Laughter recall

There are a few ways you can make yourself laugh; you can go back and have a look at what you were wearing 15 years ago, you could watch a Billy Connolly stand-up set, or you listen to a politician’s promises at election time. There are many ways to give yourself a good belly-laugh and you really should find reasons and ways to laugh every day, not just because life is an absurd riddle and if you aren’t laughing then you are missing the point of it all, but because laughter makes life better. As the oft-quoted saying goes, laughter is the best medicine, and according to new research it is a powerful prescription indeed when it comes to your memory.

The theory behind the new research is that stress has an adverse affect on memory because of the stress hormone cortisol. We know that cortisol damages neurons in the hippocampus and therefore has a negative impact on memory. This is particularly true in elderly people.

For the study the researchers used three groups of elderly people. One group had diabetes and this group plus another group of “healthy” people watched a 20 minute humorous video. The third group did not watch a humorous video. All groups then were given a memory test that measured visual recognition, learning ability, and memory recall. Additionally, all groups had cortisol levels measured before and after the experiment.

The groups who watched the funny video showed greater improvement in memory recall, learning ability and sight recognition. The important thing here was not volume of laughter, but the capacity to enjoy the humour. The diabetic group showed the greatest improvement in recall scores and they also showed the greatest reductions in cortisol levels although the “healthy” group that watched the humorous video also had reduced cortisol.

As well as reducing stress hormones laughter also increases feel-good endorphins and boosts dopamine providing a sense of pleasure and reward. These brain chemistry changes also enhance gamma-wave activity in the brain which is known to improve memory.

Given laughter’s many health promoting benefits and now the positive effect it has on memory, the slogan for your t-shirt or coffee mug is obvious: Remember to Laugh, Laugh to Remember.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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