Berk, Felten, Tan, Bittmann and Westengard (2001), in their article titled “Modulation of Neuroimmune Parameters During the Eustress of Humor-Associated Mirthful Laughter”, explore how humor therapy and mirthful laughter enhances immune function and offers healing effects. The authors note that there has been an increasing interest in the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) by both medical providers and patients. They had investigated the impact of humor on specific neuroendocrine components of the human stress response in prior studies. Multiple studies in which the benefits of humor and laughter have yielded positive outcomes include cardiac rehabilitation, pain management, coping and immune enhancement. The researchers designed a study that would assess the effects of laughter on neuroendocrine/neuroimmune modulation by reviewing specific neuroimmune parameters. The researchers hypothesized that humor could affect the immune system in a variety of ways. Laughter can lead to relaxation and positive imagery. Use of relaxation and positive imagery can assist in increasing coping skills which can be employed to deflect stressful situations. This can distract individuals from illness and pain, a strategy that is also used in other psychotherapeutic interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Laughter can also lead to positive affect which can potentially alter the mood of the individual and potentially assist in affect regulation. Since laughter is also contagious, anyone exposed to someone with a vivid display of mirthful laughter will often smile and experience the benefits of distraction and relaxation. The study to be conducted on fifty-two males consisted of five separate smaller studies based on a multivariate repeated measures design, with post hoc simple contrast analysis. Due to the complex relationship between the signaling of hormones in the "stress hormone" profile and their independent regulation and separate signaling mechanisms, it is difficult to establish a causal relationship between the laughter and the immune response. However, the study results NK cells (P < .01), immunoglobulins G (P < .02), A (P < .01), and M (P < .09), complement C3, functional phenotypic markers for leukocytes (P < .01), and levels of the cytokine interferon-gamma in plasma (P = .02) and total leukocytes (P < .05)] are significant to promoting the theory. This study is important because it adds to a growing body of research on the impact of CAM, but it does give rise to more important questions such as how the researchers quantify “humor”. How did the researchers select the specific video that the participants watched? Was there a humor or laughter scale used. Did the participants who laughed the hardiest gain the most immunological benefits? If laughter is the actual cause of improved immunity, would something like tickling yield greater improvement in immunofuction? And is there a point at which too much laughter could have a negative impact on the immune system? The effect of humor on the mind, in turn, on the health of the rest of the body is merely one key to an entire room of new unanswered questions.
Berk, L., Felten, D., Tan, S., Bittman, B., & Westengard, J. (2001). Modulation of neuroimmune parameters during the eustress of humor-associated mirthful laughter. Alternative Therapies In Health And Medicine, 7(2), 62.