Social play is critical to the development of children’s social skills and emotional intelligence. Restricted play results in deficient social skills which can lead to life-long physical, mental, emotional and social problems. Laughter promotes childlike playful behavior. New research shows that playful adults continue to learn social skills and improve their emotional intelligence. Learning requires that one lower what linguists call the “affective barrier.”

This article reviews how laughter can help.


Laughter and Low Concentration
Studies show a huge leap in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Children with this disorder are extremely hyperactive and find it difficult to concentrate for even short periods. In the US, one in 18 school children now suffer from ADHD and half of those are being treated with the psycho-stimulant drug Ritalin. The number of children with this disorder rose by a huge 600% from 1990 to 1998 and the US has five times more cases than the rest of the world put together. In the UK the same actions have resulted in the same problems, with Ritalin prescriptions shooting up from 2,000 to more than 90,000 in six years. Children with the disorder are extremely hyperactive and find it difficult to concentrate for even short periods. They act on impulse and often appear to have no sense of danger.
Laughter improves blood circulation and flushes the lungs of stale residual air. Approaches to therapeutic laughter such as Laughter Wellness help children to achieve better concentration power, increase learning abilities and enhance academic performance. Read more.
Laughter and Emotional Bonding
The increase of “broken homes” and the consequent lack of emotional bonding and long-term relationships with parents or responsible adults combine to cause a host of emotional problems. In the UK alone parents are spending the equivalent of more than $150 a month on treats for their children to compensate for lack of quality time with them. Here some statistics for Britain’s 11-14 year olds:
  • 75% have TV in their bedroom
  • Two-thirds have DVD or Video player
  • 25% have computer
  • 80% have their own mobile phone
  • Thirty percent of UK children never play outside without an adult watching over them.
  • In 2005 359,000 children were prescribed Ritalin and 130,000 were prescribed SSRI antidepressants
Laughter is mainly about relationships. Laughing together can greatly improve cooperation and empathy between people of different cultural backgrounds. It fosters better communication, which leads to a less confrontational approach in tense situations and a change from individual competitiveness to team cooperation. Voluntary simulated laughter in particular is most beneficial for very socially and culturally diverse groups thanks to its universal and inclusive nature, because it means that they can all join in and develop a sense of belonging. Read more.
Laughter and Exercise
Children whose natural energy is traditionally expressed in movement, laughter and play are being forced to sit still and concentrate for extended periods from an early age.
Physical fitness stemming from laughter is a benefit known to few. When you laugh, all your body systems are affected in a positive manner. Approaches to therapeutic laughter such as Laughter Wellness offer a unique workout regime that oxygenates the blood and other organs. It can be practiced both indoors and outdoors. Read more.


Laughter and Puberty
Children change physically and emotionally at the onset of puberty. This can be a time of conflict between parents and children. In fact it may be more alarming to the parents if there are no conflicts at all, as it may be a sign that their child is hiding their problems which can lead to suppressed feelings and emotions, in effect harming the mental psyche.
Therapeutic approaches to laughter such as Laughter Wellness help to release these pent up feelings and emotions from the sub-conscious mind through effective emotional catharsis.
Laughter and Parental Inconsistency
During this transitional phase parents tend to raise their expectations and become quite inconsistent in their behavior. They sometimes want their children to behave like kids and sometimes like adults. Don’t do this, you’re a kid; You can do this, you’re big enough. These instructions send confusing signals to children and they become self protective and draw back into their shell.
Laughter helps to dissipate thoughts of distrust and hostility arising out of continuous confrontations with parents. Laughter releases endorphins that kick starts good feelings and changes the mood state almost immediately.
Laughter and Changing Relationships
Puberty is a time of life when the child begins to feel liberated. But support from parents is still of paramount importance. Parents are not only a safety net, but also the platform from which the child can eventually experience the whole world.
Laughter helps to boost the self-confidence and encourage a great network of healthy relationships. It encourages team building and eliminates feelings of aggression, jealousy and antagonism.
Laughter and School Demands
As teens step into the threshold of adulthood, they experience a changed environment all around them. Their new-found freedom also brings in new pressures of performance, competitiveness, and striving for excellence. All these lead to stress and tensions which at times can prove fatal.
Laughter has the ability to reduce stress symptoms and provide a feeling of wellness.

College Students

Tips for injecting humor into your teaching
Johns Hopkins psychologist Ron Berk, Ph.D. conducted a study where he administered the same test to two groups of students in the same graduate level biostatics course. The students who were given funny instructions on their test — as opposed to simply didactic ones — averaged “significantly” higher test scores.

He shared several tips for injecting humor into your teaching in a 2005 article in Teaching Excellence (Vol. 17, No. 2):

  • Make your syllabus funny. Insert jocular descriptors like the greatest class youll ever take under your course title, put funny prerequisites for the course like requiring students to have read War and Peace or list outrageous office hours, such as available from 12 to 12: 01 p.m. so that students actually read your syllabus.
  • Use real or hypothetical humorous situations. Tap cartoons, TV clips and other examples to enliven abstract concepts. For instance, psychologist Randy Garner, PhD, uses American Idol audition episodes to illustrate self-handicapping and selection bias.
  • Ask punch-line questions during question and answer sessions. Set up a joke by asking a question. After getting a response ask, How many of you think this is the correct answer? Then, add the punch, How many of you dont care? or How many of you dont like to be awakened during class?
  • Make questions and examples outrageous, ridiculous or exaggerated. For instance, Berk asks students to analyze whether nurses who routinely participate in the sport Knock the Physician Off the Pedestal will demonstrate higher levels of joy than nurses who absolutely refuse to engage in such irreverent behavior by performing the separate variance T-test.
  • Dramatize your material. Develop skits or demonstrations with music to illustrate theories, concepts and processes. In a parody of The Odd Couple, Berk wears a backward baseball cap and ill-fitting clothes while holding a large cigar as he stands alongside an impeccably dressed colleague. He asks his students to list the similarities between the two faculty members. Then, Berk has students compute a Pearson correlation and square it, which is the percentage of variance explained of one variable by the other.


Relevant Studies

We have heard of but have not yet taken the time to look for published references for:

  • American College of Cardiology. Laughter stimulates the brain’s reward center which releases dopamine and then stimulates the frontal lobe and enhances thinking.
  • Cerebral Cortex. In a study, the funnier subjects rated a cartoon, the harder the 2 hemispheres of the brain worked.
  • Cornell University – Alice Isen. In a study of creativity, undergraduate students were divided into two groups. One group watched old TV comedies before being given a task, while the other group watched nothing before being given the same task. The task involved nailing a lit candle to a cardboard wall with a box of tacks. The group that watched the comedy shows was shown to be 3 times as likely to accomplish the task.
  • Indiana University – Dolt Zillman. In a 22 year study, research showed humor can make the learning experience more pleasant. However, it must be tuned attuned to audience knowledge. It also showed that humor can be effectively used to enhance student attention, improve classroom environment and lower test anxieties.
  • Johns Hopkins University – Ronald Berk. Through research Dr. Berk states that sharing a laugh helps students learn more. He states that to be effective, comedy must compliment, not distract from course material. This research was formally published in 2007 and in the book Humor as an Instructional Defibrillator.
  • Johns Hopkins University Medical School. This study divided students taking a test into two groups. One group received a test with humorous instructions, while the other group received the exact same test, but without the humor. The group with the humorous instructions scored significantly higher than the other group.
  • Middle Tennessee State. Two groups were given single sentences on the same topic. One sentence was humor, while the other was not. The students with the humorous sentence remembered the complete sentence and individual words better than the other group.
  • National Research Council. Research shows students function more effectively when they feel respected and valued. Also they function poorly when disrespected and marginalized.
  • NEA Journal – The Lighter Side of Laughter. Researchers believe that humor serves to arouse student interest and attention. This increase in turn motivates students and increases the likelihood they understand and retain information. Beware – students laugh for a number of reasons. They might be amused but they might be unsure of what is going on, they might be following what others are doing, or it might be laughing because they’re anxious and stressed.
  • New Direction for School Development. Close relationships with teachers lead to higher levels of student engagement and achievement.
  • Review of Educational Research – Osterman. Learning requires involvement and the best prediction of student effort and engagement in schooling is the relationships they have with a teacher.
  • St. Norbert College – James Neuliep. The following are some comments from Neuliep about his study of high school teachers and the use of humor. “Between student and teacher there’s a status differential in the classroom. Humor can help both the student and teacher cross the bridge together. How high school teachers use humor showed that they most frequently employ it as a way of putting students at ease, as an attention getter, and as a way to show students that the teacher is human. Humor, used appropriately, can help reduce the psychological distance between teachers and students, while inappropriate humor increases distance. In other words, humor directed at a student in the form of ridicule, sarcasm, and joking references to ethnic, racial, and gender differences are out.”
  • Sam Houston University. A study showed that students are more likely to recall lectures when it was interjected with jokes about relevant topics.

University of North Carolina – Barbara Fredrickson
In a study of the effects of laughter on creative thought, the following results were given.

  • increased positive mental state
  • increased open mindedness
  • increased creativity
  • increased capacity to adapt to change
  • increased broad thinking
  • recommends a 3 to 1 ratio of positive comments to negative comments

 Experience and learn with leading experts

We are leading experts in therapeutic laughter with over a decade of hands-on experience teaching on 4 continents and offer keynotes, seminars, workshops and specialist trainings worldwide! Contact us for more information.

Relevant Videos

In Conclusion

Therapeutic approaches to laughter such as Laughter Wellness offer a physical exercise that works on the body and mind simultaneously. They boost systems that are switched off or disrupted by stress, especially the circulatory and digestive systems. They stimulate willingness to learn and retention improves creativity and self discipline. They provide tools to deal with stressful situations in new ways, providing an alternative to anger and aggression and resulting fear.

Read more about the science of laughter.