Laughter and humour interventions for well-being in older adults: A systematic review and intervention classification

Complement Ther Med. 2018 Jun;38:85-91. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2018.04.009. Epub 2018 May 1.


Objectives: To assess the potential of laughter and humour interventions to increase well-being in a general population of adults aged 60 plus; and to develop a classification to compare approaches and potential benefits of different intervention types.

Design: A systematic search of Web of Science, PubMed/MEDLINE, PsychInfo, AMED, and PsychArticles used inclusive terms relating to laughter and humour interventions. A realist synthesis approach enabled heterogeneous interventions to be compared pragmatically.

Setting: Five laughter interventions, and one humour intervention, using one or more outcome related to well-being, were considered for inclusion after screening 178 primary research papers. The five laughter interventions, representing a sample of 369 participants, were retained.

Main outcome measures: Well-being related outcome measures reported in each intervention informed efficacy; Joanna Briggs Institute tools appraised design; and a realist approach enabled heterogeneous interventions to be measured on their overall potential to provide an evidence base.

Results: Well-being related measures demonstrated at least one significant positive effect in all interventions. Confounding factors inherent in the intervention types were observed. Individual participant laughter was not reported.

Conclusions: Laughter and humour interventions appear to enhance well-being. There is insufficient evidence for the potential of laughter itself to increase well-being as interventions contained a range of confounding factors and did not measure participant laughter. Interventions that isolate, track, and measure the parameters of individual laughter are recommended to build evidence for these potentially attractive and low-risk interventions. The classification proposed may guide the development of both evidence-oriented and population-appropriate intervention designs.

Keywords: Gelotology; Humour intervention; Laughter intervention; Older adults; Systematic review; Well-being.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Depression / therapy
  • Health Services for the Aged*
  • Humans
  • Laughter Therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life