Why is Laughter So Contagious? Science has the Answer

There's an unwritten law that says that laughter strengthens bonds. In addition, when you feel this good, your desire to spend time with the person who made you laugh increases. However, why is it that laughter is so contagious?
Why is Laughter So Contagious? Science has the Answer

Last update: 17 August, 2021

Who’s never had a fit of laughter? You’re in a meeting, in the subway, or in a class, and suddenly someone bursts out laughing. Soon, you end up laughing as well. In fact, sometimes, you don’t even really know why. Seconds later, everyone’s laughing. Why does this happen? Indeed, why’s laughing so contagious?

However, there are exceptions to this strange and universal phenomenon. As a matter of fact, not everyone is affected by this form of healthy “contagion.” Indeed, there are children with antisocial behaviors and a certain emotional insensitivity who don’t laugh when other children do. There are also adults who don’t respond to genuine laughter. Why’s this?

In this article, we take a look at the reasons why.

Time spent laughing is time spent with the gods.

-Japanese proverb-

Laughing friends representing Why laughter spreads

Why is laughter so contagious? Science has the answer

The transmission of laughter in a good way has an evolutionary purpose. In other words, it’s natural that you become affected by it. In fact, William James the famous philosopher, psychologist, and father of psychology in America, claimed that we laugh when we’re happy and, in turn, laughing makes us happy.

The neurophysiological mechanisms that govern laughing and smiling seek to do two things. They promote both well-being and social connections. That’s because there’s no gesture more powerful. In fact, if you ask yourself why laughter is so contagious, there’s a clear and obvious answer. It’s to be able to connect socially and emotionally with each other.

Laughter releases endogenous opioids – it’s addictive and we love it

Few things are more rewarding than laughing with friends, family, or your partner. Also, those moments at work when you laugh at something funny with your colleagues are always extremely rewarding. You might even say that they’re addictive.

As a matter of fact, there’s a reason for this. Social laughter releases opioids in your brain that make you see the experience as rewarding. The University of Turku (Finland) conducted research that explains this fact. In this study, they suggest that these moments of well-being activate the cingulate and orbitofrontal cortices, thus favoring the connection between people. In addition, this study revealed something even more curious. It found that some people have more opioid receptors in their brain regions. This means that these people are far more likely to be affected by contagious laughter.

If you’ve “had a good laugh” with someone, you’ll want to be with them again

If you’re still wondering why laughter is contagious, here’s another interesting fact. There’s an unwritten neurobiological law on the phenomenon of laughter that states the following: if you’ve met someone with whom you’ve laughed a lot, you’ll most likely want to see them again.

What’s more, the more you share smiles and laughter, the closer you become to that person. This is something you’ll undoubtedly have experienced with your close and special friends.

Laughter not only has a pleasant effect by releasing opioids and endorphins in your brain. Also, sharing a laugh with someone is very relaxing. You feel happy but relaxed at the same time. In fact, stress decreases, and complicity increases. It’s what forms the quality of your social ties.

Reciprocity, emotional resonance, empathy, and why laughter is contagious

The neurobiological mechanisms that explain why laughter is contagious are both interesting and revealing. We know, for example, that without mirror neurons this contagion wouldn’t be possible. Mirror neurons are those nerve cells that allow you to imitate behaviors and, in turn, promote your emotional connection with others.

The reason why laughter is so contagious lies in your emotional resonance. In other words, the positive emotions you give off by laughing activate your empathy to connect up to this particular state. You eventually imitate it by the power of your mirror neurons. In effect, you allow yourself to be embraced by the same emotional effusiveness you’ve observed in others.

Angry child representing why laughter spreads only to some people

Psychopathy and antisocial behavior: children who don’t laugh with others

The University College of London conducted an extremely revealing study in 2017. It suggested that people with psychopathic traits don’t experience contagious laughter. In fact, they simply don’t react. If they do, it’s a forced reaction and they only do it to fit in when they feel like it.

As we mentioned earlier, listening to human laughter implies activating the mechanisms of empathy and emotional resonance. This doesn’t occur in the psychopathic personality. However, this nuance can already be observed in children with challenging and antisocial behaviors. Furthermore, these children and adolescents are at risk of developing psychopathy in adulthood.

This lack of reaction to the laughter of others and the inability to feel affected by the positive emotions of others outlines the basis of an atypical social affiliation. It also has a neurological correlation. In fact, in these kinds of people, there’s less activation in regions such as the anterior insula, and the cingulate and orbitofrontal cortices.

As you can see, something as simple, normal, yet magical as laughter hides the real essence of your personality. The essential element within you, the one that gives you the ability to empathize in order to create your social bonds.

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