People often say that laughter is the best medicine, but is all humor equal? According to a study published in Nature’s Scientific ReportsDespite the fact that many people like to joke about their stressors, humor unrelated to stress is the best for emotional regulation.
Side effects happen to everyone, but people who have never struggled with depression can recover from them much more easily than people with a history of depression. This is due to a lack of emotional regulation in people who have been previously depressed, indicating the need to understand and strengthen emotional regulation skills in this population.
Humor is a well-known positive emotional regulation strategy that previous research has shown can alleviate negative outcomes. Humor comes in several varieties, with some humor based on stress (ie making jokes about the stressor) and some humor distracting the stress (ie making jokes that are off topic). This study aims to gain insight into the effects of each of these types of humor on improving negative emotions in people with major depressive disorder.
Study author Anna Braniecka and her colleagues recruited their sample from outpatient psychiatric clinics. Their final sample consisted of 94 participants, 65 women and 29 men, with an age range of 18 to 65 years. All participants had to have depression. The participants were randomly assigned to three groups: stress-related humor, stress-unrelated humor, and non-humorous regulation (control).
For this study, subjects came in person to the lab and completed self-report measurements of emotions and were then encouraged to share their own stressful situations. In the stress-related condition, participants wrote down what they feared and then answered a series of questions until the outcome was ridiculous. For stress-related, the humorous scenario involved an unknown fictional person. The control participants identified positive and negative parts of the scenario.
All participants answered questions and then had a grace period during which they watched a wildlife video. After that, they answered more questions about the video and how much they thought about their stressful situation during the video.
The results showed that both types of humor could improve emotions, stress, and intrusive thoughts better than the non-humorous intervention. Despite this, the positive effects of humor-related interventions are very short-lived, with participants returning to baseline approximately 20 minutes after the intervention took place. Individuals’ ability to use humor in the face of distress is not negatively affected by depressive symptoms.
The researchers hypothesized that stress-related humor would yield better results than stress-unrelated humor, but this turned out to be inaccurate. Both types of humor had similar effects on positive emotions, but stress-unrelated humor had better results when it came to improving negative emotions, anxiety, and intrusive thoughts.
This study has made progress in understanding humor as a tool for emotional regulation. Despite this, it still has its limitations. One of those limitations is that this study is limited to only the short-term effects of humor, and the long-term effects may be different. In addition, this study had no intervention that was not humor-based and unrelated to the stressor. Future research could take this into account.
The study, “Differential effects of stress-related and stress-unrelated humor in remitted depression,” was authored by Anna Braniecka, Iwona Wołkowicz, Anna Orylska, Anna Z. Antosik-Wójcińska, Agnieszka Chrzczonowicz-Stępień, and Ewelina Bolek.