Pathological laughter. A review of the literature

J Nerv Ment Dis. 1982 Feb;170(2):67-71.


Normal laughter is a unique human behavior with characteristic facial and respiratory patterns elicited by a variety of stimulus conditions. The neuroanatomy remains poorly defined but three levels seem likely: a) a cortical level; b) a bulbar, or effector, level; and 3) a synkinetic, or integrative, level probably at or near the hypothalamus. Pathological laughter occurs when laughter is inappropriate, unrestrained (forced), uncontrollable, or dissociated from any stimulus. Pathological laughter is found in three main conditions: a) pseudobulbar palsy; b) gelastic epilepsy; and c) psychiatric illnesses. It is also found in other pathological conditions. What brings these together is their clinical similarity and probable disinhibition at higher brainstem levels.

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology
  • Bulbar Palsy, Progressive / psychology*
  • Epilepsy / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Hysteria / psychology
  • Laughter*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurotic Disorders / psychology
  • Schizophrenic Psychology