Interactional functions of laughter in assisted reproductive medicine consultations


  • Sarah Bigi Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
  • Amanda Tedone University of Milan
  • Elena Vegni University of Milan



activity types, assisted reproductive technology, discourse analysis, discourse types, laughter, medical discourse


Doctor –couple interactions in the context of assisted reproductive medicine frequently include occurrences of laughter, especially patient-initiated. These have been examined in previous studies from a quantitative perspective and in relation to specific topics, but not as regards the functions that laughter realises throughout the interactions. Our study aims to address this underinvestigated issue by providing an analysis of a small sample of consultations (n = 10) about assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatments. The analysis is set within a discourse-interactional perspective on clinical interactions, which focuses on consultations as advice-seeking activities in which advice-giving is the main discourse type. The consultations have been analysed through structural mapping, which has revealed five main phases: opening, information sharing, problem identification, discussion of the options and closing. Laughter tokens have been identified and their functions are described from the point of view of an incongruity-based framework. The interactional functions of laughter described in this framework, e.g., ‘marking incongruity’, ‘softening trouble-telling’, ‘showing sympathy’, ‘marking irony’ etc., have then been mapped onto the different phases of the consultations, yielding a fine-grained description of when laughter occurs and what participants are using it for. Our study expands on previous analyses of laughter in ART consultations, offering a novel methodological approach that could be applied to larger corpora.

Author Biographies

  • Sarah Bigi, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore

    Sarah Bigi received her PhD in Linguistics from Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Italy, where she is currently Assistant Professor of Linguistics. Her research interests include the analysis of argumentation in doctor–patient interactions, medical consultations as activity types and deliberations in medical encounters. Her most recent book-length publication in English is Communicating (With) Care (2016, IOS Press).

  • Amanda Tedone, University of Milan

    Amanda Tedone received her degree in Clinical Psychology and Neuroscience from Bicocca University, Italy. She is currently affiliated as a clinical psychologist at the Department of Health Sciences, University of Milan, where she teaches occupational therapy. Her research interests include clinician–patient communication, patient education and patients’ illness experiences.

  • Elena Vegni, University of Milan

    Elena Vegni is Full Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Department of Health Sciences, University of Milan. She also serves as the Head of the Clinical Psychology Unit at Santi Paolo e Carlo University Hospital, Milan. Her academic work has focused on clinician–patient communication, patient education and patients’ illness experiences. She is an expert in interaction analysis processes and has particular experience in the application of interpretative phenomenological analysis. With Egidio A. Moja, she is the co-author of La visita medica centrata sul paziente [The Patient-Centred Clinical Consultation] (2000, Cortina).


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How to Cite

Bigi, S., Tedone, A., & Vegni, E. (2024). Interactional functions of laughter in assisted reproductive medicine consultations. Communication and Medicine, 19(2), 99-111.