The Power of Laughter: How Laughing Affects Your Physical, Cognitive, and Emotional State

Research has shown that human laughter is similar to that of certain ape species, such as chimpanzees, suggesting that the evolution of laughter in primate species predates humans. The universality of laughter across humans and ape species means that laughter is an ancient construct that’s been preserved over the years. Like most traits that evolution preserves, it must play a role in our survival. One theory of laughter is that it helps social animals, including humans, to bond more efficiently. It’s hard to prove this theory, but there is no doubt laughter helps humans cement relationships, and relationships can help us thrive.

What Happens in Our Brains When We Laugh?

Laughter is a complex action and its effect are not limited to a given part of the brain. A study published in Cerebral Cortex revealed that when you laugh genuinely, certain parts of the brain are activated. These parts include:

  • Lateral hypothalamus – involved in processes like promoting feeding behavior and arousal, reducing pain perception, blood pressure, and digestive organs.
  • Amygdala – involved in emotional reactions, decision making, and processing memories.
  • Parietal operculum – involved in processing senses like temperature and touch.
  • Right cerebellum – involved in language, visual attention, and intuiting others’ states.

The Benefits of Laughter

1. Stress Relief from Laughter

Laughter activates the ventromedial prefrontal cortex releasing endorphins which increase euphoria and decrease pain. Endorphins also work to reduce stress by diminishing the production of cortisol, which is a stress-causing hormone. How endorphins affect the body is quite similar to the effect of drugs like codeine and morphine, only without the risk of dependence or addiction.

2. Improve Cardiovascular Health

Laughter reduces the production of the stress-causing hormones cortisol which can corrode your immune, metabolic, and cardiovascular systems over time. Anything that wears down these systems makes you much more vulnerable to diseases. A recent study published in the Journal of Epidemiology found that the risk of heart disease for people who rarely laugh is 21% higher than people who laugh daily. Similarly, people who rarely laugh have a 60% higher prevalence of stroke compared to regular laughers. These results remained the same even after adjusting for other risk factors including BMI, high blood pressure, depression, and hyperlipidemia.

3. Creates Bonds

Laughter increases a sense of intimacy and creates bonds with others. You are less likely to have a belly laugh when you’re alone.  Infants laugh as a sign of pleasure which strengthens bonds with caregivers. Later on, laughter is a sign of shared appreciation of given situations. When you share a laugh with someone, both of you feel psychologically closer with each other and you walk away from the experience having a more positive view of the other person. For instance, public speakers can create intimacy with their audience by making them laugh.

4. Improves Learning

Humor and laugher improve learning by reducing anxiety, attracting and sustaining attention, increasing motivation, and enhancing participation. Humans tend to remember funny incidences better, so if you can find humor in what you hear and read, you’re more likely to remember that information.

Laughter offers both physical and physiological benefits. It helps humans bond with others and triggers healthy emotional and physical changes in your body. Laughter protects you against the corroding effects of stress, boosts your mood, bolsters your immune system, and diminishes pain. To learn more about vitality and living in your prime, contact Genesis Performance today. We will help you fit exercise and wellness practices into your current schedule and inspire you to reach optimal health. We help clients across the nation virtually and are ready to help you get started today.


Jenna Dillon

Founder & CEO

Jenna is an Executive Coach committed to working with high performing individuals and companies who are up to exploring what they’re capable of achieving within their lives, careers, company culture and leadership. She is passionate about empowering her clients - standing with them and for them - so they have the tools to create extraordinary results.