Gelotology

laughter

laughter yoga

Gelotology [jel-uh-tol-uh-jee] (from the Greek ‘gelos,’ meaning ‘laughter’) is the study of laughter and its effects on the body, from a psychological and physiological perspective. Its proponents often advocate induction of laughter on therapeutic grounds in complementary medicine. The field of study was pioneered by psychiatrist William F. Fry at Stanford.

Although healers since antiquity have recommended laughter as a form of medicine, the field was initially deprecated by most other physicians, who doubted that laughter possessed analgesic (painkilling) qualities. One early study that demonstrated the effectiveness of laughter in a clinical setting showed that it could help patients with atopic dermatitis (a recurring, itchy skin disorder) respond less to allergens. Other studies have shown that laughter can help alleviate stress and pain, and can even assist cardiopulmonary rehabilitation (treatment for patients recovering from cardiac surgeries).

‘Humor and Laughter Therapy’ consist of the use of humorous materials such as books, shows, movies, or stories to encourage spontaneous discussion of the patients’ own humorous experiences. This can be provided individually or in a group setting. The process is facilitated by a clinician. It can also be used in conversation between medical professionals and patients. ‘Laughter Meditation’ possesses similarities to traditional meditation. However, it is the laughter that focuses the person to concentrate on the moment. Through a three-stage process of stretching, intentional laughing, and a period of meditative silence. It is sometimes done in group settings. ‘Laughter Yoga’ is somewhat similar to traditional yoga, it is an exercise which incorporates breathing, yoga, and stretching techniques, along with laughter. The structured format includes several laughter exercises for a period of 30 to 45 minutes facilitated by a trained individual. It can be used as supplemental or preventative therapy.

‘Holy laughter’ is a term used within charismatic Christianity that describes a religious behavior in which individuals spontaneously laugh during church meetings. It began in the early 1990s in Neo-charismatic churches, but similar practices were observed in the 1800s in Holiness Christian meetings on the American West. The laughter ranges from very quiet to loud convulsive hysterics, which are said to be accompanied by temporary dissociation. Proponents claim that the laughter was a result of joy that was supernaturally being given to people in the meetings, and that it was accompanied by miraculous healing and the cessation of depression. Sociologist Margaret Poloma has described the events of the services as a ritual facilitation of catharsis.

One of the main focuses of modern psychological humor theory and research is to establish and clarify the correlation between humor and laughter. The major empirical findings are that laughter and humor do not always have a one-to-one association. While most previous theories assumed the connection between the two almost to the point of them being synonymous, psychology has been able to scientifically and empirically investigate the supposed connection, its implications, and significance. In 2009, German psychiatrist Diana Szameitat conducted a study to examine the differentiation of emotions in laughter. They hired actors and told them to laugh with one of four different emotional associations by using auto-induction, where they would focus exclusively on the internal emotion and not on the expression of laughter itself. They found an overall recognition rate of 44%, with joy correctly classified at 44%, tickle 45%, schadenfreude (taking pleasure in the misfortune of others) 37%, and taunt 50%. This study showed that laughter can be correlated with both positive (joy and tickle) and negative (schadenfreude and taunt) emotions with varying degrees of arousal in the subject. This brings into question the definition of humor, then. If it is to be defined by the cognitive processes which display laughter, then humor itself can encompass a variety of negative as well as positive emotions. However, if humor is limited to positive emotions and things which cause positive affect, it must be delimited from laughter and their relationship should be further defined.

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