Laugh and Learn: #xBio

Apr 27 2014 Published by under EB2014

Have you wondered why an organization like the American Physiological Society asks folks like me to blog this meeting? Any semi-motivated person could find the abstracts and, eventually, the papers to see what’s going on in the world of science. If you wander around public areas on the APS website you would eventually find the press releases for the meeting as well. What do I add to the mix?

Humor

Which brings us to an interesting study from the meeting:

Effectiveness of humor on short-term memory function and cortisol levels in age-matched elderly and diabetic subjects vs. control group.

Gurinder S. Bains, Lee Berk, Noha Daher, Everett Lohman, Jerrold Petrofsky, Ernie Schwab, Pooja Deshpande
Allied Health/Physical Therapy, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA

The investigators hypothesized that watching a laugh inducing video would reduce stress in elderly study participants, along with cortisol levels, and improve function in memory tests. Subjects selected their own 20-minute video (no word on what what choices they provided; Colbert? Tom & Jerry? Seinfeld?) while controls watched nothing. They collected saliva for cortisol measurements during these experiments, and they used the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT) 20 minutes apart (pre- and post-video, or just with a 20-minute gap for the Controls). Subjects averaged in their mid-60s with two test groups, one with and one without diabetes.

Controls showed no changes in salivary cortisol over the study. They did show an insignificant increase in scores on the RAVLT the second time around (repetition still works, I guess). Cortisol levels showed a trend toward reductions over time in the elderly group, with significant reductions in the test group with diabetes. Both video groups significantly improved their RAVLT performance pre- and post-laughter.

So what’s the message to take home? According to Lee Berk:

It’s simple, the less stress you have, the better your memory. Humor reduces detrimental stress hormones like cortisol that decrease memory hippocampal neurons, lowers your blood pressure, and increases blood flow and your mode state. The act of laughter - or dimply enjoying some humor - increases the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain, which provides a sense of pleasure and reward. These positive and beneficial neurochemical changes, in turn, make the immune system function better. There are even changes in brain wave activity towards what’s called the “gamma wave band frequency”, which also amp up memory and recall. So, indeed, laughter is turning out to be not only a good medicine, but also a memory enhance adding to our quality of life.

I do not yet meet the criteria for “elderly”, but I plan to put these findings to work in my own life. Before I sit down to read a journal article, I plan to scan my twitter feed for something hilarious (there’s always something). Afterward, I think I will start summarizing the findings with custom LOLcats. 

GrumpyCat

I will let you know how it works in my n=1 experiment!

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