The CAB Abstracts database might not be the most obvious choice for finding out about humour, but as with most subjects, a few well-chosen search terms will pull out some surprises.

Readers should be aware that laughing could be a symptom of manganese or carbon monoxide poisoning, nitrogen narcosis or viral-relatic spastic paraparesis, or consumption of Gymnopilus spectabilis or Ohwaraitake (big laughter mushroom). However, there are several studies showing positive effects of laughter.

As reported earlier in this blog, laughter elevates the levels of breast-milk melatonin. A paper in the Journal of Obesity in 2007 showed that genuine voiced laughter causes a 10-20% increase in energy expenditure (EE) and heart rate above resting values, which means that 10-15 min of laughter per day could increase total EE by 40-170 kJ (10-40 kcal). So rather than going to the gym, rent a funny DVD.

There are several papers in CABI Abstracts focusing on humour therapy. A Nottingham Trent University study showed that humour and exercise had an equally positive effect on psychological distress and positive wellbeing. However, humour exerted greater anxiety-lowering effect than exercise. A six-month study of cancer-patients showed that a 'laugh mobile', a cart which is rolled to patients' bedsides to supply them with humorous books, games and cassettes was an effective resource. Humour can reduce paediatric immunisation distress. Studies also suggest humour can help build social connections between the abled and less-abled bodied.

Another study stressed the importance of “the discursive recourse of "laughter” and how it was employed to manage interactional difficulty during the rock climbing experience.” There’s nothing like the threat of an imminent death plunge to spark off witty repartee, apparently.

A study of soccer players showed that there was a correlation between use of humour and the likeability of the head and assistant coaches. For head coaches, there was a strong relationship between the use of humour and liking the coaches. For the assistant coach, the humour-liking relationship was found to be a moderate relationship. The link between humour and results was not recorded, so the ability of coaches to see the funny side of suffering an 8-0 defeat, and their subsequent likeability, is unclear.

Observations on human behaviour in experimental semistarvation and rehabilitation” from 1948 came up with the rib-tickling revelation that “”humour" dried up " with extreme hunger, and the tone of the group became sober and serious, apart from the exhibition of irony and sarcasm.” The quality of the jokes is not detailed for this research.

A couple of Canadian authors argue that “leisure researchers should give more attention to the psychology of everyday playful behaviours, such as humour, day-dreaming, fantasy, and make-believe.” Some cynics may have thought that’s what they did in the first place.

In the words of two Scandinavian researchers: “Humour is to be regarded as a salutogenic factor. As with other such factors there are reasons to believe that humour is a part of the individual's personality with the possibility of being strengthened by influences from the family, school, and workplace. The use of humour in population-based health promotive intervention strategies is a field lacking evidence-based knowledge.”

It’s the way you tell ‘em.

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