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Forced Laughter Can Create Real Laughter

Why didn't anyone notice this before? Well, there's a powerful social bias against forced laughter which is seen as being manipulative and superficial. In fact, one of the most common criticisms we get in Laughter Yoga Clubs is that artificial laughter or forced laughter is superficial and manipulative - not real. In fact, for ages nearly everyone has equated laughing without a reason with insanity because they feel one must laugh naturally at something which genuinely makes you laugh.

Now let me clear this misnomer: First of all, people who criticize need to be told that we, in Laughter Clubs, approach laughter as an exercise - there is nothing real or fake. These are just 2 kinds of laughter which have their own benefits. Exercising is not a natural trend; we have to make the effort to exercise because we know it is good for us. If it was natural, people would just get up and start running or jogging!!!

Some questions often asked are: Is forced laughter beneficial? Is there any scientific research supporting this idea? And can forced laughter create real laughter without any humorous intervention.

Strangely, the answer is yes. Yes, you can literally fake your way to an authentic laughing fit, or perhaps a fit of embarrassment if it doesn't work out well! Our Laughter Club experience tells us that though we do start laughter as an exercise, it does get converted into real laughter. It’s not 100 % fake. In reality, we even have an exercise called “Fake it until you make it”. This whole phenomenon works on the basis of eye contact and group dynamics which help people to connect and emulate each other’s action.

Though laughter resulting from a joke and laughter in the Laughter Clubs is not identical, if we look at them closely, we find that there are more similarities between the two than differences. The difference is in the initial stage of providing a stimulus and triggering laughter. In one case, a stimulus is provided and laughter is triggered not naturally, but by something done by another person other than the laugher; in the other, it is something done by the laugher himself.

Robert Provine writes in his book, ‘Laughter - A Scientific Investigation’, one of the many reasons which make us laugh is laughter itself. He has also stated in his book that, in daily life we don’t laugh much at funny or amusing things, but being with people creates laughter opportunities, for example, we laugh when we meet friends by just saying “Hello! How are you?” etc. and these situations are not necessarily funny.

Being convinced of the many benefits of laughter, members of the Laughter Clubs practice Laughter Yoga on a regular basis and derive those benefits. With that stimulus and motivation, triggering of laughter is not at all difficult. The reason is simple - it is not all fake.

If you observe the members of a Laughter Club objectively it feels like they are laughing forcefully. But those who participate in the laughter sessions at Laughter Clubs know that though they start off by doing laughter in a form of an exercise; soon it turns into real laughter.

Here are some theories which explain how forced laughter turns into real laughter:

Mirror Neuron Theory

Everyone knows laughter is infectious, but did you know why? This is because our brain has specialized cells called Mirror Neurons. It is said that we mimic other people’s emotions. When you see another person laughing, you feel like laughing. Similarly, when you see someone crying, you feel like crying. At times, have you experienced that when you smile at somebody, who may be a total stranger to you, they smile back though they don’t know you and maybe they don’t even feel like smiling. But they still respond to your to your action. How does this happen?

In fact, scientists have long wondered why we get that feeling, and more than two decades ago, a team of Italian researchers Giacomo Rizzolatti and Vittorio Gallese thought they stumbled on an answer. While observing monkeys’ brains, they noticed that certain cells activated both when a monkey performed an action and when that monkey watched another monkey perform the same action. “Mirror neurons” were discovered. Since that time, mirror neurons have been hailed as a cornerstone of human empathy, language, and other vital processes.

Contagious Nature Of Laughter

People laugh initially by watching others, but soon start laughing genuinely. Here is an example to prove that laughter is the most contagious of all emotions. In the American Laughing Championships, held some time ago, people came to see performers, compete for the title of the most contagious "laugher" in America. This was the first ever national event and the winner would be crowned "Best Laugher in America 2013," a strangely coveted title.

If you looked strictly at the time involved, people laughed on and off for a good 80 minutes. They chortled; they guffawed, and fell down laughing. But shouldn't a laughter contest last at the most maybe five to 10 minutes? It was surprising to see how the participants could laugh for over an hour?

"Wasn't this just forced laughter?" various radio and TV hosts asked Julie Ostrow, who won the championship. "Not exactly," she said. "I made myself laugh by laughing."

And she did. Laughing contests are measured by their contagious effect on their audience. So without real laughter, she could not have won.

How did she do it?

Well. Here's the secret. You can trigger laughter spontaneously, without jokes by following a set of behavioral rules. The most common sound for laughter is the familiar sound: "Ha ha ha." I know it sounds a bit ridiculous, but a team of British neuroscientists determined that even remote Northern Namibian tribes, which have had virtually no contact with the outside world, use this sound to laugh, meaning it may be a human universal. The "ha, ha, ha," it appears, is in our DNA."

Facial Feedback Theory

The Facial Feedback Hypothesis theory is a well-known theory in psychological sciences. It goes right back to Willlam James, who noted that people can provoke an authentic emotion by acting out the behavior of that emotion. Simply put, you can get the feeling of smiling, just by smiling, even if you have nothing to smile about.

This is exactly what we do in Laughter Clubs. By acting out laughter we get the real feeling of laughing. Scientists have tested this by having people place pencils or sticks between their teeth which induces an artificial smile. Even though it's artificial my most measures, the test subjects are really smiling and often get a good feeling out of it. Some burst into laughter.

Research has further shown that something as natural as our facial expressions may be an important factor contributing to how we feel. This is in accordance with the hypotheses of James and Lange, namely, producing a response that is characteristic of a particular emotion should cause you to experience that emotion.

In Laughter Clubs, participants act out certain exercises that are playful and childlike; which necessitate funny and humorous facial expressions. This leads to similar emotions in the brain which in turn make people genuinely laugh at the end of it. This once again proves that even though you try to laugh or force laughter, it actually become real after a few times.

One fairly well known study by Ekman, Levenson and Friesen (1983) set out to test this.

Ekman et al investigated facial feedback by getting people to adopt particular facial expressions. They told participants that they were looking at the effects of motor activity on how people felt and then gave them instructions like these:

'Raise your brows, while holding them pull your brows together. Now raise your upper eyelids and tighten your lower eyelids. Now stretch your lips horizontally'.

In this case the instructions corresponded to a particular emotional expression - fear. (The same can be applied to laughter) Ekman et al argued that the instructions were suitably artificial as to limit participants' knowledge of what expression they were adopting. They then concurrently recorded a whole variety of physiological parameters such as skin temperature, heart rate, skin resistance (which is a measure of how much people are sweating) whilst individuals were 'pulling these faces'.

They found differences between different emotions in terms of the pattern of physiological responses (and subjective feelings reported), but noted that there was not a distinct pattern of responses for every single emotion. In interpreting their results Ekman et al suggested that adopting a certain expression affected the emotion people were experiencing and that this, in turn, led people to produce other responses that were characteristic of that emotion. So they argued that simply adopting this quite artificial (fear) expression caused people to feel, at least a little fear and that this produced the other sorts of responses that we associate with fear.

This whole concept of Laughter Yoga is based on the scientific observation that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter, and that both provide the same physiological and psychological benefits. Laughter is simulated as a body exercise in a group; with eye contact and childlike playfulness, initially forced laughter soon turns into real and contagious laughter. It is the only technique that allows adults to achieve sustained hearty laughter without involving cognitive thought. It bypasses the intellectual systems that normally act as a brake on natural laughter.

Osho once very aptly said, "The first thing to be done is laughter, because that sets the trend for the whole day. If you wake up laughing, you will soon begin to feel how absurd life is. Nothing is serious: even your disappointments are laughable, even your pain is laughable, even you are laughable."

So, even if you feel you do not have the ability to laugh, just get up and learn how to laugh; learn to force a laugh and a smile and see how it turns quickly turns real through different physiological reactions taking place in our body and mind.

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