Joyful laughter and meditation look similar in the brain, new research suggests.
A small study from Loma Linda University researchers shows that when people engage in humor-associated mirthful laughter, their brain wave frequencies are similar to that which are seen when a person engages in meditation.
"Humor Associated with Mirthful Laughter sustains high-amplitude gamma-band oscillations. Gamma is the only frequency found in every part of the brain," study researcher Lee Berk, DrPH, MPH, of Loma Linda University, said in a statement. "What this means is that humor actually engages the entire brain -- it is a whole brain experience with the gamma wave band frequency and humor, similar to meditation, holds it there; we call this being, 'in the zone.'"
The study included 31 people who were hooked up to an EEG monitor -- which measures density of brain wave frequencies -- as they watched 10-minute video clips. The clips had either humorous, distressing or spiritual tones.
When the participants watched the humorous videos -- which provoked humor-associated mirthful laughter -- their brains produced significant gamma wave levels, similar to what you'd see when a person meditates. Meanwhile, when they watched the spiritual videos, their brains produced significant alpha brain wave bands, similar to what you'd see when a person is at rest. And when they watched the distressing videos, their brains produced flat brain wave bands, similar to what you'd see when a person is detached and doesn't want to be in a situation, researchers noted.
"We suggest HAML [humor associated mirthful laughter] may be another non-pharmacological lifestyle intervention to provide health, wellness [and] adjunctive therapeutic benefits," the researchers wrote in the study.
The findings were presented at the Experimental Biology 2014 conference; because they have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, they should be considered preliminary.
Berk's previous research has also showed an association between mirthful laughter and blood pressure, as well as levels of hormones linked to appetite. Other research has linked mirthful laughter with improved immune functioning and decreased stress.