A Sense of Humor Changes the Brain

A good sense of humor adds a touch of joy to our lives and, in the long run, changes our brains and provides other health benefits.
A Sense of Humor Changes the Brain

Last update: 16 January, 2023

That’s right, a sense of humor changes the brain–that’s what various studies have revealed. Laughing at a joke that someone tells us or that we tell ourselves doesn’t seem to have much science to it. We think it’s an action that could be considered foolish and we downplay it. However, the truth is that there’s much more behind each laugh.

When we laugh because something seems funny to us, our physical features change, a big smile appears, and, depending on the impact it causes us, we may even cry. In addition, when the sense of humor is activated in us, the commonly called hormones of happiness (dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin) are released in different parts of the body.

Where does the sense of humor originate in the brain?

A digital illustration of a braid filled with neurons.
Various structures are involved in the sense of humor.

Before talking about how humor changes the brain, it’s important to understand where it originates. This is an aspect that has been the subject of multiple studies. Among the most recent is an article by two researchers from the University of Navarra that explains which brain structures are activated during the understanding of a joke.

According to the researchers, the brain interprets a joke as a story that dominates the left brain in the first stage. When the brain identifies that something in that story is funny, the right hemisphere provides the individual with the creative capacity to warn the individual of the paradox.

So, on the one hand, according to this finding, laughter occurs due to the mental flexibility that we have to go from a logical situation (the story) to an absurd one (the joke). On the other hand, the brain secretes dopamine because the reward system is activated when discovering that this story was actually a joke.

Another study that offers perspectives on the role of humor and the place where it’s lodged in the brain indicates that the “coordinating center of laughter is located in the dorsal part of the junction of the midbrain with the protuberance, in the bosom of the periaqueductal gray matter and the reticular formation.”

This center would be connected with the cerebellum, the hypothalamus, the basal ganglia, and the temporal and frontal lobes.

A sense of humor changes the brain, in what way?

At the brain level and seen from a very technical perspective, it’s possible to show that the sense of humor has an enormous impact on the brain. Countless brain structures and connections are involved. Now it’s time to better understand how the sense of humor changes the brain.

Increases different types of intelligence

The relationship between humor and intelligence isn’t new. Today we know, because studies confirm it, that those people who are funny, especially those who enjoy black humor, have a higher IQ than those who aren’t as funny.

Verbal intelligence

It has also been established that the type of intelligence that’s best developed is verbal and non-verbal. It was also identified that a low tolerance for black humor could be caused by emotional instability, making it very clear that humor implies a direct relationship between cognitive and emotional processes.

Emotional intelligence

On the other hand, it has been found that those who have a good sense of humor also have a much higher high emotional intelligence.

They also have the particularity of being outgoing and pleasant, fitting in more successfully in society. This is due to the ability to laugh at themselves, break the ice, and promote the well-being that laughter produces among others.

It makes it easier to face problems optimistically

Research indicates that using humor implies implementing strategies and skills that allow you to face failures or setbacks in a better and more optimistic way. This is how they manage to find alternatives to the negative situations they experience and even laugh at them.

This, in turn, makes it possible for people in a good mood to interact and communicate efficiently with others. That is, the sense of humor serves as social skill, which usually culminates in much more fruitful social relationships.

Other benefits of a sense of humor

A young woman smiling as she meditates in a field.
In every sense, good humor improves various aspects of life.

In addition to changing the brain, a sense of humor has other benefits for people’s general health. Among them we find the following:

  • Reduces stress. As we already mentioned, when the sense of humor is activated and we laugh, the brain secretes endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine, which produce outstanding sensations of well-being and happiness, which, in turn, reduce neurological stress and stimulate the sensation of well-being.
  • Improves the immune system. Linked to the previous point, laughing releases endorphins, which protect the immune system, protecting the body from possible infections that may threaten it.
  • Reduces pain. That’s right, laughing stimulates the production of beta-endorphins, considered the body’s natural morphine. These act on the central nervous system’s response to pain, blocking it.
  • Improves circulatory function. The impact of the sense of humor on the brain is related to the way in which it facilitates the circulatory fluidity of the blood and the functioning of the blood vessels. In this way, diseases related to poor circulation are prevented. In addition, those people who laugh a lot have up to 40% fewer heart attacks or strokes.
  • Reduces cholesterol. By releasing lipoproteins into the blood, laughter helps to lower cholesterol levels.

The sense of humor between men and women

One study has indicated that there are differences in the way in which men and women interpret jokes. Research shows, for example, that men have a greater preference for jokes of a sexual nature, while women prefer those jokes in which a man is the victim.

How to strengthen your sense of humor?

Although the development of a sense of humor is related to many personal and social aspects, it’s possible to develop it by making small changes in your routine:

  • Don’t be afraid of what others will say.
  • Laugh at yourself, your actions, and your thoughts.
  • Learn to see the funny side of everyday parts of life.
  • Consume funny content.
  • Don’t be afraid to laugh out loud, even if you don’t like it.
  • Be spontaneous, don’t force jokes, and enjoy.

A sense of humor changes the brain and your life!

As you can see, a sense of humor changes the brain and your life. It strengthens relationships with others because by increasing the ability to detect sarcasm, multiple misunderstandings are avoided, regarding those who don’t understand jokes and may feel offended.

In addition, you give others moments of happiness, so don’t be surprised if people want to share more time with you. A good sense of humor also keeps stress and anxiety at bay, so your mental health thanks you every time you laugh, make jokes, and view life positively.

The release of the hormones of happiness, in addition, makes you feel better in your work and your daily life, making you feel sure of yourself, happy, and confident in what you do and how you function. So, don’t be afraid to reveal your sense of humor, especially after being aware of the impact on your brain and the benefits to your health.

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