Knock Knock. Who's there? How humour helps our health

Knock Knock. Who's there? How humour helps our health

From graphic clips depicting patients struggling to breathe to groan-worthy puns, governments are trying all sorts of approaches to increase the uptake of COVID-19 vaccines.

But, new research has identified a different approach health messaging can use: humour.

According to the research, injecting some humour into health messages can be especially effective when the information could cause fear, acting as an “emotional buffer” when talking about breast and testicular cancer self-checks, safe sex, skin cancer, and binge drinking.

Leading the study was Elaine Miller, a Scottish comedian and women’s health physiotherapist, and a team of researchers from Monash University.

By analysing 13 studies spanning ten years that looked at how humour was used to communicate serious messages, the team made some interesting findings.

“What we found is that humour can act as an effective vehicle for delivering messages people might find fear-inducing or threatening,” Ms Miller said.

“Humour, if used well, can be an emotional buffer that breaks down some of that fear so the underlying messages reach the intended audience and influence their behaviours and attitudes.”

However, Ms Miller pointed out that “a poorly judged joke can ruin a health campaign’s message, a therapeutic relationship, a gig; or all three at once”.

“Humour is very complex and further research to examine humour and public health promotion is certainly warranted.”

One Australian campaign that mixed humour with a public safety message was created by Metro Trains Melbourne, with their Dumb Ways to Die campaign featuring characters falling victim to a variety of unusual deaths.

“Humour is enjoyable. People are drawn to it - they want to look at it and be part of it,” said Helen Skouteris, the head of Monash University’s Health and Social Care Unit.

“Importantly, this review highlighted that humour can be utilised as a tool to encourage conversation and sharing.

“It’s not just a way to send a message but actually encourages people to talk about it and be open with others, which we believe can lead to influencing society’s perceptions and behaviours around important health prevention messages.”

The study was published online in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.