In the UCLA study, the researchers are gauging the impact of humour on the physiologic responses to stress in 30 children, ages 8 to 18.
The scientists are monitoring heart rate changes, blood pressure and cortisol (stress hormone) levels in children’s saliva in reaction to watching the humorous videos. All the three levels normally rise in response to pain and stress, but Seltzer, a UCLA researcher, expects that laughter will diminish the effect.
There is continued hope that laughter will help to alleviate pains and even strengthen immune systems. The result could mean shorter narcotic pain medication, shorter hospital stays and better quality life, Seltzer commented.
Children make impeccable subjects as their body’s biological systems are still forming and thus the experiment could act as a biological template and irrevocably improve the way they react to pain and ailments.
A substantial portion of the funding of the research has mainly came from drug companies, but unless someone comes up with a solution to bottle up laughter, they would not be interested in funding this. There is no money in this for them. Most of the funding has gone into researching how stress produces negative effects in the body, as the animal equivalent of laughter is near non-existent.
There have been suggestions in human studies that humour and laughter can help the body overcome similar negative effects of stress, but "that's less understood," Coe said.
"It's very appealing to think that laughing is good for you, because it's so enjoyable" and because so many other things that are known to be healthful, like diet and exercise, are not so fun, said Rod A. Martin, a University of Western Ontario researcher who studies the psychology of humour.
But in an article in the American Psychological Association's Psychological Bulletin in July, Martin concludes that existing evidence "is generally weak and inconclusive."
The best have been studies designed like the ongoing UCLA research, suggesting that humour can increase pain tolerance, Martin said.
He noted, however, that some research has suggested that "getting people sort of grossed out" by showing them "a really disgusting film of motor vehicle accidents" or very sad by showing them tearjerker movies also helps improve pain tolerance.
"It may be that just emotional arousal... whether it's pleasant or unpleasant, leads to more pain tolerance," Martin said. "It's hard to know whether that is due to any physiological change or is just a matter of distraction -- maybe you didn't notice the pain as much."