How does laughter affect cognition?

Laughter has an important role in our lives. It often helps to improve mood and can even help relationships last longer. But how does laughter affect cognition specifically? Let’s take a look at the research!

How laughter affects the brain

Psychology professor and author Shelia M Kennison notes that research has shown humor to be intertwined with our cognitive health. It can positively impact memory, brain development, overall mental health, and more.

When we laugh or even just observe someone else laughing, many parts of our brains are active. Laughter activates the frontal lobe, which helps us understand the context and nuances of humor, and the limbic system, which controls positive emotions.

laughter and cognition

The benefits of laughing

Laughing affects the brain and body in more ways than we might realize! Here are some potential benefits of laughter.

Improve memory

One study involved two groups of participants – one group was asked to watch a funny video, while the other was not. Both groups took a memory test, and the group that had watched a funny video performed better on the test. The group that watched a funny video also had lower levels of cortisol, meaning they were less stressed out. High-stress levels generally have a negative effect on our cognition, so this is a great benefit to our cognitive health!

Counteract stress

Laughter activates our parasympathetic nervous system. Essentially, when we’re highly stressed, our fight-or-flight response is activated. This causes us to feel nervous, uncomfortable, and anxious. Over a long period of time, this state can cause physical issues like hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Laughing increases parasympathetic nervous activity, which can turn off the fight or flight response and help us feel calmer and happier.

Improve circulation

Laughter brings more oxygen into our bodies than normal breathing and therefore creates easier blood flow and circulation. This can be good for the arteries all throughout our bodies, including the arteries in our brains.

Improve sleep quality

A study in Japan found that laughter had positive effects on depression and sleep quality in elderly individuals. It even improved sleep in individuals with insomnia.

Create bonding experiences

One of the most important elements of laughter is that it can bond us to other people. It’s certainly healthy to laugh alone, for example, when watching a funny movie alone. However, it may be even more beneficial to laugh with others. Laughter releases endorphins, which make us feel happier and more connected to those around us.


They say laughter is the best medicine. Of course, laughter isn’t the only medicine. If you are concerned about a cognitive or mental health condition, you can most effectively work on these with the help of a clinician. But it’s worth noting that all of the positive effects of laughter can contribute to a happier state of mind, connection to others, and even improved oxygen flow in our brains. Seeking out experiences that make you laugh, such as watching a funny movie or playing a game with friends, might be helpful to your cognition!

Aly Castle

Aly is HappyNeuron Pro’s Content Specialist. She is passionate about mental health and well-being and loves utilizing her design background to share important cognitive information clearly and understandably.

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