Does Laughter Cause Gene Expression?

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

I want to know: Does laughter cause gene expression?  This is a question I have never heard asked.  If there is a psychologist or neuroscientist in the audience who knows if this question has ever been asked, I want to know that, also.  The answer is certainly, Yes.  Of course, there are genes constantly activated by everything we do.  But are there specific genes associated with laughter?  This is not a subtle question, such as the difference between humor and laughter.  I am talking about Hee-Haw, robust, in yer face, I can’t stop laughing, lol catz!

Minimally, one can assume that there will be genes activated that are associated with learning and memory.  One might also assume there are genes activated associated with emotions, probably both positive and negative emotions, as laughter typically pits these valences against one another.  What are the genes that are consistently activated by laughter?

Are the same genes activated in chimps and in humans?  Chimps (when tickled) laugh differently than us, in both directions, inwardly and outwardly, inspirations and expirations: ooh-heh, ooh-heh.  Humans only laugh with outward expirations: heh-heh-heh-heh-surface from laughing for a big suck of air that is not laughter, followed by more laughter–hah-hah-hah.  This significant difference in “laughing,” and it certainly appears to be “laughing” in tickled chimps, as tickling is a delightful (positive) loss of control (negative) over being touched, presumably owes to differential evolution of speech apparatus, e.g., the innervation of intercostal muscles, lungs, rhythm generators, etc.  There might be differences, based on that.  But aside from physiological and neurological differences in breathing patterns associated with an evolved ability and propensity to speak human language, are there humor-specific genes in primates?  In mammals more generally?  Rats appear to “laugh” also, when tickled.  At least, they emit a particular frequency of vocalizations when tickled.  Is it the same as human laughter?

It seems like a very important question for our decidedly social species.  Is laughter specifically encoded in our DNA?  How widespread is it, phylogenetically speaking?  I hate to even ask, because with current technology, e.g., in situ hybridization of RNA probes on brain tissue, we’d probably have to induce a paroxysm of joy and then kill someone to find out.


Huh.  This paper provides evidence that laughter upregulates a receptor gene in the blood, so surely it must do things in brain, as well.  Of course, it would be nice to know which ones.  


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  1. That last part was a joke.  HAW HAW.

  2. gene wilder and gene rayburn caused laughter.  gene simmons has on occasion.  and ireland’s gene fitzpatrick.  but gene expression?  never heard of him.

  3. You write a lot about how humor responses may be genetically shaped, but your question might be “do we alter our genes by our behavior?”

    For the former, sure, “genetic” in the sense of physically determined. Not my field, I understand there is more to physically inherited traits than purely genes as we presently define them.

    I also think there will eventually prove to be some traits loosely relating to sub-populations that we presently ascribe to culture, that may turn out to have some physical basis.

    I don’t personally have a problem with being a lot more nature than nurture. There are core aspects of my life in which I’m quite the kelp-in-the-tide, swaying in the current my random nature seems to have anchored me in. I’ve made the most impact on the world in those areas that are least the product of my meticulous preparation and intent.

    It’s all life to me.

  4. I almost died laughing at the last part.

    After rubbing some Compound F on the part, I was fine.

    Very good question though.

    It`s definitely new food for thought. (at least for me personally)

    • pfiore8 on October 23, 2008 at 10:29

    another thing of which i never thought: does laughing upregulate anything…

    ik weet dat laughing is goede voor mij.

    always good to see you!!!

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