Humor in Medicine

Howard J. Bennett, MD


South Med J. 2003;96(12) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Humor and laughter have been a focus of attention in the popular media and in the medical literature. Despite statements about the health benefits of humor, current research is insufficient to validate such claims. There is support in the literature for the role of humor and laughter in other areas, including patient-physician communication, psychological aspects of patient care, medical education, and as a means of reducing stress in medical professionals.

Humor in medicine is not a specialty in the traditional sense. Although admittedly subjective, the study of humor can be divided into the following areas: humor and health, humor and patient-physician communication, humor and patient care, humor and the health professional, humor in medical education, and humor in the medical literature. Although numerous articles have been written about these areas individually, no reviews have been published recently that are representative of the field.[1] Also, because humor is difficult to study, much of what is published consists of authors' opinions or anecdotal experiences rather than well-controlled research. The purpose of this article was to provide a brief overview of the field, with a focus on what is known and not known about the value of humor in medicine. Humor in psychotherapy, not the subject of this article, has been reviewed elsewhere.[2]