Ever wonder? 3.15.05

Q: Is laughter an automatic response of the human body?
Q: Is laughter an automatic response of the human body?

A: Maybe. Research into why and how humans laugh hasn’t been a top priority of the National Institutes of Health, but studies into the phenomenon have turned up interesting results.

The average adult human laughs about 17 times per day, and the sound of laughter could be tied not only to a sense of relief, but to the cohesiveness of our species, according to www.HowStuffWorks.com and researcher John Morreall.

“Since the relaxation that results from a bout of laughter inhibits the biological fight-or-flight response, laughter may indicate trust in one’s companions,” the article said.

The sound may also be nearly automatic in normally developed humans. Researcher Robert Provine found that laughter contained a sonic structure common to all humans, a combination of “ha-ha-ha” or “ho-ho-ho” notes and sounds that repeated every 210 milliseconds, according to How Stuff Works.

However, some humans, particularly those who are severely brain damaged, often cannot laugh. The physiological response commonly known as laughter is a complex activity, requiring us to produce both particular sounds and gestures.

When a person laughs, his or her upper lip is pulled skyward by the contraction of 15 facial muscles, which trigger the movement of the zygomatic major muscle.

The larynx is partially blocked by the epiglottis during this time, forcing the body to take in and exhale air irregularly, and in extreme cases, the tear ducts are activated.

As the body continues to struggle for oxygen, the person’s face will often become moist and red or purple as the sound of their laughter issues forth, according to the Web site.

If you have a question that’s been plaguing you – on any topic – and you can’t seem to find the answer anywhere, let us know. We’ll get someone on it, and publish the answer in our Ever Wonder feature which runs every Tuesday. Send us questions at [email protected] or call (408) 842-9505.

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