World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Humor (positive psychology)

Article Id: WHEBN0027127667
Reproduction Date:

Title: Humor (positive psychology)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Positive psychology, Humour, Theories of humor, WikiProject Sociology/Article alerts/Archive
Collection: Humour, Positive Psychology
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Humor (positive psychology)

Two girls laughing.

Humor is defined as “the tendency of particular cognitive responses to provoke laughter, physical reaction, and provide amusement.” Humor is experienced across all ages and cultures. In positive psychology, humor is studied in a variety of functions, particularly as a coping mechanism and as a character strength in the broaden-and-build theory. An empirical definition of humor remains elusive due to its dependence on and variance across cultures. However, humor is correlated with good self-efficacy[1] and resilience.


  • Positive Psychological Theory 1
  • Major Empirical Findings 2
    • Humor and Laughter 2.1
    • Humor and Health 2.2
    • Humor and Aging 2.3
  • Applications 3
  • Conclusions 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Positive Psychological Theory

There are two dominating views and a plethora of methodological approaches to measuring humor. The aesthetic view defines humor as a specific subset of amusing and playful behavior (among wit, sarcasm, irony, satire, and like traits of a comic). The other, more popular view in American psychology conceptualizes humor as an umbrella term for all that is considered laughable.[2]:585 In positive psychology, humor is synonymous with playfulness. One of its marked characteristics is not only laughter, but smiling.[2]:583 Presently, there is no agreed upon terminology and no consensual definition in either psychology or positive psychology.

In constructing methodologies for measuring humor, there are nearly as many measuring systems as definitions. Popular measuring systems include Martin’s Situational Humor Response Questionnaire (SHRQ), which focuses on human mirth in daily life, and the Coping Humor Scale (CHS), which deals more with humor being used as a coping measure for stress.[2]:588 Other important humor scales are the Humorous Behavior Q-Sort Deck, Humor Styles Questionnaire (HSQ), WD Test of Humor Appreciation, and the State-Trait Cheerfulness Inventory (STCI).[2]:589-590 The different humor tests are indicative of the underlying diversity and lack of consensus in defining humor.

Humor itself eludes concrete and empirical definition for a number of reasons which stem from its identity as a trait, underlying behavior, or emotion, and the diversity in which it expresses itself in different cultures and societies. Sociologically, humor expresses itself differently across gender, culture, nationality, age, social setting, and a number of other factors amongst individuals.

Major Empirical Findings

Humor and Laughter

One of the main focuses of modern psychological humor theory and research is to establish and clarify the correlation between humor and laughter. The major empirical findings here are that laughter and humor do not always have a one-to-one association. While most previous theories assumed the connection between the two almost to the point of them being synonymous, psychology has been able to scientifically and empirically investigate the supposed connection, its implications, and significance.

In 2009, Diana Szameitat conducted a study to examine the differentiation of emotions in laughter. They hired actors and told them to laugh with one of four different emotional associations by using auto-induction, where they would focus exclusively on the internal emotion and not on the expression of laughter itself. They found an overall recognition rate of 44%, with joy correctly classified at 44%, tickle 45%, schadenfreude 37%, and taunt 50%.[3]:399 Their second experiment tested the behavioral recognition of laughter during an induced emotional state and they found that different laughter types did differ with respect to emotional dimensions.[3]:401-402 In addition, the four emotional states displayed a full range of high and low sender arousal and valence.[3]:403 This study showed that laughter can be correlated with both positive (joy and tickle) and negative (schadenfreude and taunt) emotions with varying degrees of arousal in the subject.

This brings into question the definition of humor, then. If it is to be defined by the cognitive processes which display laughter, then humor itself can encompass a variety of negative as well as positive emotions. However, if humor is limited to positive emotions and things which cause positive affect, it must be delimited from laughter and their relationship should be further defined.

Humor and Health

Humor has shown to be effective for increasing resilience in dealing with distress and also effective in undoing negative affects.

Madeljin Strick, Rob Holland, Rick van Baaren, and Ad van Knippenberg (2009) of Radboud University conducted a study that showed the distracting nature of a joke on bereaved individuals.[4]:574-578 Subjects were presented with a wide range of negative pictures and sentences. Their findings showed that humorous therapy attenuated the negative emotions elicited after negative pictures and sentences were presented. In addition, the humor therapy was more effective in reducing negative affect as the degree of affect increased in intensity.[4]:575-576 Humor was immediately effective in helping to deal with distress. The escapist nature of humor as a coping mechanism suggests that it is most useful in dealing with momentary stresses. Stronger negative stimuli requires a different therapeutic approach.

Humor is an underlying character trait associated with the positive emotions used in the broaden-and-build theory of cognitive development.

Studies, such as those testing the undoing hypothesis,[5]:313 have shown several positive outcomes of humor as an underlying positive trait in amusement and playfulness. Several studies have shown that positive emotions can restore autonomic quiescence after negative affect. For example, Frederickson and Levinson showed that individuals who expressed Duchenne smiles during the negative arousal of a sad and troubling event recovered from the negative affect approximately 20% faster than individuals who didn’t smile.[5]:314

Humor can serve as a strong distancing mechanism in coping with adversity. In 1997 Kelter and Bonanno found that Duchenne laughter correlated with reduced awareness of distress.[6] Positive emotion is able to loosen the grip of negative emotions on peoples’ thinking. A distancing of thought leads to a distancing of the unilateral responses people often have to negative arousal. In parallel with the distancing role plays in coping with distress, it supports the broaden and build theory that positive emotions lead to increased multilateral cognitive pathway and social resource building.

Humor and Aging

Humor has been shown to improve and help the aging process in three areas. The areas are improving physical health, improving social communications, and helping to achieve a sense of satisfaction in life.

Studies have shown that constant humor in the aging process gives health benefits to individuals. Such benefits as higher self-esteem, lower levels of depression, anxiety, and perceived stress, and a more positive self-concept as well as other health benefits which have been recorded and acknowledged through various studies.[7][8] Even patients with specific diseases have shown improvement with aging using humor.[9] Overall there is a strong correlation through constant humor in aging and better health in the individuals.

Another way that research indicates that humor helps with the aging process, is through helping the individual to create and maintain strong social relationship during transitory periods in their lives.[9] One such example is when people are moved into nursing homes or other facilities of care. With this transition certain social interactions with friend and family may be limited forcing the individual to look else where for these social interactions. Humor has been shown to make transitions easier, as humor is shown reduce stress and facilitate socialization and serves as a social bonding function.[10] Humor may also help the transition in helping the individual to maintain positive feelings toward those who are enforcing the changes in their lives. These new social interactions can be critical for these transitions in their lives and humor will help these new social interactions to take place making these transitions easier.

Humor can also help aging individuals maintain a sense of satisfaction in their lives. Through the aging process many changes will occur, such as losing the right to drive a car. This can cause a decrease in satisfaction in the lives of the individual. Humor helps to alleviate this decrease of satisfaction by allowing the humor to release stress and anxiety caused by changes in the individuals life.[9] Laughing and humor can be a substitute for the decrease in satisfaction by allowing individuals to feel better about their situations by alleviating the stress.[7] This, in turn, can help them to maintain a sense of satisfaction toward their new and changing life style.


Positive psychology in particular holds that humor, as a specific character trait, serves to increase Psychological resilience in coping with adversity and also helps in cognitive development to increase both creativity and generativity by encouraging multiple pathway solutions and analysis of challenges.

To enjoy the benefits of humor, many programs have been designed to cultivate humor and playfulness for use in hospital, educational, and counseling settings, among other places.[2]:596 A representative example is found in Mcghee (1999). In his program, he outlines an eight-step program that encompass a range of difficulties.[2]:597 Although no published data exists on it, Simone Sassenrath reported that a group of adults had increased self-reported changes in humor, playfulness, and positive mood at one month after the end of the program.[2]:597


Humor can serve multiple psychological functions, whether it is conceptualized as a personality trait, a strength of character, a coping mechanism, a world view, an attitude, an emotion-based temperament, an aesthetic preference, an ability and competence, or a virtue.[11] As a character strength and virtue, humor is especially applicable in psychology. Because of the great cultural and individual variation of what people find humorous, and because of the ambivalence of how humor itself is defined in a cognitive and social sense, a great variety of measuring methods have developed for humor. However, despite how the different methods have shaped how humor is measured and its effects, its major correlation with resilience to adversity and long-term creativity and generativity in cognitive development render it an invaluable trait in the field of positive psychology. As a coping mechanism, it is apparent that the merely distracting nature of humor makes other methods desirable for more negative stimuli. Cultivating humor may prove to be a valuable approach to helping individuals strive for happiness and to help cope with daily stresses.

See also


  1. ^ Evans-Palmer, T. (2010). The relationship between sense of humor and self-efficacy: An exploration of the beliefs of art teachers. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A, 70,
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association/New York: Oxford University Press
  3. ^ a b c Szameitat, Diana P., et al. Differentiation of Emotions in Laughter at the Behavioral Level. 2009 Emotion 9 (3).
  4. ^ a b Strick, Madelijn et al. Finding Comfort in a Joke: Consolatory Effects of Humor Through Cognitive Distraction. Emotion, 9 (4).
  5. ^ a b Barbara L. Fredrickson. What Good Are Positive Emotions?. Review of General Psychology, volume 2 (3).
  6. ^ Keltner, D., & Bonanno, G.A. (1997). A study of laughter and dissociation: Distinct correlates of laughter and smiling during bereavement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 687-702.
  7. ^ a b Abel, M. (2002). Humor, stress, and coping strategies. International Journal of Humor Research, 15(4), 365-381.
  8. ^ Kupier, N.A., & Martin, R.A. (1993). Humor and self-concept. International Journal of Humor Research, 6(3), 251-270.
  9. ^ a b c Crew Solomon, Jennifer (January 1996). "American Behavioral Scientist". Humor and Aging Well: A Laughing Matter or a Matter of Laughing?. 3 39: 249–271.  
  10. ^ Shelley A. Crawford & Nerina J. Caltabiano (2011): Promoting emotional well-being through the use of humour, The Journal of Positive Psychology: Dedicated to furthering research and promoting good practice, 6:3, 237-252
  11. ^ W. Ruch, R.T. Proyer & M. Weber "Humor as a character strength among the elderly" February 2010

External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.