Scientific research

The need for joy

Many children struggle to cope with the hospital environment.

The pain, confusion, loss of control, and separation from family associated with medical treatments may lead to Pediatric Medical Traumatic Stress, which can have long-term effects on a child’s physical and mental health (Price et al, 2016). 

Other institutions create similar distress. Refugee and migrant camps are ill-equipped to support displaced children, who are at high risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression (Sirin & Rogers-Sirin, 2015). Depressive symptoms are also widespread in care facilities among elderly inpatients, especially those with cognitive dysfunctions like dementia (Linka et al, 2000).

The difference a clown makes

Healthcare clown research is a fairly new field, with the first study on the impact of clowndoctors conducted as recently as 2005. In that pioneering study, Laura Vagnoli and her colleagues found that children waiting to undergo anesthesia were significantly less anxious if they spent 15 minutes with a clown (Vagnoli et al, 2005). 

Since then, numerous experiments have documented the positive impact of clown visits to children in hospitals (Dionigi, 2018; Sridharan & Sivaramakrishnan, 2016). Children visited by a clown have lower cortisol levels in their saliva, which indicates lower stress (Saliba et al, 2016); they report lower pain during invasive procedures (Ben-Pazi et al, 2017); and they are less likely to need sedation (Viaggiano et al, 2015). 

Not just for kids

Initial studies show that clowns can benefit adults as well (Auerbach et al., 2016), including parents (Agostini et al., 2014) and hospital staff (Barkmann et al., 2013). Healthcare clowning in nursing homes seems to reduce moderate to severe behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia, primarily of the Alzheimer’s type, suggesting that this so-called elder-clowning approach may be a promising tool to improve Alzheimer’s dementia care (Kontos et al., 2016). Taken together, the results of recent studies suggest that healthcare clowning is beneficial for all age groups. 

How the magic works

Existing research shows that humour and laughter promote health at various levels, suggesting that by maintaining a positive emotional state humour may help to sustain a body’s basic health and healing mechanisms (McGhee, 2010). Humour can be viewed as an important emotion regulation mechanism – the positive emotion of mirth accompanying humour replaces negative feelings and experience of adversities, enabling a person to think more broadly and flexibly and to engage in creative problem solving (Martin, 2007).

Commitment to learning

RED NOSES is committed becoming a leading authority amongst clowndoctor organisations, specialising in scientific research on the use and impact of humour within the healthcare, educational and humanitarian sectors. We are committed to build and maintain a “research culture” exploring all aspects of bringing joy and laughter to the sick and suffering.

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