Here’s What the Science Says About Clowns

OK, guys, let’s all just take a step back and a deep breath about this whole clown thing.

Yes, I’ll start by acknowledging the obvious: no one wants to be chased home by a clown wielding a machete.

Still, you know things have gotten out of hand when Ronald McDonald goes into hiding. In fact, clowns everywhere are fearing that 2016’s clown hysteria is going to put them out of work.

Which would be a shame because notwithstanding the odd incident with an axe, clowns do a lot of good in the world.

If you don’t believe me, look at the science. Although people in big shoes and red noses seem like an unlikely research topic, a number of studies have looked at the use of clowns in healthcare settings.

Overall, the picture the science paints is that clowns are an effective way of reducing anxiety in children admitted to hospital as well as their parents. One study found that clowns changed the way children thought of hospitals, perceived invasive examinations, and integrated their experiences into their life narrative. Another found that clown therapy lowered pediatric patients’ blood pressure and pain levels.

Clowns in hospitals can also help adults and the elderly both by raising positive emotions and by lowering negative emotions including stress and anxiety. Among dementia patients in nursing homes, clowns facilitate social interaction.

The potential of clowns in improving children’s hospital experiences has even given rise to a specialized kind of medical clown: the clown doctor. In light of current events, I’ll agree that waiting to undergo a stressful operation and suddenly having a clown enter my room with a scalpel might set me a little on edge, but think of it this way: by infusing the hospital experience with humor, clown doctors make the medical process less scary and intimidating.

Of course, how all this changes as a result of this year’s viral clown scare is anyone’s guess. With schools going on lockdown over clown sightings, it’s going to take a while for clowns to laugh off all the bad PR.

One thing we know for sure, though: despite (or because of) their inherent absurdity, clowns take some of the stress out of kids’ hospital experiences and make the world a better place.

Image: Flickr/Thomas Hawk