Give Yourself a Boost with Laughter—whether Real or Not So Much
Laughter has health benefits similar to a workout, including increased heart rate, stretched muscles, improved blood flow, and enhanced respiration. Furthermore, laughter can reduce pain and increase immunity. What’s really interesting, though, is that faking laughter can cause your body to respond as though the laughter is real, thereby gaining similar benefits.
Fake laughter is the kind you do when it’s socially or politically appropriate to be seen laughing even if you’re not amused. So if your boss’s boss tells a story with the expectation of laughter at the end, you might think it wise to laugh. Or when a friend botches a joke and limps to the punch line, you might laugh to be kind. Apparently, we do this sort of fake laughing quite often. In fact, as much as 80 percent to 90 percent of the time, laughter is in response to something that we didn’t actually find all that funny.
But can listeners distinguish a fake laugh from a genuine laugh? Apparently so—at least some of the time. Research studies in which people listen to both genuine and fake laughs suggest that people seem to recognize the fake laughs almost two-thirds of the time. This level of success may be because real and fake laughs are made by two separate vocalization systems. Laughter consists of two parts: the vocalizing, or ha-ha-ha, part, and the breathy sound of air in between the ha’s. Real laughter reportedly has a higher proportion of breathy parts than faked laughter.
But the case for being able to distinguish between a real and a faked ha-ha-ha is even stronger. As brain scans have determined, our brains respond differently to genuine and faked laughter, with the result that we can tell the difference between the real thing and the fake. So if you routinely fake laugh when circumstances suggest that doing so is the right thing to do, you should be wary of being found out. Then again, most people in everyday life aren’t analyzing the laughter they hear from employees or friends. They go for a laugh and feel rewarded when they get it.
What may be more important is just plain laughing more often, for both the social and the health benefits. Laughter clubs have popped up all over the world. And the ha-ha’s in laughter yoga sessions (yes, this is for real) may start out as fake, but in barely minutes that laughter has turned into the real thing. In fact, an occasional laughter yoga break may be just what’s needed to lighten things up at work.