The Effect That Positive and Negative Humor Has on Stress
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
MULFORD, R. E. (2004). The Effect That Positive and Negative Humor Has on Stress. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 7. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved October 23, 2017 .

The Effect That Positive and Negative Humor Has on Stress
RACHAEL E. MULFORD
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
ABSTRACT
Previous studies have formed a relationship between stress levels and humor. This study tested to see if there was a change in stress levels from watching clips of positive and negative films. 32 students from a general psychology class volunteered to participate in this experiment. They were divided into two groups, one being a high stressed group and one being a low stressed group. Each group had a 50/50 percent chance of getting either a positive or negative clip to view. To access their stress levels skin temperatures was taken with a biofeedback skin thermometer. Their temperatures were taken before and after each video clip watched. It was hypothesized that there would be a difference between skin temperatures and the type of film that was viewed. Results show that there is not a significant difference between stress levels and skin temperature. It did show that there was some reduction in tension within a humorous film with more of a reduction in the positive humorous film. Overall the results did not support the hypothesis and were not significant. A larger sample size is suggested for better and more significant results.

INTRODUCTION
The Effect that Positive and Negative Humor Has on StressEmotions like joy and sadness are common places. Most people have days that are filled with laughter, crying, joyfulness, and sadness. Using the clinical approach, Donnelly suggests that laughter is defined as a reflex associated with the involuntary simultaneous contraction of fifteen facial muscles and the expression of certain irrepressible noises (Donnelly, 1981). We are all equipped to express laughter, but laughter is only one part of expressing humor. There are two types of humor, positive and negative humor. Kwan can define positive humor as equaling a positive state of mind. Positive humor is never hurtful and does not degrade or injure another person emotionally. It is always uplifting and it gives people a temporary release of any negativity that they may be dwelling in (Kwan 2004). Good Humor (not the ice cream) is an excellent way of connecting with other people. A good example of good humor isn’t always slaphappy loud funny jokes that make other people laugh. Humor defined in original Greek as Umor and Umor is defined as being like water, ability to go with the flow, to be fluid and flexible. Good humor then can just be positive thinking and being there for some one that just needs a positive upbeat person around them. Unfortunately, where there is a positive side there is usually a negative side and this applies to humor as well. There are people in this world, unfortunately, that will do anything for a good laugh. Aragon says that if humor is used in a negative way, it can cause hurt feelings, and can be destructive and damaging as well. Aragon describes negative humor as dirty jokes, ethnic jokes and the put-down of others. It can be described as being sarcastic and rude and just plain mean. So many comedians out there make a living on negative humor. They strive to, and live to make fun of other people and it’s degrading, ugly and mean. But, Aragon states that it’s not only in comedy clubs that there is a problem with negative humor. He also states that there is an epidemic among school-aged children to tease and make fun of other kids just to get a laugh (Aragon 2004). Negative humor does make other people laugh, people that aren’t involved with the joke, but it tears people up inside and rips apart their self esteem. Hock states that stress can be defined as anything that stimulates you and increases your level of alertness (Hock 1992). Stress has many causes such as work, work overload, school, poor relationships, family issues, unrealistic expectations or demands, exhaustion, financial worries, and health problems. We are all equipped to deal with negative emotions and several studies have been done on the relationship between stress and laughter. Donnelly’s study on stress and laughter talks about how people who have been forced to deal with the most stressful of stressors sometimes respond with “Gallows’ humor” which is laughing at things that would otherwise make them cry (Donnelly 1981). Safranek and Schill state in their study that there have been various case reports that suggested that humor could help one deal with stress (Schill and Safranek 1982). Kwan says that so many people are filled with sadness, anger, stress, and frustration that those emotions seem to take over. However, if you can put a humorous spin on events, your heart and spirit will soar (Kwan 2004). Previous studies have formed a relationship between stress levels and laughter. The purpose of this study is to see if there is a change in stress levels in viewing clips of positive and negative films. The change in stress levels will be accessed by the use of biofeedback thermometers and the testing of skin temperatures with those thermometers. Any kind of laughter whether it be positively or negatively attached will reduce stress levels but the goal of this study is to see if there is more of a reduction in stress levels according to skin temperature after watching the positive video clips.


METHOD
ParticipantsData were collected from 32 students in one general psychology class from Missouri Western State College. The participants selected a time that was convenient for them to come to the lab and finish the study. There was no control for gender or age. Materials A paper and pencil Life Stress Test based on Holmes and Rahe (1967) was given to each participant to measure the level of stress they have in their life in the past year (see Appendix). Two movie clips were viewed, 15 minutes from Bill Cosby and 15 minutes from Larry the Cable Guy. Skin thermometers were used to test the skin temperature before and after each video on each participant. ProcedureA total of 42 students were surveyed with the Life Stress Test from a general psychology class. Only 32 students completed the experiment by coming to the lab. After the Life Stress Test was given the students signed up on a sign up sheet for a time to come to the lab to finish the experiment. The Life Stress Test scores were calculated and divided up into two groups. One group being a high stressed group meaning there stress score was at or higher than 250 points. The second group being a low stressed group meaning there stress score was at or below 249 points. Each group had 50 percent chance that they would watch either a positive humorous film or 50 percent chance that they would watch a negative humorous film. As participants came to the lab a biofeedback thermometer was taped to their fingers. Three minutes after the thermometer was taped to their finger I had them record their temperature, during those three minutes is when I explained the experiment. Then for fifteen minutes they viewed either a positive or negative humorous clip and then they recorded their temperature again. After all data was collected, scores were compared and a 2x2 ANOVA was conducted.


RESULTS
A 2 (high and low stress score groups) by 2 (positive and negative humor) between subjects factorial ANOVA was calculated comparing the before and after skin temperatures of each participant and the type of video watched, positive or negative humor. The main effect for the high and low stress score groups was not significant (F (1, 27) = 1.587, p = .219). The main effect upon type of video watched, positive or negative humor, was also not significant (F (1, 27) = 1.507, p = .230). Finally, the interaction of skin temperatures and types of videos watched was also not significant (F (2, 27) = .226, p = .638). Thus, it appears that neither the low or high stress scores the type of humor viewed has any significant effect on skin temperatures (see figure). Overall, the results did not support the hypothesis and were not significant. A larger sample size is suggested for better and more significant results.


DISCUSSION
It was predicted that while viewing humorous films that skin temperatures would increase indicating less tension with a stronger increase during the viewing of the positive humorous film. The results of this study showed that the hypothesis was not supported. This implies that there was no significant relation between biofeedback skin temperatures and the type of video watched. Although the results were not significant there was a slight increase in skin temperature with the high stress group, which implies that with higher stressed people the positive humorous film did decrease their level of tension. Kwan says that so many people are filled with sadness, anger, stress, and frustration that those emotions seem to take over. However, if you can put a humorous spin on events, your heart and spirit will soar (Kwan 2004). A limitation to this study was that there was not a big enough sample size to accurately study the effects of positive and negative humor on stress. With a bigger sample size an interaction effect might be found within skin temperatures and humorous films. This study cannot be generalized because there were no significant relationships found. Overall I think that positive humor does have a little effect on stress levels. I also think that for short term release of tension and stress positive humor would be the way to go. Negative humor did not show much of an effect either, but it did decrease some temperatures implying that it increased tension. Although no results were significant it can be implied that any type of humor whether positive or negative does reduce stress. With a larger sample size and with more organization within the determination of the stress groups and what video to be viewed this study could show significant results. Another thing that could be done from this study is to see if there is a difference between male and female stress levels within the type of video viewed.


REFERENCES
Aragon J. (2001-2004). Humor Doctor MD. Retrieved October 21, 2004, from www.humordoctormd.homestead.comCosby, B. (1981). Bill Cosby Himself. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.Donnelly, F. F. (1981). Under stress? Try laughing it off. RN, 44. 40-63.Hock, R. R. (1992). Forty Studies that Changed Psychology. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Kwan, J. (2004). Almost Home: Embracing the Magical Connection between Positive Humor and Spirituality. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina: Cameo Publications.Safranek, R., Schill, T. (1982). Coping with stress: Does humor help. Psychological Reports, 51, 222.Whitney, D. (2004). Larry the Cable Guy: Git-R-Done. Image.


APPENDIX
To find your stress level, circle every experience that you have had in the last 12 months and total the points. 100 death of a spouse 73 divorce 65 marital separation 63 detention in jail or other institution 63 death of a close family member 53 major personal injury or illness 50 marriage 47 fired from work 45 marital reconciliation 45 retirement 44 change in health or behavior of family member 40 pregnancy 40 sex difficulties 39 gain of new family member through birth, adoption, or marriage 39 major business readjustment 38 change in financial state 37 death of close friend 36 change to a different line of work 35 change in number of arguments with partner 31 taking on a new mortgage 30 foreclosure on a mortgage or loan 29 change in responsibilities 29 son/daughter leaves home 29 trouble with in-laws 28 outstanding personal achievement 26 partner begins/stops work 26 starting or finishing school 25 change in living conditions 24 revision of personal habits 23 trouble with boss 20 change in working hours or conditions 20 change in residence 20 change in schools 19 change in recreational habits 19 change in church activities 18 change in social activities 17 major purchase such as a new car 16 change in sleeping habits 15 change in number of family gatherings 15 change in eating habits 13 vacation 12 Christmas or holiday observance 11 minor violation of the law


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Submitted 12/8/2004 12:01:02 AM
Last Edited 12/10/2004 9:37:04 AM
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