Laugh to Light Up Your Brain

Tip Seven in our recent series on suggestions for staying mentally sharp was to laugh more and be lighthearted. After all, you have one life, you might as well enjoy it and look on the bright side. And now, British scientists are reporting that just the sound of laughter can make you smile and laugh.

"It seems that it's absolutely true that 'laugh and the whole world laughs with you,'" Sophie Scott, PhD, says in a news release. Scott is a professor at University College London's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Scott's team says when people hear the sound of laughter, their brain areas that control smiling and laughing become active.

The researchers played the sounds of laughter through headphones to 20 healthy people with good hearing (average age: 32).

While listening to laughter, participants got brain scans using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The brain scans showed activity in brain areas that control facial muscles used in smiling and laughing.

In short, the sound of laughter spurred the brain to get ready to laugh and smile.

Participants' brain scans showed similar activity upon hearing tapes of people cheering, but not after hearing cries of fear or disgust.

The findings may explain how the brain mirrors other people's positive emotions.

"We usually encounter positive emotions, such as laughter or cheering, in group situations, whether watching a comedy program with family or a football game with friends," Scott says.

"This response in the brain, automatically priming us to smile or laugh, provides a way of mirroring the behavior of others, something which helps us to interact socially," she says.

"It could play an important role in building strong bonds between individuals in a group," Scott adds.

The study is due for publication in today's Journal of Neuroscience

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