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Laughter, Learnt? No, it’s in our DNA!

Humour, the individual interpretation of what is funny is a very subjective topic. What one person thinks is hilarious another may find no humour in at all. That is to be expected as we are all different. What is important is that we continually look for new ways of feeding our sense of humour. A sense of humour is a vital weapon in our ongoing struggle to maintain a positive mental attitude. It is the buffer between us and life’s difficult times. If we were unable to see the funny side of a situation our mood would very quickly sink into despair.

Thankfully we are born with a powerful natural ability. Laughter It is in our DNA!

A newborn first experiences the positive affects of laughter at around four months of age. A human beings ability to laugh was once thought to be ‘learnt behaviour’, taught to the child in their first few months of life by the primary carers, most often the parents. As the parents leaned over the child, they would laugh and pull faces at the baby. The parents would encourage the child to respond, which the child soon enough does – firstly with a crooked smile and then at around four months of age with their first natural expression of laughter. More recent tests completed on newborns with special needs have helped to overturn the view that laughter is a learnt behaviour. Rather, it is built into our DNA.

Closeup portrait of laughing newborn baby lying on mother's lap

Studies were conducted on babies born either profoundly deaf, blind or both. Despite having the loss of these major senses each baby still showed outward signs of laughter at around four months of age (Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1973 “The expressive behaviour of the deaf and blind born.” Academic Press, London pp 163–194).

Since in the worst cases it would have been impossible for a deaf and blind child to see or hear the primary care giver the child could not possibly have mimicked their behaviour. This finding led to the realisation that laughter was not something we learn but rather something that is hardwired into our DNA. Remember that we are not talking about our sense of humour. That is an aspect of our personality that is developed over time – shaped by the things in life that we discover make us laugh and quashed in the alternative by life’s harder moments. Humour is psychological while laughter is the physiological response to that psychological state of being.

Laughter is contagious.
When you hear laughter move towards it. Even if you do not know what generated the laughter you will still derive some positive benefit simply hearing the sound!

So if indeed laughter is in our DNA, we should do everything we can to harness this natural ability as often as possible! Cartoons, comedy movies, and most importantly – social interaction with others. Only 15% of generated laughter comes from non human sources (cartoons, sitcoms etc). 85% comes from our positive interactions with other people. When you’re tired and think about skipping a night out with friends, think again. It may be the very thing you need as a ‘pick me up’ that will make you feel better immediately, and leave a positive impact on your thought processes in the days that follow.



What do you think?

Written by Scott Williams

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Group of school friends having fun and taking a selfie

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