The Real Reasons We Laugh

My two-year-old basically lives to make people laugh. If something he does makes you giggle, he does it over and over, laughing harder and harder every time. It’s like your laughter infects him, and he amplifies it back at you. It’s one of those parenting things that makes the hard stuff worth it.

Sophie Scott is a cognitive neuroscientist who studies laughter. What a great job that must be! In this light, funny TED Talk, Scott delves into why we laugh. It gives some insight into why my son laughs as easily as he does and how that laughter will serves us as we grow up.

Related: 8 Health Benefits of Laughter

You might think of laughter as something you do in response to comedy, and Scott says that’s a common misconception. Sure, we laugh at jokes, but laughter is really an ancient response that we’ve evolved to help us feel better and connect with other humans.

You laugh to communicate.

Scott calls laughter “the enemy” to talking and breathing. When we laugh, our ribcages spasm, stifling both. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t communicating when we laugh.

We’re 30 times more likely to laugh when we’re in a group of people than when we’re on our own, and Scott says usually that laughter isn’t about the joke. It’s about showing camaraderie, friendship, and love. Laughter may be the enemy to talking, but it’s a powerful component of how we relate to other people. And – as you probably already know – it’s contagious.

All mammals laugh, and we have different laughs that serve different purposes.

Scott’s research suggests that there are actually two kinds of laughter: that deep, involuntary laughter and what she calls “posed laughter.” The latter, she says, is the one that we use to communicate camaraderie. Humans do this, and so do other animals who laugh, like chimpanzees.

Our brains process these sorts of laughter differently. When we hear involuntary laughter, our brains focus more on the actual hearing part. We hear sounds we might not normally notice.

While posed laughter still stimulates the auditory parts of our brains somewhat, where we really process this is in areas associated with what Scott calls “mentalizing.” Even people having boring brain scans in her laughter study were trying, on some level, to figure out what people on a tape of sounds were laughing at.

Have you ever wondered why you laugh?

You laugh to bond.

Scott’s research also found that most people can’t fully parse whether laughs are real or posed until we hit our 30s. And laughter is more contagious when we’re younger. She thinks that as we get older, we need the social part of laughter more in order to “catch” a genuine laugh.

Related: 7 Laughter Exercises

Scott talks about one study by Dr. Robert Levenson where he prompted a stressful conversation between married couples. He found that the couples who manage that stress by laughing become less stressed immediately. They also tended to be the couples with a higher level of overall marital satisfaction. Levenson’s research suggests that laughter is part of the glue that holds long-term relationships together.

Scott says that laughter works the same way in friendships. Genuine laughter is disarming. It makes tough social situations easier by lightening the mood. From embarrassing moments to funerals, Scott feels strongly that if we can laugh together, we can get through those moments together and strengthen our social relationships.

We need laughter. Laughing improves our emotional and physical health, and – as Scott points out – it’s an often underrated part of how we communicate and build strong relationships.



Beryl L
Beryl L2 years ago

I laugh a lot. I didn't know this was good for me. Conversely for instance while seing something funny on TV nd my husband sits in a bad mood. I will find myself laughing and when he doesn't I feel very bad. How is that good for me?

Teresa W.
Teresa W3 years ago


Julia Oleynik
Julia Oleynik3 years ago

Thank You for sharing =)

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Beverly C.
Cathy K4 years ago

I never thought of laughing in this way. Thanks for sharing.

Vesper B.
Vesper B4 years ago


Melissa DogLover
Melissa DogLover4 years ago

LOL... thx

H D.
Holly D4 years ago

I need a good belly laugh!

Feather W.
Feather W4 years ago


Corey Brideau
Corey Brideau4 years ago

marijuana has a big role in my laughter lol