Neurogenesis And Humor: Tell Me Another

neurogenesis humor

Do I Laugh Now?

A penguin and a Gelotologist walk into a comedy club. “I know why he’s here,” says the waitress, gesturing to the Gelotologist, “But what are you doing here?”

“It’s cold outside,” says the penguin.

If you think neurogenesis is funny, you may well be right. Recent research that delves into the brain’s response to humor (and other good stimuli) could yield new therapies for improving mental health and relieving depression and anxiety.

Unlike penguins, who don’t usually frequent comedy clubs (unless it’s cold outside,) Gelotologists study the physiological and psychological effects of humor. They know that it’s good for us, but unfortunately we seem to be predisposed to pay more attention to negative stimuli than positive stimuli. We care far more if we lose $100 than if we win $100, for instance.

This outcome is called the “negativity bias.” Loss or misfortune activates our fight-or-flight response, causing us to experience negative events more intensely, which in turn signals our brain to remember them more clearly. This negativity bias creates a hurdle for the Gelotologists.

Add to this the fact that some people are naturally more negative, leading them to worry about negative events and become even more vigilant and anxious. This vicious cycle can lead to depression and chronic anxiety. So how do we interrupt this negative feedback loop?

The negativity bias is typically a subconscious response, so the first step in countering it is to realize it exists. Psychologists then suggest re-framing or reinterpreting our experiences. If we can cast what seems to be a bad or worrying situation in a positive or humorous light, we take a step toward counteracting its adverse psychological impact. We can use neurogenesis to our advantage. Through conscious effort and the powers of neuroplasticity, we can use humor to redirect our thoughts more positively.

The second aspect of successful plastic brain change is repetition. To encourage neurogenesis and plastic change we must practice, and practice often, adopting a more positive outlook on apparently negative experiences.

While at first, the intentionally positive reactions may feel forced, unnatural and even quite difficult, over time, they will become second nature — a happier nature.

More laughter on the brain

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