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No. 129: MAY-JUN 2000

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Why we "Roll in the Aisles"

Some of the research pursued by the Leiden Medical Center, Netherlands, was truly a laughing matter. G.J. Lammers and colleagues investigated the effects of laughing upon the H-reflex that affects the soleus muscles in our calves. A decrease in the H-reflex is usually accompanied by a marked weakness in these muscles. They first showed slides -- some funny, some not -- to volunteers at 2-second intervals.

Sure enough, when the subjects laughed, their H-reflexes nearly disappeared. Trying to quantify the phenomenon:

The researchers then repeated the experiment with several new volunteers, but in this case they tried to make the subjects laugh by telling them jokes. When individuals laughed at the jokes, their H-reflexes de-creased in amplitude by 89 percent---significantly more than when the jokes merely made them smile.

(Anonymous; "Falling Down Laughing," BioScience, 49:940

Comment. Presumably the subjects were firmly seated during all the hilarity. If they had been standing when their calf muscles gave way, the lawsuits received by the Medical Center would not have been so funny!

Who said science was no fun?

From Science Frontiers #129, MAY-JUNE 2000. 2000 William R. Corliss

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