"Long before it's in the papers"
January 28, 2015


Humor beats disease, researchers find

Dec. 12, 2006
Courtesy Norwegian University of Science and Technology
and World Science staff

Sci­en­tists are re­port­ing what they say is most di­rect ev­i­dence to date that hav­ing a sense of hu­mor can save your life.

Peo­ple hit by se­vere dis­eases have bet­ter sur­viv­al chances if they can laugh eas­i­ly, ac­cord­ing to the stu­dy, pub­lished in the cur­rent is­sue of The In­ter­na­tion­al Jour­nal of Psy­chi­a­try in Med­i­cine.

De­tail from The Laugh­ing Au­di­ence by Wil­liam Ho­garth (1697-1764).

The sci­en­tists are from the Nor­we­gian Uni­ver­si­ty of Sci­ence and St. Olav’s Hos­pi­tal in Trond­heim, Nor­way. 

To re­cruit par­ti­ci­pants for the stu­dy, the re­search­ers in­vit­ed all pa­tients known to have chron­ic kid­ney fail­ure dur­ing a re­cent Jan­u­ary in Sør-Trøn­de­lag Coun­ty, Nor­way, where Trond­heim lies. 

The pa­tients, se­verely ill, de­pended for sur­viv­al on week­ly di­al­y­sis, which cleans the blood of sub­stances that the kid­neys would nor­mal­ly fil­ter out. “This di­ag­no­sis is a life-threat­en­ing con­di­tion that calls up­on cop­ing skills and reg­u­lar di­al­y­sis,” the in­vest­i­ga­t­ors wrote. 

For­ty-one of these 52 in­vi­tees joined the stu­dy, for which they an­swered ques­tions about their age, gen­der, educa­tion and qual­i­ty of life. They al­so an­swered ques­tions de­signed to gauge their pro­pen­si­ty to laugh. For in­stance, a ques­tion would de­scribe a sit­u­a­tion that dif­fer­ent peo­ple might see as either com­i­cal or an­noy­ing; the part­i­ci­pant would be asked whe­ther he or she would like­ly laugh.

If the pa­tient be­longed to the half of the group that scored high­er on sense of hu­mour, he or she “in­creased their odds for sur­viv­al by on av­er­age 31 per­cent,” in­de­pend­ent­ of oth­er known health char­ac­ter­is­tics, the re­search­ers wrote.

Pre­vi­ous research has found that laugh­ter may be good for the heart. In 2000, car­di­ol­o­gists at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mar­y­land Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Bal­ti­more an­nounced that they had found heart dis­ease pa­tients were 40 per­cent less like­ly to laugh in a va­ri­e­ty of sit­u­a­tions com­pared to peo­ple of the same age with­out heart dis­ease.

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Scientists are reporting what they call most direct evidence to date that a sense of humor saves lives. The ability to laugh easily boosts the chances of survival for people hit by severe diseases, according to the study, published in the current issue of The Inter national Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine. The scientists are from the Norwegian University of Science and St. Olav’s Hospital in Trondheim, Norway. To recruit partici pants for the study, the researchers invited all patients known to have chronic kidney failure during one January in Sør-Trøndelag County, Norway, which includes Trondheim. The patients were severely ill and depended for survival on weekly dialysis, which cleans the blood of substances that the kidneys would normally filter out. “This diagnosis is a life-threatening condition that calls upon coping skills and regular dialysis,” they wrote. Forty-one of these 52 invitees joined the study, for which they answered to questions about their age, gender, education and quality of life. They also answered questions designed to gauge their propensity to laugh. For instance, a question would describe a situation that might be seen as comical, and ask whether the respondent would be likely to laugh at it. If the patient belonged to the half of the group that scored higher on sense of humour, they “increased their odds for survival by on average 31%,” independently of other known factors affecting health, the researchers wrote. Previous studies have found that laughter may be good for the heart. For instance, research by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore in 2000 found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease.