Laughter May Boost Altruistic Behavior

Study: Laughter Really Is Contagious

A good laugh may not only lift your mood, but can make you more cooperative and altruistic towards strangers, according to a new study.

Laughter, a universal human behavior, has been shown in previous studies to act as a "social lubricant" and promote group cohesiveness. In this new study, researchers tested whether this sense of closeness would promote altruistic behavior.

Study participants watched either a funny or a serious video, and then played a game with strangers to see how laugher affected the balance between group interest and self-interest during the game-play.

Each person was given a small sum of money (about $5) and told they could invest it in either a private fund or a group fund--they would get back whatever they put in the private fund, while whatever was contributed to the group fund would be doubled and split evenly among group members, regardless of how much each person put in.

The researchers found that laughter made strangers more likely to invest in the group fund, and so increased their sense of altruism.

'This study may have important implications for the way charities or organizations could increase the level of received donations," said Mark van Vugt of the University of Kent, lead author of the unpublished study.

The study also suggested that laughter increases endorphin levels, which are known to be part of the body's mood-lifting chemistry.

Laughter may have had evolutionary importance by promoting group bonding, which could have enabled our early ancestors to work together to cope with a hostile environment, van Vugt said.

Andrea Thompson
Live Science Contributor

Andrea Thompson is an associate editor at Scientific American, where she covers sustainability, energy and the environment. Prior to that, she was a senior writer covering climate science at Climate Central and a reporter and editor at Live Science, where she primarily covered Earth science and the environment. She holds a graduate degree in science health and environmental reporting from New York University, as well as a bachelor of science and and masters of science in atmospheric chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology.