(RxWiki News) Humor may not only be amusing, it can actually have health benefits—particularly for kids. It activates parts of the brain that are linked to well-being and resilience.
In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers have found that specific areas of children's brains are affected by laughter and other positive feelings, leading to better emotional health.
"Use laughter to boost your kids' emotional health."
Dr. Allan Reiss, director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research at Stanford University, led the study that used MRI to scan the brains of 15 children between the ages of six and 12. During the scans, the kids watched short video clips that were either funny, positive (rewarding but not funny) or neutral (neither rewarding nor funny).
While watching the funny videos, two regions of the children's brains were activated. The mesolimbic region, which process rewards, and the the temporal-occipital-parietal junction, which processes perceived incongruities or opposites, are areas of the brain that also respond to humor in adults.
These regions aren't as developed in children, but both were activated when watching the funny clips, showing that they do exist in children as young as six.
The positive video clips also activated the mesolimbic region, but not the area that processes incongruity. Researchers said this suggests that the surprise factor for the brain is important in making something funny.
"Humor is a very important component of emotional health, maintaining relationships, developing cognitive function and perhaps even medical health," said Dr. Reiss. He added that a strong sense of humor is important in helping children develop positive emotions and learn to be more resilient.
"In particular, we think a balanced and consistent sense of humor may help children negotiate the difficult period of pre-adolescence and adolescence," Dr. Reiss said. The Stanford research is setting the stage for how humor and other positive emotions can predict a child's well-being and resilience, and might even help protect them against depression.
The findings were published in the February 2012 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.