No Joke: Laughter May Make You Weak

May 5, 2000

Have your ever heard a joke that made you laugh so hard you fell down? Researchers are one step closer to knowing why!

Scientists in the Netherlands report that about 15.5% of the population experiences weakness during various emotions. To find out if laughter affects muscle strength, these researchers measured the response of a leg muscle to stimulation of the tibial nerve when people laughed. When funny jokes made people laugh, the leg muscle response was reduced by 88.9%. When humorous slides made people laugh, the calf muscle response was also reduced dramatically. The exact neural pathways that influence muscle tone during laughter are not known.

The results of this study are no laughing matter. In fact, these data are important for furthering our understanding of a disorder called "cataplexy." Cataplexy is a condition in which people lose muscle control and may fall down. A better understanding of what triggers the loss of muscle strength during laughter may help in the development of new treatments for cataplexy.

References and further information:

  1. Overeem, S., Lammers, G.J. and van Dijk, J.G., Weak with laughter, The Lancet, 354:838, 1999.
  2. Laughter and the Brain from Neuroscience for Kids

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