Chicken Lady (Mark McKinney) from the sketch comedy show The Kids in the Hall. (Broadway Video/CBC Still Photo Collection) Are comedies good for us? How does watching a comedy affect our mental and physical health?
For answers, we turn to psychologists and experts in the media, health and wellness, and psychotherapy fields. A complex visceral response
Because there are a lot of different types of humour — from wordplay and self-deprecation to slapstick and dark humour — the way comedies and humour register in our brain can vary, making the neuronal activity in response to it very complex, explains media psychologist Dr. Pamela B. Rutledge , director of the Media Psychology Research Center in California as well as faculty in the media psychology program at Fielding Graduate University.
She says that multiple brain regions, including both cognitive and affective components, are involved in identifying the social disconnect that makes something funny.
“Cognition is necessary to ‘get’ the joke, and emotion is involved in enjoying humour and producing the visceral responses — such as smiling or laughter.”
Different regions of the brain are activated depending on the type of humour it’s processing. “For example, the frontal lobe, to process the information; the areas that draw on learned experience and direct motor activities, such as laughter; and the emotional center to evaluate pleasure and trigger the reward that comes from the punchline.”
This means Alexis’ famous exclamation “Ew, David!” from Schitt’s Creek registers the same way as Appa’s “OK, see you!” from Kim’s Convenience . (CBC Comedy) While an absurdist Kids in the Hall sketch might light up different circuits in the brain. (CBC Comedy) “Research, however, has been unable to definitely chart these neural pathways,” adds Dr. Rutledge. The effects on mental and physical health
The mechanics of our brains are beyond intriguing but can watching comedies like Schitt’s Creek , Workin’ Moms or Kim’s Convenience be that special mental or physical remedy? Is laughter really the best medicine?
Dr. Joti Samra , clinic founder of Dr. Joti Samra, R.Psych & Associates in B.C. and CEO and founder of MyWorkplaceHealth.com , thinks that it’s not necessarily the best medicine.
“It’s an important medicine,” she says. “The reality is that we know if we’re getting clinical depression or anxiety or insomnia, we need other kinds of treatments. So, laughter alone isn’t going to solve it but it is one of the ones that is the most accessible to us on a day-to-day basis.”
“What we know is that comedy and uplifting content really do have a lot of positive impacts on our emotional health and also our physiology.”
If we look at adaptive coping, she continues, through watching comedy we can keep perspective, add some lightness and have that air of gratitude because it can poke light at something and instill a positive emotion.
Dr. Shira Gabriel , an associate professor of psychology at SUNY, University at Buffalo, also agrees that comedy lightens the mood and can provide a space where the worries we have and everything that is going on around us in this world don’t exist.
Providing further details, Dr. Rutledge explains: “Humour, when it’s actually funny, has social and physical benefits: laughter releases neurotransmitters responsible for your happiness, such as dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins.”
“The release of these chemicals in response to humour decreases stress, diminishes pain and in the process strengthens the immune system.”
Dr. Samra agrees saying that just the physical act of smiling leads to the release of those exact positive feel good hormones in our brains which she calls the “natural antidepressants.”
ScienceDaily reported that in a 2008 study published by the American Physiological Society researchers found that even the mere anticipation of laughter lowered the levels of three stress hormones. Cortisol (the stress hormone), epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) and dopac (brain chemical which helps produce epinephrine) were reduced by 39, 70 and 38 percent respectively.
This in turn creates a relaxed environment for both the mind and the body, eliminating negative emotions and changing our brain activity toward gamma frequency which also increases memory recall.
In light of that, may we suggest a natural relaxer like Baroness von Sketch Show !?
Or a memory enhancer like Schitt’s Creek !?
The use of humour can enable people to not only decrease negative emotion but distance themselves from adversity and hardship, says Dr. Rutledge, adding: “If you consider that positive emotions fuel optimism, efficacy and resilience, then it makes sense that humour can contribute to overcoming challenges.”
A few studies corroborate that theory, including a 2017 study in the Journal of Dental and Medical Research, where humour therapy was performed on 40 patients undergoing hemodialysis (treatment for advanced kidney failure).
The study, on patients who listened to 30 minutes of comic shows twice a week over an eight-week period, concluded that humour therapy can in fact reduce blood pressure in hemodialysis patients. Hint hint: Baroness von Sketch Show episodes are approximately that length.
Dr. Gabriel expands on it and says: “Mental health and physical health are very tied into one another.”
For example, during laughter, the amount of our T-cells and B-cells dramatically increases. This is important because the sole purpose of these cells is to find and destroy viruses and tumours in our bodies.
The purpose of humour is enjoyment and positive emotions, says Dr. Rutledge, however, positive emotions vary from hedonistic responses, such as happy surprise, to more meaning-based responses that might trigger self-reflection and feelings of social validation.Humour also plays a big role in social communication and the most complex type of humour requires the ability to process social/emotional content, says Dr. Rutledge, relying, in part, on our ability to mentalize or understand the mental states of others.Just like empathy (an ability to understand the emotional state or mood of others) she says that these are essential skills for successful interpersonal relationships. ‘You don’t want to become a slug in front of a TV’ Though there seems to be a consensus around the point that there is no such thing as too much laughter, the psychologists all […]