Laughter stimulates the same parts of the brain as meditation and can have the same health benefits. [Photo: Bigstock]

Laughter is as beneficial as meditation

6 May, 2014

Natural Health News — Joyful or mirthful laughter produces brain wave frequencies similar to those seen among people who reach what is considered the desired “true state of meditation,” according to a new US study.

The study, which was presented ahead of publication at the recent  Experimental Biology 2014 conference in San Diego, California, suggests that Humour Associated with Mirthful Laughter (HAML) is gaining increasing attention as a non-pharmacological lifestyle intervention that integrates mind and body to promote greater wholeness, health, and wellness, and offers therapeutic value for alleviating symptoms from a variety of chronic medical conditions.

Researchers measured brain wave activity from nine cerebral cortex scalp areas of subjects’ brains using an electroencephalograph (EEG), which measures brain waves of different frequencies within the brain.

“What we have found in our study is that HAML sustains high-amplitude gamma-band oscillations. Gamma is the only frequency found in every part of the brain. What this means is that humour actually engages the entire brain – it is a whole brain experience with the gamma wave band frequency and humour, similar to meditation, holds it there; we call this being, ‘in the zone’,” said Lee Berk, DrPH, MPH, principal investigator of the study and associate professor School of Allied Health Professions and associate research professor, pathology and human anatomy, School of Medicine, at Loma Linda University.

“When there is mirthful laughter, it’s as if the brain gets a workout because the gamma wave band is in synch with multiple other areas that are in the same 30-40 hertz frequency. This allows for the subjective feeling states of being able to think more clearly and have more integrative thoughts. This is of great value to individuals who need or want to revisit, reorganize, or rearrange various aspects of their lives or experiences, to make them feel whole or more focused,” Berk said.

Same brainwave activity as in meditation

Subjects who engage in joyful laughter produce substantial brain gamma wave band frequencies (30 to 40 Hz), which, according to other published research, are now known to be similar to those experienced by people who meditate and reach a state of contentment and happiness, the study said.

Brain EEG data from 31 subjects were used for the study. At predetermined intervals, the subjects were randomly asked to watch a 10-minute video clip that were humorous, distressful, or spiritual in nature, while connected to an EEG monitor called the B-Alert 10X System, that measures and records the power spectral density (uV2) of all brain wave frequencies from 1 to 40 Hz.

The brain wave measurements showed that when watching humorous videos, the brain produced significant levels of gamma waves – the same brain electrical impulses produced by someone who meditates.

Subsequent additional findings showed that, while watching spiritual videos, the subjects experienced significant levels of alpha brain wave bands, similar to those experienced when a person is at rest; and while watching distressful videos, subjects experienced flat brain wave bands across the board, similar to those experienced by people who feel detached, non-responsive, or would rather not be in the situation.

“Laughter may not only be a good medicine for the health of your body but also a good medicine for your brain,” Berk said.

It needs to be the real thing

Berk’s previous research has revealed a link between mirthful laughter and blood pressure, as well as levels of hormones linked to appetite and it’s ability to raise levels of good cholesterol and lower inflammation. She has also shown that just the expectation of laughter raises levels of  ‘feel good’; hormones called endorphins. Other research has linked mirthful laughter with improved immune functioning and decreased stress.

But if you think you can just fake it beware. A study released earlier this year found that our brains are quite sophisticated in the way that they detect and respond to real laughter versus fake laughter. As with so many things to do with creating health – the real thing is always better for you.