Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Are we supposed to laugh at them or with them?

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on June 4, 2009

I know times are tough. As an accountant I deal with money, or lack there of, on a daily basis. I understand what it means to split the pie in a million possible peaces. Therefore, I understand how, in these tough times, people will look to save a penny anywhere they can, and that sometimes can take a weird shape and form. One of the weirdest I have come across are the Laughter Clubs that the Skepchick reported on at her Bostonist column. What is a Laughter Club? Glad you asked.

The clubs have formed in Arlington, Wakefield, and Somerville, and the “laughter leaders” who direct them say dedicated bouts of chuckling can provide a trove of mental and physical benefits.

According to Laughter Yoga International, an extended session of laughing provides a solid diaphragm and abdominal workout; it’s also said to diminish stress, depression, blood pressure, arthritis, and asthma, and boost the lungs and immune system.

I gotta tell you, whenever someone claims to “boost the immune system” my bullshit detector goes crazy. I can see how it may help with stress and depression, which have a big psychological factor to them, but arthritis? Asthma? Immune System? That’s pure and simple horse shit!

Club participants range from doctors and psychologists to Little Leaguers accompanying their moms. To stimulate snickers, members partake in various quirky miming exercises (anything from pretending to dunk a basketball, to simulating a trolley ride). Similarly, they’re encouraged to practice on their own – some giggle at their plants, others in the shower, many more bray in the car.

Oh, I see, so it is basically a bunch of grown ups acting like clowns, like 2 year olds. Why wouldn’t that help with your immune system?

In the beginning, it can be a little awkward.

No shit, Watson! (A rip off “elementary Watson”. Has nothing to do with the Skepchick)

But once people move beyond the initial oddity of it all, they build a “laugh connection,” Hobbs noted. “We are all just here in that moment.”

***Skepdude double checks the web address! Nope it’s not the Onion!***

Facilitating these sessions of hilarity takes more training than you might imagine; it’s essentially organized and disciplined laughter, based on what’s known as Hasya, or laughter, yoga. Leaders must be certified; many have done so directly with workshops led by the “Guru of Giggling” himself, Madan Kataria, an Indian doctor who founded the laughter mission.

Ah there we go. Laughter Yoga and an Indian Guru. Need I say more? And he offers research. Research! Surely this cannot be the kind of vague, inconclusive studies we’re used to see from people of this ilk. The offer two studies for us to consider, the Bangalore study and the US study.

BANGALORE STUDY

In December 2006, Laughter Yoga International commissioned a scientific research project involving 200 IT professionals in Bangalore, India, to study the effects of Laughter Yoga on their stress levels. Seven Laughter Yoga sessions were administered to half the group over an 18 day period, with physiological, immunological and psychological tests performed on each person before and after the Laughter Yoga sessions.

The study was undertaken by one of India’s leading scientific research organizations.

The results of the Bangalore study were extremely positive. In the Laughter Yoga group there was a significant drop in heart rate, blood pressure dropped significantly, cortisol levels were significantly reduced, positive emotions increased by 17% and negative emotions dropped by 27%, perceived stress dropped significantly, and Alexithymia dropped by almost 9%, indicating a significant improvement in emotional intelligence.

Here is a brief summary of the Bangalore Study results:

US STUDY (BECKMAN, REGIER & YOUNG)
Another important 2007 study in the United States looked at the effects of Laughter Yoga on personal efficacy in the workplace.

Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to organize and carry out courses of action necessary to achieve a goal or manage a situation (Bandura, 1986). This personal belief influences the choices people make, the effort they put forth into working toward a goal, how long they persist when confronted with obstacles, and how they feel during the process of working toward goals. Self-efficacy beliefs affect performance in the workplace.

Personal efficacy testing was done the week before, the week after, and 60-90 days after the series of daily Laughter Yoga sessions. Laughter Yoga was administered for 15 minutes a day for 14 days.

The results show significant improvements of the Laughter Yoga group in all areas, with positive changes of 100% occurring in a number of areas. It is particularly interesting to note the long-lasting effects of the laughter interventions.

Here is a brief summary of the BRY Study results:

Ok, so let’s start the Red Flag observations:

Red FlagThey do not provide links to said studies, neither to the full study or an abstract, which strongly implies that said studies were never published anywhere. So we must take it on faith that these studies do in fact exist.


Red FlagThey even fail to provide the “brief summaries” they promise at the end of each study’s description. Again, we must take it on faith that these studies do in fact exist.


Red FlagThe Bangalore study was commissioned by themselves, and the second one seems likely to be the same, even though they do not specify. That fact alone does not disqualify the results but when coupled with the other red flags it adds to the question marks. Since it appears the studies were not published, let alone replicated, again we must take it on faith that they properly controlled the obvious bias and conflict of interest.


Red FlagNeither of these two studies seems to support their claim that their laughter yoga can help with diabetes, asthma, lungs or the immune system. So either they are misguiding their followers or the followers are misunderstanding the limits of this “technique”.

It seems we have to take to much on faith here. Sounds like a quack to me! Folks, if you want to laugh go ahead and laugh your heart out. But stop pretending it’s something it is not. Dont’ we have enough stupid claims out there already? Do you have to go and ruin laughing for us as well with stuff like this: “Laughter is the best medicine’ has scientifically proven to be the most powerful prescription for wellness.” No it hasn’t. Stop making shit like this up. Laughter is not medicine and the fact that some idiots want to cash in on one of the most basic bodily functions, laughter, is despicable. What will they try to charge us for next, breathing?

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