Nervous Laughter | Reasons & Ways to Control

What is Nervous Laughter?

You might have been in a situation where you have to face embarrassment, insult, anxiety, confusion, discomfort, or stress. You would also have noticed that during such a situation you find yourself laughing uncontrollably. This is what we call ‘nervous laughter’.

In simple terms, nervous laughter is simply a laughing reaction to nervousness. In other words, it is a bodily reaction or a subconscious response of the brain to stress, anxiety, confusion, or discomfort in order to diffuse the severity of the situation.

For example, when your teacher insults you in front of the whole class, and you start laughing; although you do not want to laugh. The teacher warns you to stop laughing, but you cannot help laughing.

A neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran enunciates the above point in his book A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness that; nervous laughter is used as a defense mechanism to guard against overwhelming anxiety.

Similarly, he also states that,

We have nervous laughter because we want to make ourselves think what horrible thing we encountered isn’t really as horrible as it appears, something we want to believe.

An Experiment:

In the 1960s, Yale University’s psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted an infamous experiment. A group of people was asked to give electric shocks to a stranger. The stranger was the researcher himself who was not actually being shocked.

When the shock intensity or voltage was increased, the participants became uncomfortable in giving shocks; but with the increase in the intensity, they tended to laugh more. Thus, the results showed that people laugh at uncomfortable situations.

So, laughing during stressful situations is a normal body reaction. However, it somehow appears really embarrassing and awkward to laugh at an inappropriate situation.

For example, if someone is mourning over the death of one’s loved one; instead of consoling him if we start laughing, this would really be inappropriate and unethical behavior.

Hence, we really need to control this awkward laughter. Although it isn’t easy, yet there are some suggested ways that can really help.

Ways to Control Nervous Laughter

Following are some techniques that can really help you to control nervous laughter.

  • Deep Breathing

As anxiety causes nervous laughter by overstimulating our nervous system and brain; deep breathing during a stressful situation can actually be helpful in controlling anxiety.

  • Diverting Attention

One can also control nervous laughter by diverting attention and start thinking about something ordinary. For example, recalling an incident that has happened in the past; or thinking about future goals; in fact, anything that can help you divert your attention away from the intensity of the stressful situation; can greatly help.

  • Yoga or Meditation

Meditation (Yoga) is a great exercise to enhance self-control. Having self-control means having control over one’s emotions. As nervous laughter is a kind of triggered emotional response, meditation will be helpful in controlling this triggered outburst of laughter.

  • Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is something that either your psychologist will practice on you, or you have to do it yourself. It simply means exposing yourself to a similar environment/setting that would provoke nervous laughter.

All you have to do is to be mindful of what is causing you to laugh, and then try to control it. In exposure therapy, the main idea is to identify the root of the problem and then uproot it.

Bottom Line

In short, nervous laughter is a normal human response to diffuse a stressful situation. However, it can be controlled by practicing the above-mentioned techniques.


You May Also Like:

Somniphobia: Causes, Impacts & Remedies

About the author


A versatile human being with a passion for reading and writing - always striving for growth, living in the moment but trying to keep pace with the evolving world.

Leave a Comment