A ''seriously contagious'' neurological condition causing people to go into spasms is sweeping across Dunedin, affecting thousands of people. But Ana Terry, a student at the University of Otago science and communication, says that the residents need not be concerned, it is just laughter going viral!
In fact, she is making a 10-minute scientific documentary about the effects of laughter, in terms of the neurological effects and what sorts of chemicals are produced in our brain when we laugh.
''This documentary sets out to unpack the neurological science behind this human phenomenon and the wider social/individual benefits we get from laughing, she says. ''We know anecdotally how good it feels to laugh with others, but what is actually generating this feeling is what we need to know, she adds.
Terry has been following members of the Dunedin Laughter Yoga who report that laughing together reduces stress, releases emotional tension, promotes a sense of wellbeing, increases self-confidence, strengthens the immune system and releases endorphins.
Part of Terrys research is talking with scientists and actually identifying through MRI scans what parts of the brain are activated when people laugh, and what sort of hormones and chemicals are being activated that are actually really important for survival.
It's not just about the feel-good factor. There are a whole lot of other social aspects of laughing. Laughter was so infectious that Terry found herself giggling uncontrollably while filming her subjects. ''I've found myself laughing for no reason. It's quite infectious. But people shouldn't be worried about the condition going viral. As far as I can tell, there are no adverse side effects - I think it's all pretty positive,'' she says.