Friday, April 20, 2012

Laughter Therapy and the James-Lange Theory

William James (1842-1910) and Carl Lange (1834-1900) were academics who studied the relationship between emotion and physical changes in the body. In about 1885, they independently proposed that emotion is dependent on two things: physical changes in our bodies and our interpretation of them. They felt that physical changes occur first and subsequently their interpretation. Together, they create the emotion. James is quoted as saying "the perception of bodily changes, as they occur, is the emotion ...we feel sad because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble, and neither we cry, strike, nor tremble because we are sorry, angry, or fearful, as the case may be." (W. James. 1884. "What Is an Emotion?" Mind. 9, 34, 188-205).

The James-Lange Theory has fallen out of favour with psychologists in recent years, but there is some evidence that emotion in some aspects occurs as part of a bodily feedback mechanism in the way the James-Lange theory suggests. Proponents of this idea include so-called 'laughter therapists'. Among these are practitioners of a form of yoga known as Hasyayoga, who believe that fake laughter can trigger intense joy and therefore have beneficial physiological and psychological effects. When I watch the video below, I'm not sure if I'm laughing with him or at him - but in terms of the theory, I don't think that matters.

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