Illustration of people laughing. (Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images)
New European research has found that people who laugh more during stressful times appear to show less symptoms of stress.
Carried out by researchers at the University of Basel, the new study looked at 41 students (of whom 33 were women) with an average age of 21.
The participants were followed for a period of 14 days, during which time they were asked to answer questions eight times a day on a mobile phone which asked them about the frequency and intensity of laughter, their reason for laughing, and any stressful events or physical and psychological stress symptoms that they experienced throughout the day, such as "I had a headache" or "I felt restless".
The first thing that the researchers found, which was expected based on the current evidence, is that when the participants laughed frequently, any stressful events they experienced at the time were associated with more minor symptoms of stress. Moreover, the more frequently they laughed close to the time of experiencing stressful events, the weaker the link between the stressful events and stress symptoms became.
However, the team was surprised to find that when it came to the intensity of the laughter, defined as strong, medium, or weak, there was no statistically significant correlation with symptoms of stress.
"This could be because people are better at estimating the frequency of their laughter, rather than its intensity, over the last few hours," the researchers said.
They added that the findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, suggest that people who laugh frequently in their everyday lives may be better able to deal with stressful events.
Previous studies have also shown that laughter can bring various health benefits. A US study published back in 2011 by the University of Maryland School of Medicine showed that watching a funny film can improve vascular function, while a UK study published the same year found that genuine belly laughter, rather than forced laughter or a small giggle, can help relieve pain.
As well as physical benefits, laughing together can also release the "feel-good" chemicals endorphins in the brain and promote social bonds between people, according to a 2017 study by researchers at the University of Turku, Finland.
Researchers have estimated that people typically laugh 18 times a day, mostly when they are with other people. How much we laugh also depends on the time of day, age, and gender; for instance, on average, women smile more than men.
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