To explore various theories about laughter, laughter’s effects on our mental health, and the benefits of laughter to our immune system.
This lesson is the second in a two-part series on laughter and how it can affect the immune system.
By the end of middle school, students should understand two key concepts regarding the nervous and immune systems of humans. In terms of the nervous system, they should understand that the combination of the senses, nerves, and brain allow us to cope with changes in our environment. In terms of the immune system, they should have knowledge that there are specialized cells and molecules which identify and destroy microbes inside and outside of the body.
This depth of knowledge regarding the human organism allows high-school students to develop a more sophisticated understanding of how the nervous system and the brain work together. For example, by the end of high school, students should know that the nervous system works via electrochemical signals in the nerves and that these signals are transferred from one nerve to the next. In addition, they should know that these signals are what allows the human mind to process ideas, and ideas about ideas. Furthermore, their knowledge base should include that people have the ability to produce many associations internally, with or without receiving information from their senses.
By the end of high school, students should understand the following three concepts about human health. First, they should know that communication between the cells of different systems is required to coordinate diverse activities. It is thus reasonable for them to deduce that one system may have an effect on another system. Within this first point, they should also know that the immune system functions to protect against microscopic organisms and foreign substances that enter from outside the body and against some cancer cells that arise within. Second, they should understand that expectations, moods, and prior experiences of human beings affect how they interpret new perceptions or ideas. Third, students should know that ideas about what constitutes good mental health and proper treatment for abnormal mental states, vary from one culture to another and from one time period to another.
The Laughing Brain 1: How We Laugh has a twofold focus. First, it focuses on the science of laughter in terms of how the brain reacts to an external stimulus that is funny. Second, it explores the positive effects of laughter in terms of our social, mental, and physical well-being.
The Laughing Brain 2: A Good Laugh focuses on three concepts. First, it focuses on the various theories of laughter. Second, it focuses on the benefits of laughter to our mental health. And third, it explores psychoneuroimmunology (the science of studying the benefits of laughter to our immune system).
Begin by reviewing the points below. Emphasize to students that these are the three concepts they will explore in this lesson.
- Laughter is the result of our finding something humorous. Of course, we all find different jokes funny which can be attributed to various factors, such as differences in personality, intelligence, upbringing, mental state, and mood. There are, however, three traditional theories that categorize what we find humorous.
- Laughter appears to benefit our mental health to such a degree that even mental health professionals suggest incorporating "laughter therapy" as a method in helping people cope with difficult life situations.
- Laughter also has positive effects on our immune system. The science of studying the benefits of laughter to our immune system is termed psychoneuroimmunology.
Then ask students to suggest what factors they feel can affect what one finds humorous. (Some examples are: personality, intelligence, mental state, upbringing, age, and mood.)
Finally, read aloud some of the jokes found on Brain Jokes and ask students these questions to provoke their thinking about laughter (they do not need to be answered):
- Did everyone laugh at the same jokes?
- Did some people laugh at some jokes more than others?
- Do you feel better after laughing at these jokes?
- Do you think laughter improves our mental health?
- Do you think laughter benefits our physical health?
The fist part of the lesson is devoted to an exploration of the various theories of laughter. Using the A Good Laugh student esheet, students should read How Laughter Works, on How Stuff Works.
After students have finished exploring the resource, discuss these questions:
- What are the three theories about what we find humorous? (They are the incongruity theory, superiority theory, and relief theory.)
- What is the basis for the incongruity theory? (Humor occurs when logic and familiarity are replaced by things that don't normally go together.)
- What is the superiority theory? (Humor arises when we laugh at a joke that focuses on someone else's mistakes, stupidity, or misfortune.)
- Explain the relief theory. (Humor occurs when tension or suspense is built up and then comic relief is used to break it down.)
- Which theory is used by the film industry? (Relief.)
Recap with students that various sensations and thoughts trigger laughter and its associated responses. And that it is believed by Dr. Derks and others that "humor is a very central element in human activity….it is creative, perceptual, analytical, and lingual."
Introduce this part of the lesson by telling students that from the Laughing Brain 1, we know that laughter is important to our social, mental, and physical health. We will focus on its benefits to mental health in this section.
Using the student esheet, have students read Laughter and Health, from How Stuff Works. After students have finished exploring the resource, discuss these questions:
- What are some of the effects that laughter can have on the human body? (Possible answers include a total body workout, lowering of blood pressure, reduces levels of stress hormones, etc.)
- Which negative emotions might be released by laughter? (Anger, sadness, and fear.)
- Why do you think that this might be important? (Answers may vary, but students should be led to the idea that laughter can help you harmlessly release negative emotions.)
The next part of the lesson addresses psychoneuroimmunology (the science of studying the benefits of laughter to our immune system).
Again, as described on the student esheet, students should read Is Laughter the Best Medicine? After students have finished exploring the resource, discuss these questions:
- What is psychoneuroimmunology? (It is the study of how our state of mind affects our health.)
- Psychoneuroimmunology studies the interactions between which parts of your body? (It studies the interactions between the brain and immune system.)
- What does bad stress do to your immune system? (It suppresses the immune system.)
- Why is this bad? (It is bad because a suppressed immune system leaves you more receptive to disease.)
Using the resources listed on the student esheet, students should prepare a report on laughter and the immune system. They can work in small groups or pairs to prepare a project called How Laughter Benefits Your Immune System. Urge students to be creative in their presentations. They can use flow charts, drawings, physical objects, etc. Their report can take the form of a Power Point slide show, posters, art work, or even a skit or video.
Projects should accurately describe the principal function of the immune system, what the parts of the system are and how they work together, as well as how laughter can benefit the function of the immune system. Projects that do not adequately address these topics should not receive full credit.
The student esheet refers students to these articles that they can use to research their report. You may wish to print these out if students do not have sufficient access to computers.
- How Your Immune System Works
- Basics of the Immune System
- Components of the Immune System
- Lymph System
- Complement System
- White Blood Cells
- Laughter and Health
The How Antibiotics Work page offers information that students may find interesting after learning about the immune system and psychoneuroimmunology.
If you have access to a computer in your classroom where the screen can be projected onto a blackboard, you can show students how to use Pubmed Medline as a resource for scientific information. (This could help them for future writing assignments.) For example, once you get to this site, type in psychoneuroimmunology and Strickland. This will bring up an abstract entitled "Seriously, laughter matters." This abstract explains that there is a humor-health connection, as they have already learned. The above search is very limited; you can show them that if you type in just psychoneuroimmunolgy, you will get hundreds of matching abstracts to this search. Give them the Internet site address and tell them they can practice using this at home.