Intended for healthcare professionals

Student Editorials

Medical humour

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/sbmj.0309308 (Published 01 September 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:0309308
  1. Clare Hughes, fifth year medical student1
  1. 1Guy's,King's, and St Thomas's School of Medicine, London

Is a good laugh a panacea for all ills? Maybe not, but it certainly can help, as Clare Hughes explains

The term “medical humour” might conjure up images of Patch Adams, Carry On films, or badly told “doctor doctor” jokes, but humour in medicine has more than just entertainment value. The proverb of the Old Testament, “a glad heart is excellent medicine,” illustrates how humour has long been thought to benefit health.1 Much work is now put into studying the therapeutic effects of humour and laughter; journals, such as Humor and the Journal of Nursing Jocularity, are dedicated to comedy and health.

Humour is hard to define; everybody knows exactly what it is, but no two people ever agree.2 Three theories about the anatomy of humour dominate.3 The superiority theory, favoured by Plato and Aristotle, states how we laugh at the misfortunes of those who we think are inferior to us. The incongruity theory describes how the unlikely copulation of ideas causes people to laugh at unexpected events. And in the relief theory, Freud suggests that people laugh to relieve nervous energy.

LEFTERIS PITARAKIS/AP

Patch Adams Pioneer of seeing the funny side of things

Humour and laughter …

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