In a study looking at 785 papers on laughter studies, Honorary Professor of Pharmacology R E Ferner and fellow J K Aronson drew some surprising conclusions about the adage, “Laughter is the best medicine.” They found that more studies actually showed laughter had negative effects, and there’s a decent chance it just means you’re crazy.
In total, out of the 785 relevant papers they found (from an original total of 4,961), they were only able to find 85 instances where laughter had clear benefits compared to 114 instances where it caused negative effects.
The whole thing has a good tongue-in-cheek tone to it, and it’s a pretty great example of the funny things you can prove using statistics. Don’t laugh too hard, though. You might cause yourself an abdominal hernia, jaw dislocation, or stress incontinence. You might also want to cover your mouth just like when you cough, because laughter can be infectious—literally.
What are some of the benefits? Laughter was shown to improve lung function in those with obstructive pulmonary disease, boost metabolism, and get women pregnant. No, really. One experiment showed that women who were entertained by a clown for 12-15 minutes after fertility treatments got pregnant at a rate of 36% compared to 20% of those who received no clown help.
There’s always the chance that laughter wasn’t involved in the pregnancy boost. It could just be that clowns are so virile they can impregnate by proximity. Think twice before taking the family to the circus.
As for the negative effects, aside from the wide range of physical harm that you can do to yourself by laughing too hard, the sharp intake of breath also contributes to inhaling microorganisms, and excessive laughter may just be caused by psychological conditions.
For the exact breakdown of the positives and negatives of laughing (and some pretty good dry research humor) check out the summary of the study.
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