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Laughter provides some serious medicine

Laughter has the power to improve short-term memory in older people by lowering levels of cortisol in the brain.
Diana Duel

It has long been said that, “laughter is the best medicine.’ Now a new study by psychosomatic medicine specialist Lee Berk of Loma Linda University’s school of medicine in California claims that truly joyous laughter “offers the same benefit as meditation.”

According to Berk, those who “practice meditation are able to achieve a state called gamma brain wave activity, in which (virtually) all the brain’s higher cortical regions begin to operate on a common frequency.” When they do, they are fed by dopamine, creating a powerful state of pleasure that people “want to return to again and again,” he said. Similar gamma wave activity was seen to occur during episodes of unrestrained jocularity during tests involving 31 university students, who had their scalps hooked up with listening electrodes that monitored them while they viewed various videos of both comedic (including slapstick) and distressing subject matter (i.e. the opening scene from the movie “Saving Private Ryan” depicting the storming of the beach at Normandy during WW II).

“The contrast in brain waves was quite stark between the two, with those induced by the laughter consistently brought into a mock-mediative state,” he said. And while he acknowledged that “meditation is not for everyone, humor is certainly within reach of all of us.”

A related study at Loma Linda also showed that laughter has the power to improve short-term memory in older people by lowering levels of cortisol, a hormone that can have a negative impact on neurons in the brain. To test the link between humor and memory, researchers gathered healthy individuals between 66 and 72 years old and separated them into two groups. The first group was asked to watch a 20-minute humorous video while the control group just sat quietly without any distractions. At the end of the time period, both had their cortisol levels tested. Those who watched the video were found to have lower levels of cortisol and displayed approximately a 40% increase in their memory recall and learning ability, while the others showed only a 20% improvement.

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