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Laughter: More than Just Medicine

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The Greek philosopher Aristotle stated that only humans possess the ability to laugh. But research conducted on the subject has largely disproved this statement in recent years. Chimps, gorillas, and orangutans all laugh, although they sound quite dissimilar to what we view as laughter. In fact, it's been unrecognizable as laughter until recently. At play, or when tickled, a pant-like sound emerges. The difference in sound may stem from the human voice box and our ability of speech, yet it's laughter all the same. Other animals, such as rats and dogs, also possess the ability to laugh.

Laughter serves as a tool for social interaction, so it may not come as so great a surprise that these other social animals also laugh. Among the young, play induces social bonds. Take tickling, for example, which young children love.For many human parents, this is one of the first elaborate ways to play with their kids, reliably producing laughter with just the anticipation and threat of being tickled. But chimps have the same tickle games among themselves, and dogs and rats both have skin sensitive to tickling. Touching and being touched is an important part of what it means to be a mammal. Laughter, such as through tickling, is just one example of how the brain expresses the pleasure of play. In fact, humans are thirty times more likely to laugh when in a group than to laugh when alone.

There are other social implications as well. Research demonstrates that dominant people, such as the department head or other leaders, use laughter more frequently than the people below them. In other words, they purposely make their subordinates laugh, as through this do they control the emotional climate of the group.

Let's not forget just how healthy laughter can be, as it does more than create and reinforce social bonds. After all, there's the old adage, "Laughter is the best medicine."

To begin with, it's good for the heart, the immune system, and muscle tone. It also relieves stress and fights depression. Studies have shown that chronically angry people have an increased likelihood for heart disease, as do people who have stressful lifestyles, or are depressed. Laughter lowers the hormone cortisol, which gets released when we are under stress, and which impairs the heart. Laughter also improves the immune system by releasing additional disease-fighting antibodies, and improves the oxygen in the blood. This additionally contributes to a healthy heart, as well as fight cancers and viruses, because it helps prevent the hardening of the arteries.

But maybe the most important aspect of laughter comes from a quote by the actor Alan Alda. He said, "When people are laughing, they're generally not killing each other."


Step 1: Listen to the article, which is about four and a half minutes long. Listen only, and don't worry about understanding everything.
Step 2: Listen once more, and try to understand the general information of each paragraph. In your head, explain a paragraph's main idea in one or two sentences. Write your paragraph summaries after you have listened to the whole article. Listen again, check your answers, and compare your answers with a partner.
Step 3: Look at the article, which has missing vocabulary words. Try to write any words that you remember from the listening. Listen once more, and write the missing words.
Step 4: Read the article, and look up any unknown words. Now listen again. Can you understand more?
Step 5: Listen! Listen! Listen! Listen to the article on the train or in your free time. Each time you listen, you will slowly improve!

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