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Laughter really is the best medicine

PARIS (AFP) - A rattling good laugh with friends will help you deal with pain thanks to opiate-like chemicals that flood the brain, according to a British study released on Wednesday.

Researchers carried out lab experiments in which volunteers watched either comedy clips from "Mr Bean" or "Friends," or non-humorous items such as golf or wildlife programmes, while their resistance to mild pain was monitored.

Another test was conducted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where the volunteers watched either a stand-up comedy show or a theatrical drama.

In lab conditions, the pain came from a deep-frozen wine-cooler sleeve which was slipped onto the arm or from a blood-pressure cuff that was pumped to the threshold of tolerance.

For the Fringe Festival, the volunteers were asked to do a tough exercise

-- leaning against the wall with their legs at right angles, as if sitting on a straight-backed chair -- before and immediately after the performance, to see if laughter had helped with the pain.

Just 15 minutes of laughter increased the level of pain tolerance by around 10 percent, the study found.

In the lab experiments, the neutral, non-funny programming had no pain-alleviating effect at all. Nor did watching drama at the Fringe Festival.

However, the study notes two important distinctions.

The only laughter that worked was relaxed, unforced laughter that creases the eyes, as opposed to a polite titter.

And this kind of belly laugh is far likelier to happen when you are with others, rather than being alone.

"Very little research has been done into why we laugh and what role it plays in society," said Robin Dunbar, head of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford.

"Using microphones, we were able to record each of the participants and found that in a comedy show, they laughed for about a third of the time, and their pain tolerance rose as a consequence."

The protection apparently comes from endorphins, a complex chemical that helps to transmit messages between neurons but also dulls signals of physical pain and psychological stress.

Endorphins are the famous product of physical exercise -- they help create the "buzz" that comes from running, swimming, rowing, yoga and so on.

In laughter, the release comes from an involuntary, repeated muscular exertion that comes from exhaling without drawing a breath, the scientists believe. The exertion leaves us exhausted and thereby triggers the endorphins.

Great apes are also believed to be able to laugh but, unlike humans, they breathe in as well as out when they do so.

The investigators believe the experiments help to understand the physiological and social mechanism of how laughter is generated.

The group seems vital in unleashing the right kind of endorphin-making laughter, they contend.

Previous studies have focussed more on why humans laugh, as opposed to how they do it.

One theory is that laughter helps transmit mating signals or cements bonding between individuals.

Another idea is that, in a group setting, laughter promotes social cooperation and collective identity. It is thus an evolutionary tool to help survival.

The paper appears in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a journal published by Britain's de-facto academy of sciences.



'웃음, 고통에 대한 저항력 높인다'

웃음이 엔도르핀을 증가시켜 통증에 대한 저항력을 높인다는 연구 결과가 나왔다.

영국 옥스퍼드대학의 진화심리 학자 로빈 던바 교수 연구팀이 영국왕립학회보B(the journal Proceedings of the Ro yal Society B)에 게재한 연구에 따르면 웃을 때 내는 '하, 하, 하'라는 소리를 만들어내는 데 관여 하는 근육의 활동이 행복감을 주는 신경 호르몬으로 알려진 엔도르핀을 증가시킨다 고 설명했다.

그는 이 같은 사실을 확인하기 위해 실험 참가자들이 여러 종류의 비디오를 보게 하고 그 전후에 통증 저항력을 측정했다.

연구진은 그룹별로 '프렌즈', '사우스 파크'와 같은 코미디 비디오와 애완동물 훈련에 대한 다큐멘터리나 골프 프로그램과 같은 중립적 비디오, '정글스'와 같이 좋은 감정을 촉진하지만 웃음을 유발하지는 않는 자연에 대한 비디오를 시청하도록 했다.

그리고 비디오를 보는 동안 냉동와인을 팔에 닿게 하거나 꽉 조인 혈압계 밴드 를 채우는 등 통증을 가하고, 피실험자들에게 통증을 더이상 견딜 수 없을 때 얘기 하도록 했다.

그 결과 웃음은 통증에 대한 저항력을 높이는 것으로 나타났다. 반면 단순히 좋 은 감정을 유발하는 비디오를 본 것만으로는 그런 효과가 나타나지 않았다.

던바 교수는 웃음이 인간을 들뜨게 만들기 때문에 웃는 것인지 아니면 우리가 웃기 때문에 들뜨게 되는 것인지에 대한 일부 해답을 얻었다면서 "웃음이 엔도르핀 을 활성화시킨다"고 설명했다.

던바 교수는 웃음은 집단의 결속력을 높여주기 때문에 진화의 한 과정으로 촉진 됐을 수 있다고 보고 있다.

그는 편안하고 전염성이 있는 '사회적 웃음'은 한 집단의 구성원들이 상대의 털 을 다듬어주고 쓰다듬고 이를 잡는 것과 같은 방식으로 친밀감을 강화하고 유대관계 를 유지하는 활동이라고 설명했다.

실제로 유인원은 웃을 수 있는 것으로 알려져 있는데 인간과는 다른 방식, 즉 숨을 헐떡거리는 방식으로 웃는다.

던바 교수는 진화의 과정에서 "헐떡, 헐떡이 하, 하가 됐다"고 말했다.

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