Humor: How Does It Work?
In her book, "Pulmonary Rehabilitation: Guidelines to Success," Patty Wooten noted:
The ability to laugh at a situation or problem gives us a feeling of superiority and power. Humor and laughter can foster a positive and hopeful attitude. We are less likely to succumb to feelings of depression and helplessness if we are able to laugh at what is troubling us. Humor gives us a sense of perspective on our problems. Laughter provides an opportunity for the release of those uncomfortable emotions which, if held inside, may create biochemical changes that are harmful to the body.
Herbert Lefcourt, a noted psychologist from the University of Waterloo in Canada has explored the possibility that a sense of humor and its use can change our emotional response to stress. In this study, subjects were asked to review the frequency and severity of stressful life changes occurring to them over the previous six months, and their recent negative mood disturbances were evaluated. Lefcourt then administered tests to evaluate use of humor, perception of humor, appreciation of laughter, and efforts to include opportunities for humor and laughter into each subjects lifestyle. Results of this study have shown that the ability to sense and appreciate humor can buffer the mood disturbances which occur in response to negative life events.
Humor perception involves the whole brain and serves to integrate and balance activity in both hemispheres. Derks, at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, has shown that there is a unique pattern of brain wave activity during the perception of humor. EEG's were recorded on subjects while they were presented with humorous material.
During the setup to the joke, the cortex's left hemisphere began its analytical function of processing words. Shortly afterward, most of the brain activity moved to the frontal lobe which is the center of emotionality. Moments later the right hemisphere's synthesis capabilities joined with the left's processing to find the pattern -- to 'get the joke'. A few milliseconds later, before the subject had enough time to laugh, the increased brain wave activity spread to the sensory processing areas of the brain, the occipital lobe. The increased fluctuations in delta waves reached a crescendo of activity and crested as the brain 'got' the joke and the external expression of laughter began. Derks' findings shows that humor pulls the various parts of the brain together rather than activating a component in only one area.
The emotions and moods we experience directly effect our immune system. A sense of humor allows us to perceive and appreciate the incongruities of life and provides moments of joy and delight. These positive emotions can create neurochemical changes that will buffer the immunosuppressive effects of diseases and stress.
"The simple truth is that happy people generally
don't get sick."
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