By Yael Brender
Researchers from Loma Linda University in California have been hard at work making people laugh and studying the impact on the brain. They’ve found that the negative effects of cortisol – the ‘stress hormone’ – are lessened by laughter, which in turn, improves memory.
Led by Dr Guriner Singh Bains, the team presented their findings at the Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego just last month.
Everyone knows that stressing too much has a negative impact on health. There are also recent studies, published in Medical News Today, suggesting that stress can worsen allergies and make the brain more susceptible to mental illnesses.
Older research has suggested that stress can worsen memory and compromise one’s ability to learn new things in the elderly – the prime reason for which is cortisol, which can irreversibly damage neurons in the brain.
Since laughter is a well-known stress reliever, research has focused on determining whether or not humour can reduce the cortisol-related damage. Elderly participants in the study were required to watch a twenty-minute humorous video and then complete a memory test to measure visual recognition, learning and ability and memory recall.
Other participants did the same test without watching the video. All participants had their cortisol levels recorded before and after the tests – and the groups that watched the funny video had a significant reduction in cortisol levels compared with those who did not view it. They also showed an improvement in memory and recognition.
Thus Dr Lee Burk, who co-authored the study, put forward that the less stress a person has, the better their memory performance, and humour may be the key to the necessary stress reduction. In addition, the act of laughing increases endorphins and dopamine, which gives the brain a sense of pleasure and reward. In sum, Burk says that laugher is “not only a good medicine, but also a memory enhancer adding to our quality of life.”
But this study doesn’t only apply to the elderly who have trouble telling the difference between their grandchildren – it can help you, right now.
Laugh more, let humour into your life and always try to see the funny side; you’ll be much happier for it. And maybe one day you’ll be able to remember the names of all your grandchildren, just because you took the time out to laugh at a funny Facebook video in 2014.
By BB Intern Yael Brender
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