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Our Ancient Laughing Brain. 1. Why do we laugh?. What makes us laugh?. Is humor the main ingredient of laughter?. Scientific investigation of laughter. Public places - only 10 to 20% has to do with humour (1200 conversations ). Dr.Robert Provine Neurobiologist.

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Our Ancient Laughing Brain

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Our ancient laughing brain

Our Ancient Laughing Brain


Why do we laugh

Why do we laugh?

What makes us laugh

What makes us laugh?

Is humor the main ingredient of laughter?

Scientific investigation of laughter

Scientific investigation of laughter

  • Public places - only 10 to 20% has to do with humour (1200 conversations)

Dr.Robert Provine


Scientific investigation of laughter1

  • Laboratory: brought people

  • in his lab to observe

  • laughter

Scientific investigation of laughter

Dr.Robert Provine


What were the results???


Our ancient laughing brain

“Laughter disappears just when we are ready to observe it -- especially in the laboratory”


Robert Provine

Laughter a social behaviour

Laughter: A Social Behaviour

Laughter disarms people, creates a bridge between them,

and facilitates amicable behavior


Why do we laugh1

Why do we laugh?

The function of laughter is .....

Why do we laugh2

Why do we laugh?


It seems to be a message that we send to other

people communicating joyful

disposition, bonding, happiness, willining to play.

Why do we laugh3

Why do we laugh?

We need to build

social structures in order to live well in our society and laughter signalize this disposition.

We rarely laugh alone

Our ancient laughing brain


“If we see someone laughing

alone he or she would seem to be crazy”

Black box approach for studying laughter

What makes us laugh



body, physiological

and behavioral




  • Expression of

  • laughter

  • Situations in social

  • environment

  • Humor


“Black Box” approachfor studying laughter

Expression of laughter

Expression of laughter

“Laughter has powerful influences on the body”

Dr. J. Mercola, MD


Our ancient laughing brain

During vigorous laughter

You must get unobstructed upper airways in order to laugh

Therefore a spasm occurs, so that neck and head are

thrown back to provide a free respiratory intake.

Our ancient laughing brain

Compare the contrast between waves of sound during






Laughter is accompanied by a strong increase of amplitude and frequency of respiratory movement with a consequent increase in the intake of oxigen and output of carbon dioxide

“Laughter is a good aerobic exercice that ventilates the lungs”

Dr. William Fry Jr.

Our ancient laughing brain


The venous return from the face by the jugular veins is partially blocked due to a strong contraction of neck muscles

Arterioles in the face dilate provoking an increase in the blood flow

Jugular vein

Our ancient laughing brain

Lacrimal glands

Shedding of tears

The repeated contraction of the muscles around the eyes compressess the lacrimal glands provoking the outflow of tears.

Our ancient laughing brain

Pressure in the abdomen

Repeated short, strong contractions of the muscles of thoracic wall, abdomen, and diafragm increase blood flow into our internal organs

Our ancient laughing brain



Muscle tension decreases, and we may temporarily lose control of our limbs.

“Being weak with laughter”

Our ancient laughing brain

Laughter activates the cardiovascular system, so

heart rate and blood pressure increase

The arteries then dilate, causing blood pressure to fall

Our ancient laughing brain

Wetting oneself

Loss of control of urinary sphincter

Our ancient laughing brain

Laughter promotes

social bonding

“Shared laughter creates a bond of friendship. When people laugh together, they cease to be young and old, master and pupils. They have become a single group of human beings, enjoying their existence."

W. Grant Lee

Laughter is contagious

Laughter is contagious

“Laughter is a powerful sound”

Dr. Joseph M. Mercola

Contrivances for contagious laughter

Contrivances for contagious laughter

  • Laugh tracks of television

  • Laugh records in toys

  • Laughing boxes

Coupling the black boxes laughter as communication

Coupling the Black Boxes:Laughter as Communication

Person A

Person B

A Sociobiological Perspective

Contagious laughter roots in the neurological mechanism of laugh detection and replication






Contagious laughter:Roots in the neurological mechanism of laugh detection and replication

Wave of




Laughter the best medicine

Laughter: “The Best Medicine”

"The old saying that 'laughter is the best medicine,' definitely appears to be true”

Michael Miller, M.D.

University of Maryland Medical Center

Does laughter have the same meaning in all human cultures

Does laughter have the same meaning in all human cultures?

Scientists wondered if there was any cross- cultural differences in social context of laughter.

Our ancient laughing brain

Eibl-Eibesfeldt documented laughter’s universality recording unstaged and undisturbed social interactions in a number of traditional societies

Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt



Laughing is a universal phenomenon

Laughing is a universal phenomenon

Native Brazilians, African tribesmen, Greek fishermen, etc.

Where does laughter come from

Where does laughter come from?

Do we learn to laugh?

Or is laughter innate in human beings?

Our ancient laughing brain

Evidences point to an innate, preprogrammed basis

for laughter

Congenitally blind, deaf, and dumb


Premature baby

Our ancient laughing brain

Video Analysis of Laughter Sequence







Do animals also laugh

Do animals also laugh?

Our ancient laughing brain

Laughter is not unique to humans

Apes open their mouths wide, expose their teeth, retract the corners of their lips, and emit loud and repetitive vocalizations

Contrast of chimpanzee and human laugh production


Human being







Produce a pant “ah” for every expiration and inspiration

Produced by interrupting a

single expiration

Contrast of chimpanzee and human laugh production.

What are the origins of laughter

What are the origins of laughter?

Playful behaviour laugh and fun

Playful BehaviourLaugh and fun

"The true origins of laughter lie in the rough-and-tumble

play of our primate ancestors”

Playing in the rain forest with monkeys


Playing in the rain forest with monkeys

Monkeys also laugh when they are playing with humans

Playful behaviour

Playful Behaviour

Fighting in make-believe aggression is not for real. Laughter indicates that aggressive play is just fun

Playful behaviour1

Breath exalation


Standarts pants

Playful Behaviour

Dogs make a specific noise during play that is distinctive from other sounds made during passive or aggressive confrontation.

Laughter even evolved long before higher mammals appeared on the scene

Laughter even evolved long before higher mammals appeared on the scene.

Rats emit short, high-frequency, ultrasonic vocalizations during rough-and-tumble play.

Laughter s dark side

Laughter’s dark side

“Laughter also can serve as a weapon to

humiliate and ostracize its victims”

Is there a common evolutionary origin of laughter

and aggression?

Our ancient laughing brain

  • Laughter in primates may have originated as a group threatening behaviour against strangers

They mean to keep the stranger:

  • Away and feel undesired, without actually resorting to direct aggression;

  • It reinforces the group social cohesion;

  • It may explains why “being laughed at” by a group is so stressful.

Outside the group

Inside the group

Our ancient laughing brain

Animals are able to modify the sound of their vocalization.

“I am no threat to you”

It is trying to sound bigger than it actually is. They mean that they can bite

Contrast between laughter and aggression

Both involve showing the teeth

Laughter x aggression

Laughter x Aggression

Definite function: communicative signal

What are the brain mechanisms of laughter

What are the brain mechanisms of laughter?

Laughter involves the whole brain

Our ancient laughing brain

Basic structures of the brain

  • Neocortex

  • Visual, auditory,etc. - PERCEPTION

  • Memory, thinking, understanding


Limbic system

Pleasure, happiness, joy

Brainstem, hypothalamus,

basal ganglia

Vocalization, respiration, gland excretion


A brain alight with laughter

Motor cortex


Visual cortex


Basal ganglia



Pyramidal system


A Brain Alight with Laughter…

When something goes wrong with this complex system

When something goes wrong with this complex system

Areas involved with

laughter expression


Damage provoked in the neural circuit

responsible for the motor expression of laughter, may cause a "desinhibition" of the laughter


When laughter is not funny

When laughter is not funny

Pathological laughter

Fits of abnormal laughter, producing an inappropriate, unrestrained, uncontrollable laughter dissociated from any stimulus.

It is a disorder of emotional expression

Pathological laughter occurs in

Pathological laughter occurs in:

  • Tumors

  • Trauma

  • Vascular malformations

  • Strokes

  • Neural toxicity

  • Neural degeneration

All these conditions provoke an imbalance in the laughter expression mechanism

Our ancient laughing brain


Motor Area (SMA)


SMA - Is associated with the control of speech

Electrical stimulation in supplemental motor area triggered peals of mirthful laughter.

Tickling and laughter

Tickling and Laughter

Tickling fascinating instance of the

TicklingFascinating instance of the

  • Connection between playfulness, laughter and social bonding

  • Almost always produces laughter

  • Tickling and laughter evolved in part to help us relate to others



Congenitally blind



Our ancient laughing brain

Sensory cortex





Spinal cord

Nerve cell

Sensory ganglion

Anatomy of Tickling

(Area that registers touch)



Tickling stimulates touch receptors in the skin. These receptors, when stimulated carry information in sensory neurons that goes to the spinal cord.

Then this information travels up to the sensory cortex via the thalamus.

The sensory cortex is involved in processing information from the skin.

The big enigma of

The big enigma of


We do not laugh when we tickle ourselves, only when other people tickle us.

Our ancient laughing brain

Why is it impossible to tickle ourselves?

Our ancient laughing brain


Brain region that helps to control voluntary movement and balance

Predicts the sensory consequences of movements - supplying the brain with information that reduces the sensation of touch information.

Our ancient laughing brain

Charles Darwin

1809 -1882

“For tickling to be effective, you must not know the precise point of stimulation in advance”

Our ancient laughing brain





When you try to tickle yourself, your cerebellum sends to your somatosensory cortex precise information on the position of the tickling target and therefore what sensation to expect.


Our ancient laughing brain

Robotic arm

She used robotic arms to tickle people and found it to be as effective as real people in provoking laughter.

However, when her subjects used a joystick to control the tickling robot, they couldn’t make themselves laugh.

Our ancient laughing brain




Touch’s area

Part of the brain that registers touch

fMRI detected more neuronal activity in somatosensory cortex, when people were tickled than when they tickled themselves.

To compare brain activity when a subject's hand was tickled by an experimenter or by himself.

Somatosensory cortex helps interpret external stimuli registered by nerve endings that sense touch.



Our ancient laughing brain

“Play and laughter not only fertilize the brain but they fertilize the human spirit. These are the types of systems that allow us to be joyous, to build stable social structures and sharing creatures that do the right things in the world. If other people are interacting with us in positive ways and we respect the way they feel, then I think we have a better world. And play and laughter are a big part of that”.

Jaak Panksepp

To know more

To know more

Our ancient Laughing Brain

By Silvia Helena Cardoso


Avaliable on-line at:


Laughter: A Scientific Investigation

A Book by Robert R. Provine

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