Some people say that laughter is the best medicine, whereas others may argue in favor of antibiotics, erectile dysfunction therapies, and medicinal cannabis. Settling arguments about the comparative value of these therapeutic agents is, however, a topic for another day. This editorial seeks to shed light upon the laughter that involves, or is directed at, us physicians.
A recently published study1 has brought transparency to the previously murky world of doctor jokes on social media.
Why study this topic?
The scientists who conducted the work tell us that there is concern that the status and authority of physicians has been declining for decades. They share the insights that “we do know that generally people tell jokes with the intention of amusing others” and that “Freud argued that humor was a socially acceptable form of aggression in modern life, particularly when directed toward high status or powerful others.”
Thus, these authors assert, doctor jokes may not be harmless, but actually represent aggressive attacks against physicians. Pretty serious stuff!
They go on to reveal that “there is relatively little research on humor in spontaneous conversation” and that the 874 million users of FaceBook offer an opportunity to rectify this sad state of affairs.
The authors’ publication in the Journal of Medical Internet Research studied more than 33,000 FaceBook users and reported that:
- During a 6-month period, 263 users (0.79%) posted a joke that mentioned physicians.
- People with doctor jokes on their pages were the same age as nonjokers, but had larger social networks and were more likely to be divorced, separated, or widowed (p < 0.01).
- In 39.7% of the jokes, the doctor was the target of the humor.
- About half of jokes involving doctors that were posted on people’s FaceBook pages had received “electronic laughter.” Electronic laughter is when people type, for example, LOL (“laugh out loud”) or FOFL (“fall on the floor laughing”). Jokes that made fun of physicians were more likely to elicit an electronic laugh than jokes that did not make fun of doctors, but the difference was not statistically significant.
- Twenty-five percent of the jokes relied on “dirty humor” (defined as including foul language, sexual content, racism, reference to human waste, or that were otherwise in poor taste). People gave these jokes a lot of “likes” on FaceBook.
The authors conclude that their “study provides insight into the use of social networking sites for research pertaining to health and medicine, including the world of doctor-related humor.”