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What Is Gelotology?

Dan Harkins
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Laughter is serious business when it comes to living long and healthy lives. Some experts have gone so far as to quantify laughter's particular biological causes as well as its effects on health and well-being. This field of study, called gelotology, has quantified claims that laughing may improve heart health, bolster immunity and lessen pain. Other studies have focused on laughter's sociological role of building group mentality or its psychological role of easing tension and lessening depression.

A principle component of gelotology is the study of how and why laughter even occurs. Building on the conventional wisdom that people cannot tickle themselves, scientific inquiry in recent decades has led to discoveries about which parts of the brain are responsible for laughter. According to a report filed by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1998, a patient undergoing brain surgery began to laugh as soon as a small section of her frontal lobe was stimulated by electrical current. This hair-trigger response is believed to be part of a broader network that includes wide-ranging parts of the brain responsible for movement, cognition and emotions.

Another consideration of gelotology is what causes laughter in the first place. A few camps stack up in this regard, with some believing that genetics has imbedded this way of responding to new stimuli. Others believe, however, that laughter is more of a conditioned response to any number of new experiences — from physical stimuli like tickling to more subtle causes like something touching the sensibilities in just the right way.

Regardless of the causes, the University of Maryland Medical Center concluded in 2000 that laughter and having a sense of humor could contribute to better heart health. Of 300 study participants — half with heart disease and half without — researchers found that those with heart disease appeared to be less likely to find reasons to laugh. Other gelotology studies also have showed that comedic environs may improve stress levels, pain and immune response. Specifically, laughter and insouciance appears to cause the body to release less catecholamine hormones — the so-called fight-or-flight hormones that can raise stress levels and tax the immune system.

A major branch of gelotology is called psychoneuroimmunology, which involves professionals from several fields looking for links between certain emotional states and health. Several types of researchers participate in this field, from psychologists and neuroscientists to immunologists and physicians. Though some disease and injury cannot be avoided by simply nurturing a healthy sense of humor, the consensus of these scientists is that a direct link exists between happy attitudes and healthy bodies.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his journalism degree, he spent more than two decades honing his craft as a writer and editor for various publications. Dan’s debut novel showcases his storytelling skills and unique perspective by drawing readers into the story’s captivating narrative.

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Discussion Comments
By RoyalSpyder — On Aug 31, 2014

Although I believe that laughter is a good medicine, I also believe that it should be genuine laughter and not forced, so to speak. Have you ever had one of those times where you were watching a movie, and when the audience started laughing during a funny scene, you were amused only because you felt like you had to be? In my opinion, that type of laughter is definitely forced, and isn't genuine in the least.

By Euroxati — On Aug 30, 2014

@Chmander - You make some very good points about trying to keep a perspective on the good and bad aspects of life. If you focus on either one of the extreme too much, whether it's positivity or negativity, you're living a false reality. For example, if someone doesn't laugh that often and has a rather negative view of life, not only will they be miserable, but they might also see everyone as out to get them. Maybe it's also because they've been hurt in the past, but they put up a front and don't talk to anyone.

On the other hand though, you have those who are a little too optimistic. Nothing ever "gets" to them, and while it's always good to stay positive, they take it to an extreme level. Life can be unfair, and they're living in a false reality where they believe that no hardships will come. Overall, I agree with your points, and it's important to keep a balance between the two sides.

By Chmander — On Aug 30, 2014

Even though I have never associated laughter with living a longer life, the article does make some pretty good points. After all, people whose lives are miserable don't get far due to all the anger and stress that's built up inside of then. Time flies by and instead of doing something with their life, they wallow in their own self pity. However, people with happier lives tend to disregard the negativity. Yes, they still have struggles to deal with, but they don't let it get to then. In fact, in my opinion, I think that people should try to keep a balance between being optimistic, and looking on the "other" side of life, so to speak. Does anyone else agree?

Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his...
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