Report on Psychology Group Meeting - Meeting, Friday, 20 January 2017

We met at our usual time and venue with Judith taking the chair and had the joy of welcoming a new member. Although the lady in question did say that she may not be able to attend all meetings because of other commitments I did assure her that this presented no problem to us. We have no rules against members “dipping in when able and dipping out when not”, I believe our approach should be inclusive and all members are welcome to attend whenever they are able to do so.

As mentioned at our December meeting I did meet with Peter Wilson in January, the representative of the three Wetherby U3A psychology groups, for a hopefully mutually beneficial exchange of resources. Peter was kind enough to come over to us in view of my current mobility problems and I can assure all members that our conversations and resource exchanges were very beneficial, certainly from our point of view and hopefully from Peter’s too. Under ‘matters arising’ I showed our group the considerable amount of video and written material he had given to us and the material, both used and not yet used, that I had given to him. The approach of their groups are somewhat different to our own as they have three small groups each with a leader and Peter as their co-ordinator. They also have a more structured approach than us relying partly on a video based course which they have bought together along with other materials of interest which they have gathered for themselves. As you can imagine this has given me a lot of interesting material to go through and the task, along with any thoughts that members’ might have on this, of how these resources might best be integrated within our own approach. Doubtless this will be a continuing topic for our future meetings and any suggestions would be very welcome.

We then moved on to the topic of our presentation which only occurred to me recently but on which I’m sure everyone has a point of view and seemed appropriate for the cold, dark days of January, namely the ‘science of laughter’. Like most things in life laughter is considered to be so common and frankly so trite as to be hardly worth considering as a serious scientific topic. The scientists that took part, however, including psychologists, anthropologists and neuroscientists, made it clear that laughter had an important social and even physiological that pre-dated speech by well over one million years and was derived from important social behaviour in anthropoid ancestors and was still of great social importance today. From evolutionary theory comes the idea that laughter, a social experience, replaced individual grooming to maintain group relationships and allowed us to increase the possible number of such relationships from around fifty to about one hundred and fifty per person. Through experiments they also demonstrated that after laughter pain thresholds improve due to a rise in endorphin levels in the bloodstream, they also showed that laughter is highly infectious confirming its social importance. To live in larger bonding groups also assists in the division of labour and the development of culture in all its forms. At the partnership level the researchers found that the more couples can laugh together the closer is their relationship and the more likely each is felt to be supported by the other. One researcher has even found that tickling rats stimulates part of their brain associated with good moods to produce a particular chemical which has led to the development of a new drug which may improve mood rather than relieving sadness!

The scientists concluded by saying that comedy and laughter were important to social life and good health there being four main compatible theories of its origins in various situations. They also agreed that what constitutes humour can vary between individuals and over time social norms can change. One needs to remember that one person’s humour can perhaps give offence to another.

John Moore – Group Leader
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