Laughter is no joke to Kansai University Prof Yoji Kimura. He studies it, measures it, seeks to develop its health-giving potential. He is the inventor of what Yomiuri Weekly (April 13) dubs “the world’s first laugh meter.” He and his fellow laughter-ologists believe that one day the device will one day be standard equipment in hospitals -- perhaps in homes as well. “The time is coming,” the magazine hears from one of Kimura’s academic supporters, “when doctors will carry a portable laugh-meter on their hospital rounds and make observations like, ‘We seem to be a little short of laughter today.’”
If the machine is new, the thinking behind it is not -- witness the almost lunatic laughter symbolizing enlightenment in paintings of ancient Chinese and Japanese Zen sages. In our own day, there is the growing worldwide popularity of “laughter yoga,” which an Indian physician named Madan Kataria began developing in 1995.
But is laughter something you can measure? “The key,” explains Kimura, “is the diaphragm.”
Sensors placed near the diaphragm transmit waves to a computer screen, and these waves apparently reflect not only the intensity of a subject’s laughter but also its sincerity. A genuine laugh, straight from the heart, weighs in at 5 or more “aHs” per second -- the “aH” (read “aha” in Japanese) being the unit of measurement Kimura devised in his quest to quantify laughter.
Fake laughter makes no waves. The sensors ignore it, and the graph-lines on the screen remain unmoved. But laughter is a funny thing -- you see someone else laughing and crack up without knowing what the person is laughing at. It’s infectious. Kimura has tested this too, measuring, for example, the laughter of a subject who caught her laughing fit directly from another subject who was watching a comedy show. The laughter of the subject who wasn’t watching the show struck the sensor no less forcefully than that of the subject who at least would have been able to answer the question, “What’s so funny?”
Shared laughter is the mother-child bond par excellence, Kimura feels, and this month he is launching a project aimed at teaching and encouraging mothers to mine its potential. “Mothers who laugh with their children,” he says, “don’t abuse them.” He is thinking in particular of Suzuka Hatakeyama, the 35-year-old Akita Prefecture mother sentenced last month to life imprisonment for murdering her 9-year-old daughter and, separately, a 7-year-old neighbor boy.
“It may be,” Kimura theorizes, “that Hatakeyama was unable to develop a bond with her daughter because she didn’t laugh with her when the child was an infant.” The lack of a maternal bond was a notorious aspect of the case, Hatakeyama admitting to feelings of repulsion toward the child.
Kimura, 60, dates his interest in laughter to a mountain-climbing expedition he and some friends made 30 years ago. Over a dinner one night consisting mostly of mountain mushrooms they started laughing and couldn't stop. They laughed for three hours. And Kimura started wondering, “Why do people laugh?”
The laugh meter is the fruit of the three decades of research inspired by that question. Yomiuri Weekly is not altogether clear on the connection between measuring laughter and encouraging it. Two possibilities suggest themselves. One is that environments seen to produce the greatest number of aHs per second can be replicated and spread far and wide. Or might it be that, as the measurement of laughter takes root, laughter will come to be regarded as an achievement to be sought and maximized for its own sake, like income and gross domestic product? But remember: the laughter must be genuine to count!© Japan Today