Laughter May Not Be “The Best Medicine”

Robin Ferner

Robin Ferner

Laughter has its serious side,” according to University of Birmingham’s Robin Ferner and Jeffrey Aronson of University of Oxford, despite author Norman Cousins’ anecdotal account of managing pain of his debilitating form of arthritis by watching Marx Brothers comedies, rest, and vitamin C.

Jeffrey Aronson

Jeffrey Aronson

Although laughter can feel good and has been advocated for its health benefits, Ferner and Aronson noted that “pathological” laughter can be caused by medical disorders including:

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Cerebral tumors
  • Epilepsy
  • Multiple sclerosis.
Norman Cousins

Norman Cousins

Similarly, they noted many medical disorders result from laughter, including

Laughter Literature ReviewThis last “side effect” they noted was “promoting brand preference,” in a study by Radboud University Nijmegen’s Madelijn Strick, Rob Holland, Rick van Baaren, and Ad van Knippenberg, who investigated “how humor breaks resistance to influence.”

Madelijn Strick

Madelijn Strick

Strick and team concluded that “resistance” causes negative brand associations, but humor in advertisements provides cognitive distraction that prevents negative brand associations and increases positive brand impressions due to positive emotional engagement.
Together, these cognitive and emotional effects promote brand preference.

Laughter’s health benefits in addition to its commercial value, have been documented for decades, and include reduced:

Rob Holland

Rob Holland

Other documented health benefits include increased:

Rick van Baaren

Rick van Baaren

Benefit have been documented across countries and cultures: Both Indians and Canadians reported greater emotional well-being when they laughed to moderate levels, according to Hunaid Hasan and Tasneem Fatema Hasan, then of Mahatma Gandhi Mission’s Medical College.

Team Hasan compared more than 350 adults from Aurangabad, India, with the same number of adults from Mississauga, Canada on demographics, typical amount of laughter, lifestyle, subjective well-being, life satisfaction, emotional well-being, and health dimensions.

Ad van Knippenberg

Ad van Knippenberg

In India, moderate levels of laughter were linked to greatest well-being and life satisfaction, with low levels and high levels showing no effect.

Canadians also greatest benefits associated with moderate laughter, but higher levels of laughter were associated with negative effects.
The Hasan and Hasan team attributed this result to Canada’s higher prevalence of bronchial asthma, which may be precipitated or exacerbated by extreme laughter.

These research findings suggest that more laughter is “not always better” and may require “titrated doses” to extract benefits while minimizing documented “risks.”

-*How do you capitalize on laughter’s benefits while minimizing “the risks”?


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