Planning to Watch a Comedy? It May be Good for You
Library: MED
Description: Looking forward to a favorite comedy? Just checking television listings a few days ahead may boost the body's ability to fight disease, a UC Irvine College of Medicine study has found.



Study Finds Anticipation of Laughter Triggers Healthy Mood Changes, May Reduce Stress Hormone Levels, Boost Immune Defenses

Irvine, Calif., Nov. 13, 2001 -- Looking forward to a favorite comedy? Just checking television listings a few days ahead may boost the body's ability to fight disease, a UC Irvine College of Medicine study has found.

The study is the first to show that anticipation of a mirthful event, such as a television comedy, results in behavior changes known to reduce stress hormone levels and boost the immune system's response to disease. The study will be presented Tuesday, Nov. 13, at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego.

Lee Berk, assistant professor of family medicine, and his colleagues at the Susan Samueli Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that anticipating a mirthful event reduced levels of tension, anger, depression, fatigue and confusion up to two days before the actual event.

Previous research by Berk and others has shown that chronic stress can profoundly depress the immune system, and that exposure to a one-hour humorous video reduced secretion of stress hormones like epinephrine and cortisol and enhanced the anti-viral and antibacterial capabilities of the body's immune system.

"We've demonstrated that watching a funny video can stimulate the body's ability to manage stress and fight disease," Berk said. "But this is the first time we've seen that just anticipating such an event can change the body's responses. We believe this 'biology of hope' underlies recovery from many chronic disorders. Treatments that take advantage of the effects of this hope may go a long way to stimulating immune responses and hasten recovery."

Berk's team rated the moods of 10 men, measuring tension, depression, anger, vigor, fatigue and confusion. They measured the men's moods two days before, 15 minutes before and immediately after they watched their choice of a 60-minute humorous video.

Two days before the video, mood ratings for depression dropped 51 percent, confusion 36 percent, anger 19 percent, fatigue 15 percent and tension nine percent. These ratings became increasingly marked immediately after watching the video; depression and anger both down 98 percent, fatigue down 87 percent, confusion down 75 percent and tension dropped 61 percent. Vigor ratings, however, increased 12 percent and climbed to 37 percent immediately after the video.

"While vigor actually shows signs of more energy and better resistance to disease, the other mood categories are known to increase stress hormone levels and reduce the effectiveness of the immune system," Berk said. "Positive anticipation of humor starts the ball rolling in a sense, in which moods begin to change in ways that help the body fight illness. We believe this shows that even anticipation can be used to help patients recover from a wide range of disorders."

Berk and his colleagues have spent years focusing on the effect moods have on the immune system and disease. They have established the role played by laughter in the body's ability to effectively fend off viruses and bacteria and help fight chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.

The team now is exploring whether this mood-altering anticipation of humor also stimulates the same reductions in stress hormones and boosts in the immune responses seen during actual laughter.

Berk's colleagues in the study include Dr. David Felten, director of the Samueli Center, and Jim Westengard of Loma Linda University School of Medicine.

Andrew Porterfield
(949) 824-3969


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