Updated: Aug 24, 2021
No, it's not Science Fiction - here, now, today we can see what happens to your brain when you laugh ... so what can we learn from that?
That's right, your brain - that wrinkly walnut just sitting quietly taking up head space - is anything but quiet when you laugh at a joke.
Watching stand-up comedy is like going to a mental gym, instead of reducing fat & gaining muscle, you reduce stress & spark your cognition - Martin Billingham
Not just for laughs
Ok, we laugh, so what? We might bust a gut, slap our knee and have our funniest bones tickled pink. The real action & reactions are taking place somewhere more secluded; the real action is taking place in our brains.
It's not brain surgery - well no it's not - but it is brain science
Here's how it works: imagine you've signed up for this experiment, first you lay down and slide yourself into an MRI machine like a little science sausage being stuffed into a mechanical bun.
Electromagnets clunk, whir and spin around you, getting a good look at that wonderful brain of yours. Luckily, whilst all this is happening around you, you're none the wiser as you're supplied with a set of headphones and a screen watching stand-up comedy. So what exactly is happening up there?
Here's the 'Sciencey' bit
The MRI scans the brain and starts to reveal something curious, we can see areas of the brain associated with recalling socially relevant memory and comprehension of the comedians biological motion, facial emotion, and eye gaze are highly active.
In other words - you're making hundreds of little connections, firing down different pathways trying to connect what's going on now, with centres of knowledge and your 'Social' IQ (Franklin, 2011)
We're 'reading the room'
Comedians aren't the only ones 'reading the room' - so does the audience.
Even though in this experiment the participants were alone, participants were readying their intellectual, emotional and social comprehension of the situation. In other words, they were anticipating 'if' the jokes being told would be socially acceptable. Even when no one else was around them, their brains were tuned in as if they were in a group a people .
[participants recognised] social behavioural patterns known as ‘social scripts’ and produced laughter, as an affirmative response (Franklin, 2011: 508-515)
They say comedy is all about Tim...I mean timing
How do we know these firing neurons were a response to comedy? Not only did the activity of the brain coincide with 'performative cues' at crucial moments, but they also showed rhythmical expectation and anticipation for the punch-line of a joke. This shares a similar experience with music - how many times have you listened to your favourite song and just as the chorus is about to hit you feel that drop in your stomach, goose bumps on the back of your neck and you punch the air so hard you send the shampoo-come-microphone flying into the stratosphere and knock the shower curtain off its railing?
In other words, it taps into our deep desire to find and make patterns - why then are jokes so often constructed into three parts, or structured as Tony Allen would call it as:
"establish, reinforce and surprise" (Allen, 2002:42)
End of Part 1
That's is it for Part 1, sign up & become a member to get Part 2 earlier than everyone else and find out why comedy taps into the complex way our brains work. See the results of this study as we reveal how comedy engages the intellectual, social and emotive capacities of an audience's mind. Then you can join the discussion and see the implications of how this study could reveal significant positive steps forward in our understanding and impact our actions in the future. I can tell you now, that you are in for a serious surprise.
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