Todd Hartley: I’m With Stupid
September 15, 2011
I find myself in a bit of an ironic situation this week. On the one hand, I have the pleasure of reporting that it turns out laughter really is the best medicine for you. On the other hand, I am fully aware of the pressure that puts on an opinion column such as this one that likes to consider itself humorous. After reading this, if your cancer hasn’t gone into remission, you may consider those three to five minutes wasted time.
Nevertheless, I shall boldly forge ahead and tell you about the story I read yesterday on the BBC News website with the headline: “Study reveals laughter really is the best medicine.”
(Actually, there was nothing particularly noteworthy about the story or the headline, except that the picture running with the story was of two absolutely terrifying clowns, the kind that elicit screams from kids instead of laughs. Sure, the clowns themselves were laughing, but you could tell it was fake laughter, and it just made the picture all the more sinister.)
The study, conducted at the University of Oxford, found that people who’d just had a good laugh had a higher pain threshold than those who hadn’t laughed. The study concluded that this may have played an important role in the development of early human societies, which makes sense, because hanging out with boring people really is painful, at least until someone rips a good fart.
Participants in the study were first tested to see how much pain they could withstand, and before you get the image of some guy being tortured on a medieval rack in your head, you should know that the “pain” was unpainful things like seeing how long you could take having a bag of ice on your skin.
Anyway, after watching 15 minutes of comedy videos, participants were able to endure 10 percent more pain than they were prior to watching the videos. The control group, meanwhile, was forced to watch videos that the researchers deemed boring, including, as the story noted, golfing programs. This group was actually less able to bear pain after 15 minutes, leading to the inevitable conclusion that watching golf, while not painful itself, can make everything else about your sad existence more painful.
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Before I continue, though, I’d like to say a word in defense of golf on TV. Yes, it can be boring, but that’s kind of the point. You see, after watching 15 minutes of golf, you become more susceptible to pain. As a defense mechanism, your body responds by shutting down some nonessential functions, like consciousness, forcing you to take a nap on the couch.
The study also found that not all types of laughter had an effect. For instance, tittering and giggling didn’t help increase pain thresholds, but guffaws (defined as “loud or boisterous bursts of laughter”) did. The story failed to say if participants saw any benefit from chortling, snickering, chuckling, cracking up, howling, roaring, teeheeing, being in stitches, rolling in the aisles or LOLing.
The study’s authors believe that when you experience a deep belly laugh – literally laughing until it hurts – it causes chemicals called endorphins, which produce mild euphoria and help dull pain, to be released into your body. Of course, eating a pepper can also release endorphins, but I’m not sure what’s funny about that unless it was the time my mom ate a hot pepper at a Chinese restaurant and thought she’d killed herself.
The study’s participants, who presumably were mostly Brits, showed fairly base senses of humor, responding better to Mr. Bean, say, than they did cerebral standup comedy routines. This should come as no shock considering England’s comedy track record, which basically consists of Monty Python, Benny Hill, Ab Fab, The Office and the aforementioned Mr. Bean. Great stuff all, mind you. I’m just saying none of it was trying all that hard to seem clever.
The study didn’t come right out and say it, but I think one additional relevant point to these findings is that they demonstrate why standup comedians and the shows they get (Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser, Bernie Mac, Jeff Foxworthy, Tim Allen, Drew Carey, Kevin James, Ray Romano, Chris Rock, et al.) may come and go, but dogs who attack vacuum cleaners and people getting hit in the crotch with baseballs will keep “America’s Funniest Home Videos” on the air forever.