffuse situations that might otherwise escalate into physical conflict. Similar behavior has been documented among chimpanzees.
    3. As rats age, their chirping generally becomes less frequent. (A similar phenomenon seems to occur in humans: Research done by William Fry, a professor emeritus at Stanford University School of Medicine, has found that kindergarteners laugh 300 times a day, whereas adults laugh just 17 times.) However, rats who were tickled often when young usually retain their tendency to chirp later in life.
    4. It is precisely this more childlike, instinctive form of laughter that scientists believe they have uncovered in rats. Panksepp, the Baily Endowed Chair of Animal Well-Being Science at Washington State University, has found that rats emit their high-pitched chirps when tickled, especially in areas, such as the nape of the neck, that are targeted by fellow rats during playful bouts. They make the same sounds when playing or anticipating playtime with one another, as well as when anticipating a reward. Other research has found that this chirping is common when rats enter new environments or encounter new animals; Panksepp likens this to nervous laughter in humans.
    5. scientists have probed the brain circuits involved in human laughter, but this research has faced a number of limitations. For one, though researchers have used sophisticated equipment to observe people’s brain activity while they read cartoons or jokes, this equipment is quite sensitive to movement—a major drawback when you’re trying to induce a hearty belly laugh.

      Why rats, which do have a form of ultrasonic laughter, have been used in laughter research.

    6. In one study at San Diego State University, students enrolled in an Introductory Psychology course were taught using three kinds of lectures: one that incorporated course content-related humor; one that included humor, but not related to the course material; and one that used no humor at all. When researchers tested student’s retention of knowledge six weeks later, they found that those who attended lectures with course-related humor scored significantly higher than the other students.
    7. Importantly, humor is also great for our social relationships. People list having a sense of humor as one of the most important traits in a mate. In classrooms, a humorous teacher makes learning more enjoyable and increases a student’s motivation to learn.
    8. Experiments on humans have found that laughter can increase blood flow and strengthen the heart, much like aerobic exercise does. Laughter also helps decrease one’s threshold for pain, although not all humor is the same in this respect. According to Weems, positive humor—humor that looks for the bright side of troubling situations—is beneficial to our health, while darker, sardonic humor is not.
    9. Take for example an old Groucho Marx joke: “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know.” Our brains will read the first sentence and be taken down a path imagining Grouch Marx on a safari in his pajamas, before we get the new image of the elephant actually inside his pajamas. That process of moving from one possible solution to the next involves a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate, or AC, which becomes more active when there are conflicting interpretations in the brain. The AC helps to quiet down the “louder” parts of the brain (associated with the expected response) to allow other quieter answers to emerge, and it’s particularly active during jokes. It helps us to figure out the novel solution, which, when resolved, gets incorporated into the brain and gives us that spike of dopamine. This is why we feel so good when we get a joke, and why jokes are not funny the second time around.
    10. he grouped humor preferences into three types: “incongruity-resolution,” which involves “violating one’s expectations in novel ways;” “nonsense humor,” “which is funny only because it makes no sense;” and “sexual humor,” which is offensive or taboo. Although not everyone finds the same type of humor funny, the common thread in these joke types is that they all involve dealing with surprise and resolving the ensuing cognitive dissonance. “What elicits laughter isn’t the content of the joke but the way our brain works through the conflict the joke elicits,” writes Weems. Basic Books, 2014, 230 pages

      Apparently fMRI was used in this work, though it isn't immediately clear how.

    11. Weems explains what humor is, how things become funny, and why evolution gave us laughter. According to Weems, laughter and humor help us process conflict in our environment through the dopamine that is released in our brains when we find something funny. Dopamine relieves tension—which I discovered with my son—but it’s also implicated in motivation, memory, and attention, affecting processes as varied as learning and pain management.
    12. why do we find some things funny—like Captain Kirk cringing over Cyrus’ performance—while others leave us flat? For answers, look no further than the new book, Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why, by cognitive neuroscientist Scott Weems.
    13. philosopher Thomas Nagelhas written about is that one of the most important achievements of the human mind isto make sure you always remember in the vast flow of human experience and time and whereyour life is going, that things can be insignificant. That everything in some sense has a smallplace in the broader flow of human experience and laughter really helps you get there, ithelps you put things into perspective sort of a almost delightful sense of the absurd.
    14. the very simple finding is that the peoplewho laughed when talking about the relationship with their partners two and four years laterwere actually doing a lot better psychologically. Less anxiety, greater purpose in life, greaterrelationships with other people, less depression by finding perspective through laughter.

      he studied middle-aged individuals who on average were about 45 years of age. He brought them to the lab six months after their partner had died in their lives.

    15. laughing, probably through its effects on breathingwhich makes you breathe more deeply, actually calms your cardiovascular system. So, it reallyseems to be altering your stress profile as a pathway to physical health.
    16. Hirosaki, for example, has found in a review that bursts of laughterdecrease blood pressure, they enhance your immune function. In certain contexts, for example,when combined with exercise, they will reduce levels of chronic pain. They will improvethe physical health of elderly populations. Other studies by Ko, for example, find laughterimproves depressive symptomatology, how well elderly patients are sleeping.
    17. laughter is not only about jokes, butis just part of human speech. In fact, most forms of laugh occur in conversations whenwe’re not necessarily telling jokes but we’re trying to signal playfulness and cooperativenessto other individuals.
    18. what peoplethink of as laughter is really kind of this behavioral response to contradictorypieces of information where what you assume to be true proves not quite to be true whenyou look at other information in the world.

      And that motivates us to learn and to develop and to be curious as the foundation of laughter.