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Laughter Linked To Better Brains?

Last updated Sept. 18, 2015

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Presented at the Experimental Biology meeting, humor and laughter may reduce brain damage caused cortisol, which improves memory.


Laughter may be the best medicine, according to researchers from Loma Linda University in California. Previous studies have shown that too much stress can contribute to a series of health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.  Also, the stress hormone cortisol damages specific neurons in the brain and can negatively affect memory and learning ability in elderly individuals.

Recent research has shown that the stress hormone cortisol damages certain neurons in the brain and can negatively affect memory and learning ability in the elderly. Presented at the Experimental Biology meeting, humor and laughter may reduce brain damage caused cortisol, which improves memory.

"Our research findings offer potential clinical and rehabilitative benefits that can be applied to wellness programs for the elderly," researcher Gurinder Singh Bains said in a statement.

The researchers presented a 20-minute laugh-inducing funny video to a group of healthy elderly individuals and a group of elderly people with diabetes. The groups were then asked to complete a memory assessment that measured their learning, recall, and sight recognition. Their performance was compared to a control group of elderly people who also completed the memory assessment, but were not shown a funny video. Cortisol levels for all participants were recorded before and after the experiments.

The researchers found that both groups who watched the amusing video showed a substantial reduction in cortisol levels, compared with the group that did not view the entertaining video.

The groups that watched the funny video also showed greater improvement in memory recall, learning ability and sight recognition, compared with those who did not watch the video. The diabetic group demonstrated the greatest improvement in both cortisol levels and memory test scores.

Study co-author Dr. Lee Burk believes these findings suggests that the less stress a person has, the better their memory performance, and humor may be the key to reducing stress levels.

"Humor reduces detrimental stress hormones like cortisol that decrease memory hippocampal neurons, lowers your blood pressure, and increases blood flow and your mood state," he adds. 

Dr. Gurinder Singh Bains says the team's findings may offer benefits that can be applied to wellness programs for elderly individuals, explaining, “The cognitive components - learning ability and delayed recall - become more challenging as we age and are essential to older adults for an improved quality of life: mind, body and spirit.

Although older adults have age-related memory deficits, complimentary, enjoyable and beneficial humor therapies need to be implemented for these individuals.”

Additional Reference:

Fight Memory Loss with a Smile (or Chuckle) Watching a funny video increased memory, learning ability in elderly people

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: May 2, 2014
Last updated: Sept. 18, 2015