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Pain. 1995 Nov;63(2):207-12.

Humor as a cognitive technique for increasing pain tolerance.

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Bar-Ilan University, Department of Psychology, Ramat-Gan, Israel.


Substantial research has demonstrated that cognitive psychological techniques including distraction can increase pain tolerance. In recent years, there also have been claims that humor and laughter possess unique characteristics for coping with pain and stress. Theoretically, explanations include the release of endorphins, the lowering of tension, as well as the distraction that results from humor. The question is whether humor is more effective than simple distraction. For this purpose humor was contrasted with a repulsive stimulus and a neutral stimulus controlled for interest level, that would also have distraction capabilities but not the unique aspects of humor. Pain tolerance was tested using cold pressor stimulation. Four groups (20 subjects in each) were tested. Three groups were shown a film: (1) a humorous film, (2) a repulsive film, (3) a neutral film. Group 4 was not shown any film. Results indicated that both the humor and repulsive groups showed a significant increase in pain tolerance as compared to the other groups. The repulsive group yielded the largest increase in pain tolerance although not different from the humor group. Except for sex differences, pain ratings did not show any group effects. Discussion focused on the type of distraction that would be meaningful for increasing pain tolerance and on the place of humor in pain control.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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