Neurology and Neurosurgery

Your brain on laughter: What happens in your brain when you laugh?

Young woman laughing and holding a model of a pink brain


Knock, knock. Who’s there? Your doctor with a prescription for laughter.


By Dr. Paul Wright, Senior Vice President and System Chair of the Neuroscience Institute, Nuvance Health


Dr. Paul Wright, Senior Vice President and System Chair, Neuroscience Institute at Nuvance Health

“I love comedy and feel centered and whole when I’m creating and producing. Knowing that laughing has significant emotional, mental and physical benefits makes being a comic even more purposeful. I hope everybody finds a way to laugh every day.” — Ray Romano, Comedian, actor and screenwriter


You have heard the saying before — laughter is the best medicine. But why, exactly? Here is how laughing affects your brain and emotional, mental and physical health.


Laughing increases your intake of oxygen-rich air and improves circulation.

More oxygen-rich blood flow to the brain can improve brain health. Healthy blood flow to the brain can reduce the risk of cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss and depression. Keeping your blood vessels healthy can also reduce your risk of stroke.


Laughing increases your brain’s production of natural painkillers and stress relievers.

Researchers used PET scans to study participants’ brains after they watched laughter-inducing comedy clips with close friends for 30 minutes. The Journal of Neuroscience published the study that found social laughter increased pleasurable sensations and triggered endogenous opioid release in the brain. Researchers also found that participants had elevated pain thresholds after watching laughter-inducing comedy.


In other words, laughter increases the brain’s production of endorphins. Endorphins are feel-good chemicals that relieve pain and reduce stress.


More good news about getting the giggles: Laughter effects your stress response, heart rate and blood pressure, which can help you feel relaxed.


Related article: Your brain on music: How music can enhance your workout and brain health


Laughter can improve your emotional and mental health.

Endorphins also contribute to feeling calm and happy, improving mood and reducing anxiety.


Find ways to keep it funny and social.

Research shows that loneliness and social isolation may increase risk for dementia.


Geriatric and Gerontology International, the official Journal of the Japan Geriatrics Society, published a study that found more laughter in individual and social settings was associated with a reduced risk of dementia.


Reap the emotional, mental and physical benefits of laughter and connect with others by going to comedy clubs, watching funny shows or movies or doing whatever makes you chuckle with family and friends.


Related article: What are risk factors for dementia?


The bottom line: Laughing increases the brain’s production of endorphins — the natural way your body relieves pain, reduces stress and boosts mood. Laughing also increases your intake of oxygen-rich air and blood flow and circulation, which can improve brain health. Have belly laughs with others to reap the benefits of laughter and staying social.


Learn more about neurology and neurosurgery services at the Nuvance Health Neuroscience Institute.