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Monday, December 5, 2011

Laughter – A Universal Language

Ha-ha-ha, hi-hi-hi, tee-hee-hee, bwah-hah-hah, yuk-yuk-yuk-yuk-yuk, mu-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha….these are just some of the different sounds people make when they laugh. Of course the last one sounds more like malevolent laughter that comes out of an evil character’s mouth; but it is still laughter just the same. Some believe that laughter is the universal language of man. Regardless of race or creed, everyone enjoys a good laugh.

Laughter is the sound one makes as a reaction to a particular stimulus. Usually, it comes about due to amusement and during merriment. It is also common for people to laugh as a result of stress, fear or nervousness. Laughter is one faculty that some human’s use to regain balance when there is anxiety, tension, or pressure around them. Hyenas use laughter this way, too.

The sound of laughter can range from the quiet, almost silent, shy laugh to a really loud, belly-bursting kind of laugh. It can be caused by a joke, a tickle, a visual stimuli or a memory. And when one person laughs in a group, others may catch it like a bug and cause the whole room to explode in glee. Some even say that laughter is therapeutic in different ways. But is it really a form of language?

How can laughter be a language when there are no words?

There are several definitions of the word “language.” One definition states that language pertains to words, how these words are pronounced, and the way they are used or combined so that they can be understood. Another definition of language is an organized way of communicating a person’s ideas or feelings through signs, marks, gestures, and sounds that have defined meanings. Language can be a nonverbal way of communication using facial expressions and gestures. Language is therefore not only about words that mean something. Language refers to ways humans and animals communicate with their own species and with other species as well.

An example of a language that uses no words is body language. This language uses a person’s gestures and movements to communicate feelings and thoughts to others. Even if a person does not say anything, his current state of mind can be deciphered by observing the person. For instance, when a man closes or folds his arms while listening to another person, this is seen as a sign that he is not open to what the other person is saying. Facial expressions easily reflect how a person feels. The eyes especially can convey sadness, joy, fear and other emotions that are easy to figure out.

So, since gestures and facial expressions are considered a form of language even if words are not involved, why not laughter? Laughter expresses or communicates thoughts and feelings, too. When you see or hear someone laughing, you know that at that precise moment, that person is happy or full of glee; that he has heard, seen, thought or felt something that made him laugh. You understand that he is in an amused, happy, joyful, gleeful or tickled pink state of mind.

Is laughter universal?

Of course it is. Studies have been conducted wherein the subjects are groups of people belonging to different races and different lifestyles. These subjects know little about each other’s way of life, their language and their backgrounds. But their reactions to certain situations are similar. People are able to understand the emotions being projected by other races because there are basic facial expressions and vocalizations shared by all humans.

When one is sad, he may shed tears, sob, or bawl. A person’s eyes may look livid and menacing when he is angry; some even grunt when they are mad. Amusement or joy is projected by a smile. And when something is funny, people, regardless of race, laugh in varying ways depending on how funny the situation is. In fact, in the early days of cinema, people only watched silent movies. Even without knowing the dialogue between the actors, the viewers know when to laugh. The movies of actors like Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy were popular worldwide because their brand of comedy was easily understood. They made peoples of different races laugh out loud.

Laughter and the human body

Try this: observe a person who is laughing. Which parts of his body move? When someone is laughing his mouth usually moves, his eyes may crinkle, and his cheekbones become more prominent. Laughter sounds may escape his throat. His neck and maybe his shoulders may move as well. If someone is laughing really, really hard, his arms and legs may join in the fray. Some people slap their thighs, move their upper body forwards and backwards, literally shake all over, or even shed tears as they burst into uncontrollable laughter.

According to studies, the facial muscles stretch and so do other muscles in the body particularly in the abdomen. That’s why some people say that their “tummy hurts” from laughing. Laughter may cause pulse rate and blood pressure to go up. Hearty, belly laughs can even cause palpitations in some people. Breathing often becomes faster and gasping for air is not uncommon during fits of laughter. It is normal for the lachrymal glands to activate causing tearing or crying in some individuals.

A good laugh is like a mild workout. It can increase the heart rate in a good way. One research has shown that laughing for 10 – 15 minutes burned around 50 calories. While another research suggested that a minute of hearty laugher can increase the heart rate of the person to a level that is equal to 10 minutes of rowing on a rowing machine. Of course it is not possible to replace exercise with laughter.

Why can you not tickle yourself?

The most ticklish areas of the human body are: underarms, ribs, soles of the feet, palms of the hand, waist, and neck area. A person can try his best to tickle himself but chances are the whole exercise will not result in any form of laughter. Even if that person is really ticklish and attempts to tickle himself in the same areas of his body that are ticklish, he still won’t be able to make himself laugh. This is because, according to certain studies, tickling can only work if there is tension and surprise, which can only be provided by another person or in some cases, even a pet.

When the element of surprise is not there, then the body sees no reason to laugh. Plus, tickling is a sensory thing. When one laughs because he is being tickled, he is reacting to someone else’s touch. Of course not everyone laughs when tickled. Some people can control their reaction to being tickled by sheer mind over matter; while others simply erupt into uncontrollable laughter. Why spend time trying to tickle yourself when someone else can do a better job than you.

Is laughter really a form of medicine?

The jury is still out when it comes to this statement. But some studies have shown that laughter is good for the heart. It was found out that laughter increases blood flow in the body, reduces inflammation and decreases platelet aggregation. A good laugh can lower stress hormones. When a person laughs, the brain releases endorphins, which help lessen physical pain. It is also said to boost the production of cells that create anti-bodies and improves the efficiency of T-cells making the immune system stronger. Scientists continue to study the physiological and psychological effects of humor and laughter on the human body. This field of study is called gelotology.

In the meantime, many people are cashing in on laughter. There are laughing clinics, laughter yoga classes, and laugh therapy sessions. People are taught how to laugh and how to harness the positive effects of laughter. At present, research on whether laughter has a significant impact on health is still unclear but this is not stopping people from attending sessions where they let it all out and have a great laugh.

Are the hyenas really laughing?

It was mentioned earlier that hyenas laugh during stressful situations. Spotted hyenas in particular let out nervous laughter when these animals are agitated. Laughter-like outbursts often erupt during feeding frenzies especially when a pack of hyenas are enjoying a freshly slaughtered carcass. Peals of laughter emanate from the pack. It is a type of vocal response, a language if you will, understood by members of the pack. The laughing sound that hyenas make is part of their specie’s social structure just like human laughter is part of man’s. Laughter is a language that communicates something to the group.

So if you are having a bad day, feeling down, stressed out, under the weather or simply bored to death, find something to laugh about. Watch your favorite comedian do his bit or view the latest comedy on film, TV or the Internet, read something humorous or play tickle with someone you love. Remember that laughter is contagious so spread this universal language around. You don’t need to go to a language school to learn how to laugh. The ability to laugh is inborn and a great way to put people at ease.

2 comments:

jjpotter said...

Indeed, a smile or laughter that does not reach the eye is not amusement at all. It is only a facade meant to placate the outside world.

jjpotter said...

Indeed, a smile or laughter that does not reach the eye is not amusement at all. It is only a facade meant to placate the outside world.

Jacob Potter