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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 6 (2009), Issue 2, Pages 271-276
Original Article

Laughter, Humor and Pain Perception in Children: A Pilot Study

Semel Institute at UCLA, 760 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90024-1759, USA

Received 24 June 2006; Accepted 3 July 2007

Copyright © 2009 Margaret Stuber et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Although there are many clinical programs designed to bring humor into pediatric hospitals, there has been very little research with children or adolescents concerning the specific utility of humor for children undergoing stressful or painful procedures. Rx Laughter™, a non-profit organization interested in the use of humor for healing, collaborated with UCLA to collect preliminary data on a sample of 18 children aged 7–16 years. Participants watched humorous video-tapes before, during and after a standardized pain task that involved placing a hand in cold water. Pain appraisal (ratings of pain severity) and pain tolerance (submersion time) were recorded and examined in relation to humor indicators (number of laughs/smiles during each video and child ratings of how funny the video was). Whereas humor indicators were not significantly associated with pain appraisal or tolerance, the group demonstrated significantly greater pain tolerance while viewing funny videos than when viewing the videos immediately before or after the cold-water task. The results suggest that humorous distraction is useful to help children and adolescents tolerate painful procedures. Further study is indicated to explore the specific mechanism of this benefit.