Experts review medical humour suggesting it is no laughing matter

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A recent study, published in BMJ, conducted by Children’s Hospital at Westmead and University of Sydney, and Waltham Forest Child and Family Consultation Service, London, UK suggests that "humour is no laughing matter, and should be taken seriously".

Study authors David Isaacs, clinical professor in pediatric infectious diseases, Stephen Isaacs, consultant child psychiatrist and , Dominic Fitzgerald, senior staff physician in respiratory medicine conducted a systematic review of medical humour, concluding that more studies are needed.

The authors write, "We performed a systematic revue, but it was not funny. We propose a randomised controlled trial of medical humour."

"The responses of joke recipients will be screened. Their facial contours will be examined for increases in creases. Mirth will be measured in grins per milli-titter, gigglebytes, or smiles per hour. Belly laughs are expressed in units called Hertz. Laughter delayed for greater than 30 seconds is not classified as humour. He who laughs last, thinks slowest.", according to the established guidelines for the medical humour trial.


Background information from the study authors includes a history of the introduction of bodily fluids by the Greeks, called the four humours. According to the physician authors, "You would think that a philosophy based on blood, choler, phlegm, and melancholy was no laughing matter". The group has nevertheless decided to take on the challenge of conducting a "randomised fairly controlled trial of humour".

After data is collected, it will be "massaged and tickled and subjected to a Student’s t-hee test with a funnel plot to see if the jokes come out funnelly." - again, according to the study authors.

The medical humour study will include joke telling by physicians to children on the pediatric ward. As a control, another group of physicians "will be asked to save their jokes for their own long suffering children at home. Here is a random joke. "Two cannibals ate a clown doctor. One cannibal asked the other, did that taste funny to you?"

Other highlights from the medical humour pilot study can be viewed at BMJ, and include a sampling about the role of humour from the opthamology, gastroenterology, allergy department, and surgery. You can also find a summary of the ethics guidelines that will no doubt be strictly followed, and also taken seriously for the "randomised fairly controlled trial of humour", that the authors find "no laughing matter".