Epilepsy Talk

Laughter as effective as cocaine? | January 27, 2012

Yup. A comic cartoon fires up the same brain centre as a shot of cocaine, researchers report.

A team at Stanford University in California asked lab mates, spouses and friends to select the wittiest newspaper cartoons from a portfolio. They showed the winning array to 16 volunteers while peering inside their heads with an MRI.

The cartoons activated the same reward circuits in the brain that are tickled by cocaine, money or a pretty face, the neuroscientists found. (Wow!)

One brain region in particular, the nucleus accumbens, lit up seconds after a rib-tickler but remained listless after a lackluster cartoon.

The nucleus accumbens is awash with the “feel good” chemical dopamine. And the region’s “buzz” may explain the euphoria that follows a good joke, the team suggests.

“Intuitively, it makes sense,” agrees Bill Kelley, who studies humor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Earlier investigations found that humor triggers brain regions that work out a joke’s language and meaning.

Kelley, for example, has studied people’s brains while they watched episodes of television comedies Seinfeld and The Simpsons.

A powerful MRI machine and a particularly detailed analysis picked up activity in the reward areas, suggests lead researcher Allan Reiss who hopes that the finding could help to diagnose the early stages of depression or show whether antidepressants are taking effect when people’s appreciation of humor is altered.

More scientific evidence…

Laughter can also improve your EEG results!

Scientists traced the brainwave activity of people responding to funny material when hooked up to an EEG and measured their brain activity when they laughed.

In each case, the brain produced a regular electrical pattern. Because, less than a half-second after exposure to something funny, an electrical wave moves through the cerebral cortex.

If the wave takes a negative charge, laughter results. If it maintains a positive charge, no response is given at all.

Next, the left hemisphere analyzes the words and structures of the joke.

The right hemisphere “gets” the joke. The visual sensory area of the occipital lobe creates images. The limbic (emotional) system makes you happier and the motor sections make you smile or laugh.

Try it, you’ll like it…

Human beings love to laugh, and the average adult laughs 17 times a day, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.

But, not all laughter is alike.

There’s the superiority theory when we laugh at jokes that focus on someone else’s mistakes, stupidity or misfortune. (Now you wouldn’t do that would you?)

Then there’s the relief aspect. (Whew!) That’s the one that relieves tension and acts as an escape mechanism. (According to Dr. Lisa Rosenberg, humor, especially dark humor, can help workers cope with stressful situations. “The act of producing humor, of making a joke, gives us a mental break and increases our objectivity in the face of overwhelming stress,” she says.)

And then the awkward cover-up. If I laugh at myself first, maybe you’ll laugh along with me and not notice my embarrassment.

And also the “make em laugh” concept. Lighten and brighten things up. I bet if you were in a room full of people and started a good, genuine belly laugh, others would start to smile, then laugh, because laughter is catching.

In addition to the domino effect of joy and amusement, laughter also triggers healthy physical changes in the body.

It relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress. It dissolves negative emotions. It dispels anger.

After all, how can you be angry if you’re laughing? Or depressed. Or laden down with troubles?

Science even proves it.

So, get happy! And skip the cocaine…






  1. Maybe that what helps keep me happy. The amount of times I laugh daily at the comedienes I work with,I ought to come home ‘stoned’!
    By the way, did you know that Carb’s produce the same effect?


    Comment by Charlie — January 28, 2012 @ 1:50 AM

  2. Carbs and cocaine. What a mix…and a relief. Thanks Charlie!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — January 28, 2012 @ 3:37 PM

    • Possitive thinking/attitudude and a sence of humor is what kept depression from knocking at my door.
      And still does.


      Comment by mkfarnam — January 29, 2012 @ 4:15 AM

      • Well, you still have that sense of humor, so you know you must be right! 🙂


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — January 29, 2012 @ 5:45 PM

      • Great attitude Mike, We could all take a lesson from you.


        Comment by Charlie — January 29, 2012 @ 7:00 PM

  3. In a hospital in West Los Angeles, a patient was fighting Cancer. He decided to watch the Marx Bros. films, 3 stooges, Red Skelton. He always had a smile on his face even going thru treatments, he had a pretty good attitude. I will never forget it. He left the hospital healthy from what I recall..


    Comment by Toni Robison — January 29, 2012 @ 9:13 PM

    • I’m not sure, but I think it was Dale Carnegie who heard he was dying. Anyway, he checked himself out of the hospital, into a hotel room and did the same thing. You might say “He died laughing!” 🙂


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — January 30, 2012 @ 12:14 AM

    • Good to see & hear that,,,
      “Laughter is the best medicine”.


      Comment by Gerrie — March 24, 2012 @ 11:55 PM

  4. Better than I can think of! And surrounding yourself with positive people works well too! 🙂

    Also, here’s a new post you might enjoy:

    12 Recipes for Happiness – Even If You Have Epilepsy!



    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — March 25, 2012 @ 3:25 PM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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