(Garry Wilmore via Creative Commons/Flickr)

(Garry Wilmore via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Laughter can be a valuable communications tool; it can indicate ridicule, humor, joy or maybe just a physical response to being tickled.  German scientists have found these different laugh responses are  handled by different networks in our brains, depending on the specific context of the laughter.

The different patterns of brain connectivity brought on by the various forms of laughter may play an important role in influencing cognitive functions regarding health and disease.

The study’s findings could eventually lead to treatments for people with anxiety or other similar conditions, according to a blog by Brett Smith.

“Laughing at someone and laughing with someone leads to different social consequences,” said Dirk Wildgruber from the University of Tuebingen “Specific cerebral connectivity patterns during perception of these different types of laughter presumably reflect modulation of attentional mechanisms and processing resources.”

Did you know that animals also laugh? But their laughter is a way to socially bond with each other and is based on a primitive reflex similar to tickling.  Human laughter has evolved beyond those simple roots, according to the researchers.

A little boy can’t stop laughing as his Mom tickles him (Sean Dreilinger via Creative Commons/Flickr)

(Sean Dreilinger via Creative Commons/Flickr)

While most people do laugh when tickled, so called social laughter in humans can also be used to convey happiness, derision or other conscious messages to those around us. The researchers involved with this study focused on  participants’ neural responses when they listened to three different kinds of laughter: ones that reflected joy, taunting and tickling.

They found that when people heard sounds of happy or teasing laughter, regions of the brain that process more complex social information were activated. However, those same brain regions were not stimulated by laughter triggered by tickling.

Tickling laughter triggered regions of the brain that are more sensitive to a higher degree of acoustic complexity.

Researchers found the dynamic changes brought on by  various kinds of laughter activated and connected with different regions of the brain.