Joyful, mocking and "ticklish" laughter activates different connections in the brain, a study has shown.
Scientists investigated the "laughter perception network" in volunteers whose brains were scanned while they heard three different kinds of laugh.
The categories were joy, taunt and tickling - the giggling response of someone being tickled.
Brain regions sensitive to processing high level social information were activated by joyous and taunting laughter, but not by tickling laughter.
But, being a more complicated kind of sound, tickling laughter activated brain regions sensitive to greater acoustic complexity.
"Laughing at someone and laughing with someone leads to different social consequences," said study leader Dr Dirk Wildgruber, from the University of Tuebingen in Germany.
"Specific cerebral connectivity patterns during perception of these different types of laughter presumably reflect modulation of attentional mechanisms and processing resources."
Are you making the most of your giggling time?
Whether it's in the workplace or in your personal relationships, laughter is an excellent way to lower stress, reduce tensions and improve social relations. You don't have to be a stand-up comic, but a healthy sense of humor and an openness to laughter will make you a better communicator, more productive and more fun to be around.
While a good laugh initially increases your blood pressure, it will settle back down at a decreased level due to the relaxing effects of laughter. It will also cause you to breathe more deeply which sends oxygen-rich blood and nutrients throughout your body. Laugh well, feel good!
Research shows that laughter can actually boost your immune system by increasing your levels of infection-fighting antibodies and immune cells. It also lowers the levels of hormones associated with stress, so it ultimately increases your chances of warding off a cold or flu. So laugh and be healthy!
Not only does laughter have the power to temporarily distract you from aches and pains, it also releases endorphins which produce feelings of euphoria and well-being and those same endorphins can also increase your tolerance of pain. So next time you stub your toe, laugh it off!
Whether you have Seasonal Affective Disorder or actual depression, laughter is the perfect medicine. Obviously, it lifts your mood by releasing those all-important endorphins, but it also helps lower, anxiety, stress and irritability, and even if it's only temporary, it is a release, a relief and an important step to recovery.
When we laugh we lower our blood pressure. Blood flow to the heart is increased and more oxygen is pumped into the blood. All good stuff! It even strengthens artery walls, and that's good news for anyone hoping to prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, arthritis or ulcers.
A serious belly laugh is actually good exercise. You work your diaphragm, your abdominals and your shoulders. It may not seem like much, but laughing a hundred times is the equivalent of 10 minutes on a rowing machine. So get out there and find a way to crack yourself up!
Laughter has a cleansing effect on our lungs because it empties out more air than we normally take in. The result is like deep breathing and is particularly helpful to people with respiratory ailments like athsma. So open up those lungs and let the laughter out.
Okay, so a good laugh won't work miracles, but it's good to know that laughter does raise your heart rate and speeds up your metabolism, so it really does burn calories. Who knew a sitcom or a comedy film could be considered workout equipment?
Laughter is contagious, so by letting it out, you'll not only be helping yourself, you'll be benefitting those around you. Again, you don't have to try to be a comedian. Just being open to humor on a daily basis, will make you more relaxed, approachable and fun to be around. And that in itself, will improve your social life.
Tickling laughter is seen in non-human primates and is linked to play and social bonding, said the scientists whose research appears in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE.
In humans, reflex-like tickling laughter had evolved to encompass much more complex social functions which could be both positive or negative.
Social laughter was used in a "conscious and goal-directed manner" to influence and modify other people's attitudes and behaviours.
The functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans showed that joyous and taunting laughter produced different connectivity patterns in parts of the brain involved in sound association, thinking and visual imagery.
"These modulations.. might reflect automatic automatic analysis of acoustic features, attention direction to informative aspects of the laughter signal, and the retention of those in working memory during evaluation process," the scientists wrote.