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Last Updated: Friday, 22 August, 2003, 23:00 GMT 00:00 UK
NHS stories: The laughter tonic
Listening to the laughter record
As part of a series of articles BBC NewsOnline reporter Jane Elliott looks behind the scenes of the NHS.

This week we focus on how a laughter tonic is helping patients, staff and visitors cope.

A hospital is probably the last place any one would expect to see the brightly coloured laughing booth, which looks as if it wouldn't be out of place in some seaside town.

But as artist Nicola Green explains laughter is a very important part of well-being.

And she said her laughter booth had been a popular installation at the Royal Brompton Hospital, where staff, patients and relatives were able to get a little light relief from the misery of ill-health.

"On the surface you think that laughing is the last thing you want to do as a doctor, or as someone visiting the hospital or even a patient.

Sign

"But it is one of the most important things.

"Laughing is a sign of coping and even if someone is dying, laughter is a sign of coping. Here there are quite a lot of families who live here with their kids.

"The parents stay here and it is really difficult for them."

Laughter therapy is developing fast
Professor Duncan Geddes, consultant in respiratory medicine at Royal Brompton Hospital

Professor Duncan Geddes, consultant in respiratory medicine at Royal Brompton Hospital, agreed laughter is an important medicine.

"Laughter is an expression of happiness and happiness is good for all of us. It stimulates the body's defences, reduces pain and helps recovery from illness.

"Laughter therapy is developing fast and new research is looking into the ways that laughter happens, how it affects hormones, how it stimulates the brain and how it makes us all healthier and happier.'

Nicola along with Lara Agnew, a filmmaker and video artist, took five filmed portraits of people laughing to the hospital as well as a record of the sounds of various other people laughing.

Visitors could then go into the special booth at the hospital to hear the way different people laugh and see what responses it provoked in them.

After listening to the often infectious laughter many people found themselves convulsed.

Response

Nicola said the response had been very good with everyone having a tale to tell about what makes them laugh or situations where they had found themselves reduced to uncontrollable mirth.

"Everybody's laugh is individual. It is unique to them. The laughs are influenced by a person's sex, their age, their race and their background.

"We looked at how different sounds engendered different responses.

"Everybody laughs, but it is a very complex thing.

"Laughing is one of the first thing we do when we are born along with crying. It is the most powerful form of communication and is the most basic universal language.

"It has been most interesting being in the hospital with this exhibition because you get all sorts of people from the patients and the visitors to the staff."

Nicola explained that children are the least self conscious about their laughter, but she said that as people become older what makes them laugh often becomes more and more complicated.

"Laughter just sweeps across the brain, which is why it is so complex and difficult to unravel.

"If we could get to the bottom of laughter then I think we would be millionaires. Successful comedians have managed to unlock one of the keys."

The booth will be coming back to the hospital towards the end of the year.



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