The forms of laughter are imitative forms of an Indo-European base. Some of these forms include the Bysantine Greek κλώσσειν to cluck, and the Old Church Slavonic klokotati and Old Russian klokotat′ or kloxtat′ meaning to bubble, boil, or gargle. The forms of the present stem date back to the 14th century Old English word hlæhhan, which later morphed into the early modern English laffe. The word laugh can also be compared to Old English words like gehlæha or inhlæha to laugh at, and ahlyhhan to laugh or exult. The Middle English spellings like lauhwhe and lauhwe are early developments of the final voiceless velar fricative of the word.
Laughter can be expressed for many different reasons, pleasure, derision, amusement, teasing, embarrassment, or nervousness. It is a series of sounds that bursts forth from our lungs, exploding in loud chortles or quiet giggles. True laughter is spontaneous. It is unexpected movement of the face and body in a response to something we see, hear, or feel.
Laughter is not the same as humor; it is our physiological response to humor. Laughter is composed of both sound and movement. When we laugh, our brain sends a command to conduct both these activities at the same time. The coordination of many muscles in the body is required for us too laugh. Fifteen facial muscles contract, stimulating movement of the upper lip. Your larynx closes halfway, causing you to gasp and put your respiratory system under stress. When we laugh a lot or for long periods of time we activate our tear ducts. The struggle for oxygen continues as our mouth opens and closes and our faces can start to change colour. Watching this occur in someone else is actually quite amusing and may be part of the reason laughter is said to be contagious. It has also been said that because we dislike being left out, when a group of people around us is laughing we tend to want to laugh as well, so our brain sends out signals to the body causing laughter. When we hear laughter, in both ourselves and in others, our brain generates more laughter. This explains why laughter can quickly become uncontrollable when you are in a large group.
Laughter is a sign of comfort within a group of people. It helps us to bond; the more laughter the more bonding. Between a parent and baby, laughter is used to create a bond, helping the parent and child get to know each other. At the same time, the parent is actually teaching their child how to smile and laugh through imitation. When someone in a position of power uses laughter among their inferiors, they are exercising a type of power over the group. They are controlling the emotional climate. This strategy can be used in many situations, particularly when there is potential for threat.
Laughter causes many changes in the body. It increases blood pressure and heart rate, changes breathing, reduces neurochemical levels like hormones, and boosts the immune system. Laughter can be used as a form of healing or recovery from certain conditions. It is a workout for the heart and can help to clear sinuses if you have a cold. It has the potential to produce a very positive affect on someone’s health. Research is constantly being done to discover the many effects laughter has on both our body and our brain.
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Chudler, Eric H. "Neuroscience For Kids." Faculty.Washington.Edu. University of Washington, 2008. Web.
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Brain, Marshall. "How Laughter Works." HowStuffWorks. N.p., 2012. Web. 21 Nov. 2012.