Skip to main content

Studies of mood and humor appreciation


A total of 189 students in two studies rated jokes on funniness and several other scales after rating their own mood on the Nowlis-Green Mood Adjective Check List. Subjects in Experiment 1 gave a second and third set of mood ratings after their joke-funniness ratings. Three mood factors—surgency, elation, and vigor—reliably predicted joke appreciation in both studies. More tentative evidence linked humor appreciation to concentration, social affection, excitement, freedom, and (lack of) fatigue, but humor appeared independent of aggression, anxiety, tension, and inhibition. Relationships among joke-scale ratings were highly similar for subjects reporting relatively positive moods and those reporting more negative moods. Results were discussed with reference to several humor theories.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Apter, M. J., & Smith, K. C. P. Humor and the theory of psychological reversals. In A. J. Chapman & H. Foot (Eds.),It's a funny thing, humour. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1977.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bergson, H.Laughter: An essay on the meaning of the comic. New York: Macmillan, 1911.

    Google Scholar 

  • Berlyne, D. E. Laughter, humor and play. In G. Lindzey & E. Aronson (Eds.),Handbook of social psychology (Vol. 3). Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1969.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eastman, M.Enjoyment of laughter. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1936.

    Google Scholar 

  • Flugel, J. C. Humor and laughter. In G. Lindzey (Ed.),Handbook of social psychology. Cambridge: Addison-Wesley, 1954.

    Google Scholar 

  • Freud, S.Jokes and their relation to the unconscious. New York: Norton, 1960. (OriginallyDer Witz und seine Beziehung zum Ubewussten. Leipzig & Vienna: Deuticke, 1905.)

    Google Scholar 

  • Godkewitsch, M. The relationship between arousal potential and funniness of jokes. In J. H. Goldstein & P. E. McGhee (Eds.),The psychology of humor. New York: Academic Press, 1972.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hassett, J., & Houlihan, J. Different jokes for different folks.Psychology Today 1979,12(8), 64–79.

    Google Scholar 

  • Koestler, A.The act of creation. London: Hutchinson, 1964.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leventhal, H., & Safer, M. A. Individual differences: Personality and humor appreciation: Introduction to symposium. In A. J. Chapman & H. Foot (Eds.),It's a funny thing, humour. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1977.

    Google Scholar 

  • Maier, N. R. F., A gestalt theory of humor.British Journal of Psychology 1932,23 69–74.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mindess, H.Laughter and liberation. Los Angeles: Nash, 1971.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nowlis, V. Mood: Behavior and experience. In M. B. Arnold (Ed.),Feelings and emotions. New York: Academic Press, 1970.

    Google Scholar 

  • Shurcliff, A. Judged humor, arousal, and the relief theory.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1968,8 360–363.

    Google Scholar 

  • Singer, D. L. Aggression arousal, hostile humor, catharsis.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1968,8 1–14.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wicker, F. W., Thorelli, I. M., Barron, W. L., & Ponder, M. R. Relationships among affective and cognitive factors in humor.Journal of Research in Personality, in press.

  • Zillman, D., & Cantor, J. R. A disposition theory of humor and mirth. In A. J. Chapman & H. C. Foot (Eds.),Humour and laughter: Theory, research and applications. London: Wiley, 1976.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Additional information

The authors would like to thank Carol Pierce, Marguerite Ponder, and Ron Fox for their help with this research.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Wicker, F.W., Thorelli, I.M., Barron, W.L. et al. Studies of mood and humor appreciation. Motiv Emot 5, 47–59 (1981).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Social Psychology
  • Negative Mood
  • Positive Mood
  • Mood Rating
  • Tentative Evidence