Science, Tech & Environment

Laughter can act like painkiller, according to new study

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Photo of a laughing baby (Image by Wikimedia user Weird Beard (cc:by))

Story from PRI's The World. Listen to audio for full report.

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Shows like "Mr. Bean" and "Friends" could be natural painkillers. A new study from Oxford University found that test subjects who laughed were able to withstand nearly 10 percent more pain that other those who didn't.

The researchers behind the study showed half of their test subjects a comedy clip from shows like  "Mr. Bean" and "Friends." Researchers then administered a pain tolerance test on all subjects by placing a bag of ice on their arms, and monitored how long they could endure the pain.

According to Mark van Vugt, co-author of the study, "The people exposed to the comedy clip... could tolerate pain more after watching it."

The difference was about 10 percent.

"We don't exactly know how it works," said van Vugt. "Our hypothesis was that it may have to do with the physical activity of a belly laughter."

Not just the comedy, but the physical act of breathing in and out that comes with the laughter may be the key.

"We know from other research that physical activity such as physical exercise or getting a good massage releases endorphins in the brain," van Vugt explains, "which act as a sort of natural pain killers." The new study shows that laughter may have a similar effect.

The practical applications of the research are not yet known, but van Vugt says there is promise. "There is some suggestion that if you expose for examples patients in hospitals to laughter that they need less medicine," he says. Laughter could also prove the best way to deal with daily stresses in places like offices and work places.

Read the rest of this story on The World website.

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PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More about The World.

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