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Laughter really is contagious, study says (2006-12-23)

“Laugh and the world laughs with you” is more than just an old saw, according to a study conducted by the University College London. Lead neuroscientist Sophie Scott said, “It seems that it’s absolutely true that ‘laugh and the whole world laughs with you.’ We’ve known for some time that when we are talking to someone, we often mirror their behavior, copying the words they use and mimicking their gestures. Now we’ve shown that the same appears to apply to laughter, too — at least at the level of the brain.”

The researchers played different sounds to volunteers and measured the responses of their brains with an MRI scanner. Some of the sounds were positive, like laughter, while others were negative, like retching or screaming. The sounds elicited responses in the brain’s premotor cortical region, which gets the muscles in the face ready to form an expression that reflects the meaning of the sound. Positive sounds got stronger responses than negative sounds, which suggests they are more contagious than negative ones; this could also explain why we smile involuntarily when we hear people laugh but don’t make a gagging face when we hear people retch.

Scott says that the contagiousness of positive emotions is important socially. “We usually encounter positive emotions, such as laughter or cheering, in group situations, whether watching a comedy program with family or a football game with friends,” she said. “This response in the brain, automatically priming us to smile or laugh, provides a way of mirroring the behavior of others, something which helps us interact socially. It could play an important role in building strong bonds between individuals in a group.”

Source: www.NewsMax.com

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