Why is Laughter Contagious – A Study


“Laughter is the best medicine.” This is one prescription that everyone abides by. Laughing brings joy and happiness in your life. It uplifts your mood more than a piece of chocolate would do. This is my observation, so don’t judge me. 

However, there is confusion about if laughter is infectious or contagious? We often tell the other person how infectious their laugh is or “stop yawning, It’s contagious.” Have you wondered what is the difference between the two and which is the right adjective to use? 

The significant difference between the two words is that, contagious means “communicable by contact,” and “infectious” as “capable of causing infection.” Since contagious disease spreads by contact between people while an infectious one doesn’t need contact. This concludes that laughter is “contagious,” not “infectious.” 

Why is Laughter Contagious? 

How many times have you watched a comedy movie in a theater and laughed your guts out? But the same movie watching at home alone, doesn’t make you laugh that much?  

Why does this happen? The reason is that you were watching the movie by yourself.

So, what makes laughing so contagious?  

Our brain is likely to have a laugh detector that triggers some sort of laugh generator. By this I mean, that our brain reacts to sounds that affect a part of the brain known as the premotor cortical region. This part of the brain is also responsible for our facial muscles and how it reacts to sounds. 

Did you know that an average person laughs around 13 times a day? Most of the times it’s not because of a joke but of situations that were not funny in the first place.  

University College of London conducted a study on participants to see how their brain reacts to different kinds of sounds.  As a result, when they played positive sounds such as laughing and cheering, they received higher responses. However, for negative sounds like someone screaming or vomiting, they received lower responses for obvious reasons. This tells us that humans are more responsive to the sound of laughter as compared to negative sounds. This also explains the reason why we smile unknowingly when we see someone laugh. 

“A day without laughter is a day wasted.” Charlie Chaplin

Why Do We Laugh? 

We laugh for many reasons whether it’s a hilarious one out of hearing a joke or a nervous laugh trying to cover up an awkward situation. 

Remember how watching a funny video of people falling down or babies laughing hysterically made you laugh too? The latter is my favorite. Its making me giggle as I write this article. Laughter really tickles our funny bone.  

Studies show how contagious laughter has been passed on to humans from our ancient ancestors. For our ancestors, laughter was a process of strengthening the bond between each other. We laugh when we feel free and are comfortable with one another. So, laughter definitely increases bonding between people, just as it did for our ancestors. Laughing with friends and family at gatherings always brings about a positive environment and is also a big mood booster.  

Did you know that there was a contagious laughter epidemic called the Tanganyika laughter epidemic? In 1962, in a village called Tanganyika (now Tanzania), 3 girls studying in a boarding school began to laugh. This spread to the entire school and affected 95 students out of 159. It got so bad that the school officials shut down the school for some time. However, when school reopened, 50 students were soon affected by the contagious laughter epidemic and it spread to the neighboring village.  

How hilarious is that!  

This the reason for pre-recorded laughter that is used in sit-coms and comedy shows to increase the chance of inducing contagious laughter among the audience.  Popular figures and comedians such as Charlie Chaplin and Robin Williams knew the importance of laughter and used their specialized field to spread laughter, happiness, and joy. 

The science behind contagious laughter 

Laughing at a public place all by yourself looking at your screen will make the people around you laugh too by just listening to you laugh. This happens because according to psychologists, contagious laughter is considered to be behavioral. It occurs through everyday interaction, passing from person to person just like the contagious laughter epidemic I mentioned earlier 

Laughter has always existed as a universal language bringing together people from all walks of life. Unlike other forms of expression, laughter occurs unconsciously. It’s a spontaneous and relatively uncensored reaction to certain situations. There is sometimes never a reason for us to laugh, it is triggered by sensations and thoughts.

For example, we look at a friend and burst into laughter without any reason. Hear someone laugh as they cross your path, makes you smile or end in a burst of laughter. Laughter is catchy and definitely contagious.   

For me, it’s my mother’s laugh. Her laugh is sweet yet funny and it would make me laugh every time even if the nature of our conversation wasn’t funny.  

We often mirror the behavior of others, copying their words or mimicking their gestures. The same effect is seen with laughter. We laugh looking at others laugh or sometimes at ourselves. There are so many instances in our life that we are waiting to tell a joke to someone but begin to laugh uncontrollably before even starting the joke. This is because our brain has saved this joke that made us laugh earlier and is triggered every time, we speak about it. Has this happened with you? 

“Laugh and the whole world laughs with you” – Ella Wilcox 

The Health Benefits of Contagious Laughter 

Laughter has a great effect on our brain, mood, and overall well-being. It truly has proved to be the best medicine for humankind.  There is a reason why Laughter Yoga is so popular among people now especially the elderly.

This kind of therapy uses laughter to help relieve pain and stress and improve a person’s overall health. It can strengthen your spirit; make you smile, have a positive outlook towards life by bringing you joy and filling you with positive energy. 

There are a number of health and psychological benefits of laughter. Such as:  

  1. Eases anxiety, relieves stress by relaxing the whole body 
  2. Triggers the release of endorphins in your brain that relieve stress and pain 
  3. Reduces blood pressure for hypertension patients 
  4. Improves your cardiovascular system 
  5. It acts as an immune booster and helps to prevent cold and flu 
  6. Laughter can act as a natural anti-depressant as well 
  7. Decreases levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol 
  8. It helps to burn calories 
  9. Boosts happiness and uplifts your mood 
  10. Strengthens and enhances relationships and emotional bonds 
  11. Promotes a positive outlook by boosting your frame of mind 
  12. Fills you with an optimistic energy 
  13. Laughter increases the blood supply to your facial muscles or cheeks that nourishes your skin giving you a face glow. 

“The person who can bring the spirit of laughter into a room is indeed blessed.” Bennett Cerf

Spread the laughter

Contagious laughter has great social importance; as it bonds us through humor. It’s an emotional response to face to face interaction with our friends and family, sometimes even strangers. 

It enables people to connect and communicate with each other creating new social and emotional bonds. Shared laughter triggers positive feelings which, in turn, helps to build stronger, lasting relationships.  

It is surprising how contagious laughter can change the course of your life. Thus, smile and laugh more often because your laughter can be another person’s joy and happiness.  

Spend time with people who make you laugh and most importantly who understand your humor. Spread happiness and look for things that make you smile and laugh every day Also, make people laugh around you who have forgotten how to smile either with jokes or videos or just your plain awesome humor. 

Stay happy! Stay fit! 

What do you think is laughter infectious or contagious? Leave your feedback or a joke in the comments section! 

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