Does one minute of anger weaken the immune system for four to five hours, while a minute of laughter can boost the immune system for 24 hours? The claim is not fully proven: While certainly an uplifting thought, more research is needed on the possible boost that laughter may give to one's health.
The claim has circulated in memes and social media posts for years. The latest comes in the form of a meme (archived here) published by Try Life on January 19, 2020. It opened:
One minute of anger weakens the immune system for 4 to 5 hours.
One minute of laughter boosts the immune system for 24 hours.
Users on social media saw this:
The "feel-good" meme is an encouragement to laugh more and be angry less. So, is the specific claim valid?
A 1995 study from the Journal of Advancement in Medicine looked at the physiological and psychological effects of compassion and anger. The research paper said:
Examining the effects over a six hour period we observed that anger, in contrast to care, produced a significant inhibition of S-IgA from one to five hours after the emotional experience. Results indicate that self-induction of positive emotional states is more effective at stimulating S-IgA levels than previously used external methods. Self-induction techniques may therefore be useful in minimizing the immunosuppressive effects of negative emotions.
According to the researchers, S-IgA is shorthand for salivary immunoglobulin, which "provides the first line of defense against pathogens in the upper respiratory tract, the gastrointestinal system and the urinary tract, and is frequently used as a measure of secretory immunity."
In other words, it sounds feasible that anger has an effect on one's immune functions over a four-to-five hour period. However, the study did not address the role laughter plays in boosting the immune system.
WebMD published an article on April 10, 2006, about laughter, which included a quote from Robert P. Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is also the author of "Laughter: A Scientific Investigation." In the article, he said:
The definitive research into the potential health benefits of laughter just hasn't been done yet.
Some skeptics have raised issues with the specific facts on the meme:
So by this metric you can be angry 5 or 6x as much as you laugh and still break even.-- [email protected]@in (@HUAC2_0) June 30, 2019
Even so, while the memes lack any supporting scientific research to back up the specific claims, a cardiologist wrote in HuffPost that toxic emotions, including anger, could pose health problems:
Expressing anger in reasonable ways can be healthy, but explosive people who hurl objects and yell at others frequently may be at greater risk for heart disease. Prolonged bouts of anger can take the toll on the body in the form of high blood pressure, stress, anxiety, headaches and poor circulation.
The facts on the meme may not be entirely proven, but perhaps it is difficult to dispute the time-honored adage that laughter is the best medicine.