Medical clown DuSH the clown in Jerusalem hospital Medical clown DuSH the clown in Jerusalem hospital Medical clown David Barashi 'DuSH the clown' interacts with a child as part of the 'Dream doctors project' at the Hadassah Hospital on June 18, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo: Uriel Sinai / Getty Images)

More evidence that laughter is the best medicine

New study shows that medical clowns help kids suffer less pain during tests.

Having clowns present during allergy tests reduces anxiety and pain levels in children, a new study shows, proving that laughter is indeed the best medicine.

Nearly 100 children, ages 2 to 17 years old, participated in the study at Tel Aviv University; 45 of them were accompanied by a medical clown to an allergy skin prick test while the other 46 were not (children with coulrophobia – fear of clowns – were excluded from the study). 

Researchers found that the presence of a medical clown significantly reduced the children’s anxiety and also lessened their physiological response to pain. The TAU study was also the first to assess the presence of medical clowns during skin prick allergy testing. 

"Our research group is comprised of experienced allergists," said Professor Arnon Goldberg of TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Meir Medical Center, "so we all knew that children, and occasionally their parents, express deep anxiety and fear of the skin tests. We wanted to see what could be done to improve the situation."

"Our work offers a better method for easing the pain and anxiety induced in children by these tests,” Goldberg said. “Children and parents will definitely benefit from the contribution of medical clowns to stressful medical tests like the skin prick test."

Response to skin pricks was significant to the allergy science community because it's the primary means of diagnosing children for allergies and other illnesses.

TITo the clown in Jerusalem hospitalMedical clown Moshe Twito "TITo the clown" interacts with a child as part of the Dream Doctors Project at Hadassah Hospital on June 24, 2013, in Jerusalem. Established in 2002, Dream Doctors now operates at 20 hospitals throughout the country. (Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

The Tel Aviv University research, which was also led by Dr. Ronit Confino-Cohen, corroborates recent findings that clowns and other laughter-inducing techniques can play an important role in children’s medical treatment. One recent study showed that the presence of medical clowns reduced children’s pain during procedures performed in the emergency department of a hospital.

Indeed, the TAU study found that the presence of medical clowns reduced parents’ anxiety, too. 

In Israel, clowns in the hospital are a regular fixture, and they are meant to soothe the fears of both child and parent. “I was in the hospital with my 4-week-old baby for an infection,” Elana Frank, a mother of two who was living in Israel at the time, recalled to From The Grapevine. “My husband was moving our house an hour away, and once we knew that the baby was OK, I was in the hospital alone. I was scared, tired and out of my element. The medical clowns literally gave me therapy. They listened to me, made me laugh and helped give me some perspective on my situation.”

Medical clown DuSH the clown in Jerusalem hospital 2Medical clown David Barashi "DuSH the clown" interacts with a child. (Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)

The presence of clowns in hospitals throughout the world has increased in recent years, and this has led to an uptick in research as to their effectiveness. 

“One interesting recent study found that clowns are more beneficial for older kids and particularly when their parents are in the room,” Dr. Elan Barenholz, associate professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University, told From The Grapevine. “This suggests that the benefit of clowns may be not because they entertain kids per se, but because they send a signal that the situation isn’t so serious after all.” 

This is especially true with older children. “This may be specific to older kids who can tune in to their parents' state of mind as well," Barenholz said. "When these kids see that the adults in the room – including their parents – are participating in some silliness, they see this as a sign that they can lighten up, which can take the edge off what can otherwise be a very frightening and somber experience.”

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