"What do joke-lovers and junkies have in common? According to new research, they're both responding to the same kind of "high." The study suggests that genuine laughter releases endorphins in the brain, chemicals that activate the same receptors as drugs like heroin, to pain-killing and euphoria-producing effects.
Researchers led by Oxford University's Robin Dunbar conducted a series of experiments — both in the lab and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival — to tease out the effect of laughter on people's ability to withstand pain.
Previous research has linked hearty ha ha's with pain relief. Watching comedy videos, for example, has been shown to decrease hospital patients' need for opioid painkillers. But it wasn't clear whether it was laughter itself or general positive emotions that were responsible for relieving pain.
In the new study, scientists tested dozens of participants' tolerance to pain through various methods: a tightening blood pressure cuff, a frozen wine-chilling sleeve placed around the arm, or a strenuous exercise in which participants had to hold themselves against a wall with their legs bent at a 90-degree angle, as if sitting on a chair. (Trust me, it hurts).
In several lab experiments, the researchers subjected people to the painful stimuli both before and after exposing them to episodes of comedy, including video clips of shows like South Park, The Simpsons and Friends or clips of stand-up by performers like Eddie Izzard. The lone field experiment at the comedy festival involved people who had either watched or acted in comic performances. (...)"