Skip to main content

Does humor moderate the effects of experimentally-induced stress?

Abstract

This study attempted to determine whether humor production moderates mood and physiological responses to stress of subjects high and low in trait humor. Forty subjects who were high and 40 subjects who were low in trait humor were selected. Half of each group was randomly assigned to one of two conditions. In one condition they generated a humorous monologue and in the other condition they generated a serious monologue to a silent stressful film. Heart rate, skin conductance level, and skin temperature were taken continuously for the fifteen minutes before, during, and fifteen minutes after the film. Pre- and post-stress mood and tension ratings were also recorded. Analyses of covariance were conducted with baseline mood and tension as covariates. Compared to the production of a serious narrative, humor production led to lower negative affect, lower tension, and reduced psychophysiological reactivity for both high and low trait-humor groups. These results suggest that humor production may be an effective coping strategy, even for individuals who do not typically use humor to cope with stress.

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

Literatur

  1. (1)

    Holmes TH, Masuda M: Life changes and illness susceptibility. In Dohrenwend BS, Dohrenwend BP (eds),Stressful Life Events: Their Nature and Effects. New York: Wiley, 1974.

    Google Scholar 

  2. (2)

    Paykel ES: Life stress and psychiatric disorder: Applications of the clinical approach. In Dohrenwend BS, Dohrenwend BP (eds),Stressful Life Events: Their Nature and Effects. New York: Wiley, 1974.

    Google Scholar 

  3. (3)

    Rabkin JC, Streuning EL: Life events, stress, and illness.Science. 1976,194:1013–1020.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. (4)

    Millon T, Green C, Meagher R (eds),Handbook of Clinical Health Psychology. New York: Plenum Press, 1982, 377–399.

    Google Scholar 

  5. (5)

    Deaner SL, McConatha JT: The relationship of humor to depression and personality.Psychological Reports. 1993,72(3, Pt. 1): 755–763.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. (6)

    Martin RA, Lefcourt HM: Sense of humor as a moderator of the relation between stressors and moods.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1983,45:1313–1324.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. (7)

    Nezu AM, Nezu CM, Blisset SE: Sense of humor as a moderator of the relation between stressful events and psychological distress: A prospective analysis.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1988,54:520–525.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. (8)

    Baron RA: Aggression-inhibiting influence of sexual humor.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1978,36:189–197.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. (9)

    Berkowitz L: Aggressive humor as a stimulus to aggressive responses.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1970,16: 710–717.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. (10)

    Carroll JL: The relationship between humor appreciation and perceived physical health.Psychology—A Quarterly Journal of Human Behavior. 1990,27:34–37.

    Google Scholar 

  11. (11)

    Goldstein JH, Mantell M, Pope B, Derks P: Humor and the coronary-prone behavior pattern.Current Psychology: Research and Reviews. 1988,7:115–121.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. (12)

    Fry WF, Rader C: The respiratory components of mirthful laughter.Journal of Biological Psychology. 1977,19:39–50.

    Google Scholar 

  13. (13)

    Fry WF: Humor and the human cardiovascular system. In Mindess H, Turek J (eds),The Study of Humor. Los Angeles: Antioch University, 1979.

    Google Scholar 

  14. (14)

    Fry WF, Savin M: Mirthful laughter and blood pressure. Third International Conference on Humor. Washington, DC: 1982.

  15. (15)

    Ribordy SC, Holmes DS, Buchsbaum HK: Effects of affective and cognitive distractions on anxiety reduction.Journal of Social Psychology. 1980,112:121–127.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. (16)

    Mueller C, Donnerstein E: The effects of humor-induced arousal upon aggressive behavior.Journal of Research in Personality. 1977,11:73–82.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. (17)

    Singer DL: Aggression arousal, hostile humor, catharsis.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1968,8(1, Pt. 2): 1–14.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. (18)

    Trice AD: Alleviation of helpless responding by a humorous experience.Psychological Reports. 1985,57:474.

    Google Scholar 

  19. (19)

    Danzer AD, Alexander J, Klions HL: Effect of exposure to humorous stimuli on induced depression.Psychological Reports. 1990,66(3, Pt. 1):1027–1036.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. (20)

    Berk LS, Tan SA, Fry WE et al: Neuroendocrine and stress hormone changes during mirthful laughter.American Journal of The Medical Sciences. 1989,296:390–396.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. (21)

    Safranek R, Schill T: Coping with stress: Does humor help?Psychological Reports. 1982,51:222.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. (22)

    DesCamp KD, Thomas CC: Buffering nursing stress through play at work.Western Journal of Nursing Research. 1993,15:619–627.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. (23)

    Dillon KM, Minchoff B, Baker KH: Positive emotional states and enhancement of the immune system.International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine. 1985–1986,15:13–17.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. (24)

    Martin RA, Dobbin JP: Sense of humor, hassles, and immunoglobulin A: Evidence for a stress-moderating effect of humor.International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine. 1988,18:93–105.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. (25)

    Lefcourt HM, Davidson-Katz K, Kueneman K: Humor and immune system functioning.Humor: International Journal of Humor Research. 1990,3:305–321.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. (26)

    Dillon KM, Totten MC: Psychological factors, immunocompetence, and health of breast-feeding mothers and their infants.Journal of Genetic Psychology. 1989,150:155–162.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. (27)

    Carroll JL, Shmidt JL: Correlation between humorous coping style and health.Psychological Reports. 1992,70:402.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. (28)

    Carver CS, Pozo C, Harris SD, et al: How coping mediates the effect of optimism in distress: A study of women with early-stage breast cancer.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1993,65:375–390.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  29. (29)

    Freidman HS, Tucker JS, Tomlinson-Keasey C, et al: Does childhood personality predict longevity?Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1993,65:176–185.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. (30)

    Rotton J: Trait humor and longevity: Do comics have the last laugh?Health Psychology. 1992,11:262–266.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. (31)

    Anderson CA, Arnoult LH: An examination of perceived control, humor, irrational beliefs, and positive stress as moderators of the relation between negative stress and health.Basic and Applied Social Psychology. 1989,10:101–117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. (32)

    Labott SM, Martin RB: The stress-moderating effects of weeping and humor.Journal of Human Stress. 1987,13:159–164.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. (33)

    Porterfield AL: Does sense of humor moderate the impact of life stress on psychological well-being?Journal of Research in Personality. 1987,21:306–317.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. (34)

    Stone AA, Kennedy-Moore E, Newman MG, Greenberg MA, Neale JM: Conceptual and methodological issues in current coping assessments. In Carpenter BN (ed),Personal Coping: Theory, Research, and Application. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1992, 15–29.

    Google Scholar 

  35. (35)

    Stone AA, Greenberg MA, Kennedy-Moore E, Newman MG: Self-report situation-specific coping questionnaires: What are they measuring?Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1991,61:648–658.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. (36)

    Compas BE, Forsythe CJ, Wagner BM: Consistency and variability in causal attributions and coping with stress.Cognitive Therapy and Research. 1988,12:305–320.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. (37)

    Patterson TL, Smith LW, Grant I, et al: Internal vs. external determinants of coping responses to stressful life-events in the elderly.British Journal of Medical Psychology. 1990,63:149–160.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. (38)

    Wong M, Kaloupek DG: Coping with dental treatment: The potential impact of situational demands.Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 1986,9:579–597.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. (39)

    Fisher S, Fisher RL: Personality and psychopathology in the comic. In McGhee PE, Goldstein JH (eds),Handbook of Humor Research. New York: Springer Verlag, 1983, 41–49.

    Google Scholar 

  40. (40)

    Saper B: Humor in psychiatric healing.Psychiatric Quarterly. 1988,59:306–319.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  41. (41)

    Prerost FJ: Use of humor and guided imagery in therapy to alleviate stress.Journal of Mental Health Stress. 1988,10:16–22.

    Google Scholar 

  42. (42)

    Prerost FJ: Intervening during crises of life transitions: Promoting a sense of humor as a stress moderator.Counseling Psychology Quarterly. 1989,2:475–480.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. (43)

    Prerost FJ: A strategy to enhance humor production among elderly persons: Assisting in the management of stress.Activities, Adaptation and Aging. 1993,17:17–24.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. (44)

    Martin RA, Lefcourt HM: Situational humor response questionnaire: Quantitative measure of sense of humor.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1984,47:145–155.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. (45)

    Glass DC, Lake CR, Contrada RJ, Kehoe K, Edanger LR: Stability of individual differences in psychological responses to stress.Health Psychology. 1983,2:317–341.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. (46)

    Watson D, Clark LA, Tellegin A: Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1988,54:1063–1070.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  47. (47)

    Alfert E: Reactions to a vicariously experienced and direct threat. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. University of California, Berkeley, 1964.

  48. (48)

    Birnbaum R: Autonomic reaction to threat and confrontation conditions of psychological stress. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. University of California, Berkeley, 1964.

  49. (49)

    Gal R, Lazarus RS: The role of activity in anticipating and confronting stressful situations.Journal of Human Stress. 1975,1:4–20.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. (50)

    Dixon NF: Humor: A cognitive alternative to stress? In Sarason IG, Spielberger CD (eds),Stress and Anxiety (Vol. 7). Washington, DC: Hemisphere, 1980, 281–289.

    Google Scholar 

  51. (51)

    Lazarus RS: A laboratory approach to the dynamics of psychological stress.American Psychologist. 1964,19:400–411.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. (52)

    Kuiper NA, Martin RA, Olinger LJ: Coping humour, stress, and cognitive appraisals.Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science. 1993,25:81–96.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. (53)

    Ditto WB: Parental history of essential hypertension and cardiovascular response to psychological stressors. Doctoral Dissertation, Indiana University, 1983.

  54. (54)

    Fredrikson M, Dimberg U, Frisk-Hamberg M, Strom G: Hemodynamic and electrodermal correlates of psychogenic stimuli in normotensive and hypertensive subjects.Biological Psychology. 1982,15:63–73.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  55. (55)

    Henry JP, Cassel JC: Psychosocial factors in essential hypertension: Recent epidemiological and animal experimental evidence.American Journal of Epidemiology. 1969,90:1971.

    Google Scholar 

  56. (56)

    Schneiderman N: Behavior, autonomic function, and animal models of cardiovascular pathology. In Dembroski TM, Schmidt TH, Blumchen G (eds),Biobehavioral Bases of Coronary Heart Disease. Basel, Switzerland: Karger, 1983, 304–364.

    Google Scholar 

  57. (57)

    Devereaux RB, Picketing TG, Harshfield GA, et al: Left ventricular hypertrophy in patients with hypertension: Importance of blood pressure response to regularly occurring stress.Circulation. 1983,68:470–476.

    Google Scholar 

  58. (58)

    Keys A, Taylor HL, Blackburn H, et al: Mortality and coronary heart disease among men studied for 23 years.Archives of Internal Medicine. 1971,128:201–214.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  59. (59)

    Sokolow N, Werdegar D, Perloff D, Cowan R, Brenenstuhl H: Preliminary studies relating recorded blood pressures to daily life events in patients with essential hypertension. In Koster M, Musaph H, Visser P (eds),Psychosomatics in Essential Hypertension. Basel, Switzerland: Karger, 1970.

    Google Scholar 

  60. (60)

    Thomas CB: Genetic patterns of hypertension in man. In Onesti G, Kim KE, Moyer JH (eds),Hypertension: Mechanisms and Management. New York: Grune Stratton, 1973, 67–73.

    Google Scholar 

  61. (61)

    Folkins CH, Lawson KD, Opton Jr. EM, Lazarus RS: Desensitization and the experimental reduction of threat.Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 1968,73:100–113.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  62. (62)

    Lazarus RS, Opton Jr. EM, Nomikos MS, Rankin NO: The principle of short-circuiting of threat: Further evidence.Journal of Personality. 1965,33:622–635.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  63. (63)

    Breznitz S: Incubation of threat: Duration of anticipation and false alarm as determinants of fear reaction to an unavoidable frightening event.Journal of Experimental Research in Personality. 1967,2:173–179.

    Google Scholar 

  64. (64)

    Lazarus RS, Alfert E: The short-circuiting of threat by experimentally altering cognitive appraisal.Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 1964,69:195–205.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. (65)

    Stone AA, Valdimarsdottir HB, Katkin ES, et al: Effects of mental stressors on mitogin-induced lymphocyte responses in the laboratory.Psychology and Health. 1993,8:269–284.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. (66)

    Labott SM, Ahleman SW, Mark E, Martin RB: The physiological and psychological effects of the expression and inhibition of emotion.Behavioral Medicine. 1990,16:182–189.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  67. (67)

    Folkman S, Lazarus RS: An analysis of coping in a middle-aged community sample.Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 1980,21:219–239.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  68. (68)

    Walbott HG, Scherer KR: Stress specificity: Differential effects of coping style, gender, and type of stressor on autonomic arousal, facial expression, and subjective feeling.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1991,61:147–156.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. (69)

    Saper B: Humor in psychotherapy: Is it good or bad for the client?Professional Psychology—Research and Practice. 1987,18:360–367.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. (70)

    Newman MG, Stone AA: Humor as a moderator of physiological responsiveness to stress. American Psychological Association. Boston, MA: August 1990.

    Google Scholar 

  71. (71)

    Lazarus RS:Psychological Stress and the Coping Process. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michelle Gayle Newman Ph.D..

Additional information

The authors gratefully acknowledge Louis Castonguay, Ph.D. and C. Barr Taylor, M.D. for their editorial assistance.

About this article

Cite this article

Newman, M.G., Stone, A.A. Does humor moderate the effects of experimentally-induced stress?. Ann Behav Med 18, 101–109 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02909582

Download citation

Keywords

  • Skin Temperature
  • Skin Conductance Level
  • Tension Index
  • Humor Group
  • Humor Production