Laughing Makes Pain Hurt Less

Does the tambourine that LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy slides onto his arm in this video of him performing “Yr City’s a Sucker” in Ireland last year look like it might hurt? The sharp edges of those little cymbals digging into the soft flesh of his bicep? It probably doesn’t. Because of all the laughing, or fake laughing, he’s doing while singing the song. A team of scientists led by Oxford evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar recently tested responses to painful stimuli like a super-cold arm wrap, or an increasingly tight blood-pressure cuff, before and after the subjects were made to laugh, and found that pain threshholds were significantly higher after laughing. As the Times’ James Gorman reports, “The simple muscular exertions involved in producing the familiar ha, ha, ha, he said, trigger an increase in endorphins, the brain chemicals known for their feel-good effect.”