Humor, laughter, learning, and health! A brief review

Adv Physiol Educ. 2017 Sep 1;41(3):341-347. doi: 10.1152/advan.00030.2017.


Human emotions, such as anxiety, depression, fear, joy, and laughter, profoundly affect psychological and physiological processes. These emotions form a set of basic, evolved functions that are shared by all humans. Laughter is part of a universal language of basic emotions that all humans recognize. Health care providers and educators may utilize the power of laughter to improve health and enhance teaching and learning. This is an important consideration because teaching is not just about content: it is also about forming relationships and strengthening human connections. In this context, when used effectively, humor is documented to build relationships and enhance performance. Specifically, humor improves student performance by attracting and sustaining attention, reducing anxiety, enhancing participation, and increasing motivation. Moreover, humor stimulates multiple physiological systems that decrease levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine, and increase the activation of the mesolimbic dopaminergic reward system. To achieve these benefits, it is important to use humor that is relevant to the course content and not disparaging toward others. Self-effacing humor illustrates to students that the teacher is comfortable making mistakes and sharing these experiences with the classroom. In this brief review, we discuss the history and relationship between humor, laughing, learning, and health with an emphasis on the powerful, universal language of laughter.

Keywords: creativity; emotion; psychophysiological; self-esteem.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Laughter*
  • Learning*
  • Wit and Humor as Topic*