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pez Moratalla and Enrique Sueiro , Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and PhD in Biomedical Communication, respectively, University of Navarra.

Humor and happy brains for flexible minds

Thu, 20 May 2010 07:57:39 +0000 Published in Newspaper (Navarra)

71% of women laugh when a man tells a joke, while 39% of men laugh when a woman tells a joke. This is how Richard Wiseman summarizes in Mind and Brain the research of a year with 1,200 isolated examples in everyday conversations. From his own laboratory of Laughter(LaughLab), this psychology professor also confirms that men tell more jokes than women.

Laughter and happiness do not necessarily coincide, but both are genuinely human and universal. Darwin already suggested that people express their emotions in a similar way. The ability to communicate with gestures is innate. In fact, children born deaf or blind, who have never heard a laugh or seen a smile, gesture like others when they are satisfied or happy.

Happiness is associated with getting along with oneself and one's environment. For this, the meaning of life and relationships with others matter above all. If you can laugh at the obstacles to happiness, you can overcome them.

Laughter is produced by the perception of something incongruous, illogical, unpredictable. Humor consists of a cognitive and an emotional component: in order to laugh, one must first understand the joke. Then, one can laugh a lot or a little, depending on the intensity of the emotion aroused.

In understanding the joke, the left brain hemisphere dominates as we structure the initial context of the story. When looking for the perspective from which the joke's humor harmonizes with the rest of the story, the right hemisphere provides creative capacities that allow us to notice the paradox. We laugh thanks to a mental flexibility, by which we move from a logical status to an absurd one. This possibility is linked to the independence of the human being with respect to the enclosure in the biological automatism of animals.

The emotion of what is funny or amusing activates, by elevation of the dopamine molecule, known as the happiness hormone, brain areas that value it and end up provoking laughter. The comic jumps, jokes are created and humor is possessed.

Richard Wiseman organized his laboratory of Laughter on the Internet. On the one hand, the public entered their favorite joke. On the other, visitors logged data personal reference letter general (gender, age and nationality) and rated how funny they found the randomly selected jokes. In the first few hours, more than 500 jokes and 10,000 ratings were received. Even the funniest jokes did not get 50% of the applause from the participants.

The best jokes are puns. Among the first in the ranking is this one, with an acceptance margin of 25% to 35%: a teacher wants to download her bad mood on the class and, in an intemperate tone, says: "All those who think they are fools, stand up."
After a few seconds, only one child stands up, very slowly. The teacher says to him, "So you think you're dumb." The boy replies, "No, but I can't stand that you are the only one standing."

The funniest jokes are often characterized by provoking in the reader a feeling of superiority. Laughing ironically at the idiosyncrasies of a people, a way of life... allows one to relax one's tensions and to perceive that one's own status may not be tragic.

In any case, laughter and good humor are healthy. According to Wiseman, "people who counteract stress with humor have a healthy immune system, suffer 40% fewer heart attacks or strokes, have less pain during dental treatment and live four and a half years longer". Laughter causes the release of adrenaline, which relaxes tension. Prolonged negative feelings cause exhaustion and damage the body. That is why scientists recommend laughing at least 15 minutes a day.

The laboratory of Laughter illustrates some gender differences in humor. Although they could be interpreted in feminist core topic , when they laugh at jokes about them, they are all laughing at humorous aspects of everyday life.

In both men and women, grasping the meaning of fun lies in the specifically human capacity of the executive brain (left hemisphere) to store, manipulate and compare interdependent elements. Language areas are involved. The differences appear to be linked to their greater response to pleasantness, together with the lower expectation of reward.

Functional neuroimaging analyses reveal that women use more brain areas to process mood and, above all, they integrate more emotional processing, including cognitive processing, than men. They use more of the short-term report in processing coherence, mental spinning, verbal abstraction, self-directed attention, and analysis of what is relevant. They tell fewer jokes, but laugh more. The following was funny to 25% of the women and only 10% of the men. A man climbed on a fairground scale which, by weighing him, also predicted his future. He tossed a coin and said to his wife: "Listen, this tells you that I am energetic, intelligent, creative and, above all, an incredible man. She nodded: "Yes, and it didn't get your weight right either".