As we navigate the impact of the pandemic on our daily lives, our capacity to be creative is essential to reimagining our way forward. This is the last in our series of blogs exploring simple and surprising doorways into higher creativity.

Don’t you love a good laugh? Laughing causes reward circuits in our brain to light up. It boosts heart rate and the production of antibodies, strengthening our immune system. When something is funny, our brain releases Dopamine, relieving tension and increasing motivation, memory and attention. It also improves learning and pain management says neuroscientist Scott Weems.

What most people don’t realize is that laughter can also help us solve problems more creatively. Research shows that when people are in a lighter mood, they have more ‘aha!’ moments and experience greater inspiration. In one study, participants watched either a comedy movie, a horror movie or listened to a complex lecture. Those who watched the comedy performed much better on word association puzzles that followed.

Creative insight is correlated with increased activity in the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) just prior to solving a problem. This region is like a gear that helps regulate attention during problem solving. People in a positive mood are shown to have more ACC activity, which is thought to help prepare the brain to find new and alternative options and solutions. * So taking a break to watch or experience something funny, can be a useful way to help shift people into a brain state primed for innovation.

Humor and laughter is a social phenomenon. (Have you tried tickling yourself?) When we detect someone else’s emotions, mirror neurons in our brain reproduce the same emotional experience in response. ** Have you ever started yawning because you saw someone else yawn?  Fostering humor not only ramps up opportunities for innovation and new thinking, but also fosters team cohesion. ‘ Top-performing leaders are reported to elicit laughter from their subordinates three times as often, on average, as did mid-performing leaders.’ ***

So, consider humor as a way to enhance your capacity to innovate, adapt and foster creative thinking in others.

An ideal and enjoyable experience to kick off team  meetings and brainstorming activities, with many benefits!* “Laughter Leads to Insight” in SA Mind 22, 2, 5 (May 2011) doi:10.1038/scientificamericanmind0511-5a

** Rizzolatti et al (2008). Mirrors In The Brain: How Our Minds Share Actions and Emotions. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-921798-4.