Humor theories and the physiological benefits of laughter

Adv Mind Body Med. Summer 2009;24(2):8-12.


There are 3 main theories used to explain the functions of humor: (1) the relief theory, (2) the incongruity theory, and (3) the superiority theory. Though these theories focus on the specific role that humor plays for people in situations such as dealing with misfortune, making sense of rule violations, and bonding with others, we propose that underlying each of these theories are the physiological benefits of laughter. We draw on findings from empirical studies on laughter to demonstrate that these physiological benefits occur regardless of the theory that is used to explain the humor function.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Laughter / physiology*
  • Laughter / psychology
  • Laughter Therapy*
  • Mind-Body Relations, Metaphysical*
  • Wit and Humor as Topic*