Can laughter make our lives better? Researchers say yes

April 12, 2018 by Amy Schmitz, University of Arizona
Can laughter make our lives better? Researchers say yes
Credit: University of Arizona

Why do humorous dating profiles get more right swipes? Can being funny help solve problems? Is laughter really the best medicine?

Humor and the "good life" seem to go hand-in-hand. Funny people seem to move effortlessly through the world. Business articles and gurus prescribe as a key to effective workplace performance. The website for the African country of Eritrea even describes humor as "a tremendous resource for surmounting problems, enhancing your relationships, and supporting both physical and emotional health."

"Humor, Comedy and Consumer Behavior," a paper by Caleb Warren, assistant professor of marketing in the UA Eller College of Management; Adam Barsky of the University of Melbourne; and A. Peter McGraw of the University of Colorado's Leeds School of Business, looks beyond advertising to highlight how and when humor helps people reach their goals.

The paper, forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research, breaks people's goals into three broad categories: hedonic goals (maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain), utilitarian goals (optimizing long-term well-being) and social goals (getting along with others). The researchers integrate insights from psychology, management, linguistics, anthropology, medicine and neuroscience to propose a framework that summarizes the current scientific knowledge about humor.

The authors argue that humor appreciation (laughter and amusement) helps people feel better by making positive experiences, such as watching a movie or dining at a restaurant, more pleasant—and negative experiences, such as going for dental work or waiting in line, less unpleasant. Sharing a laugh also can help people bond and get along better.

But humor appreciation does not always improve utilitarian outcomes, such as decision-making or health. For example, laughing tends to make people more creative—but also more careless. Similarly, watching a funny movie may help someone recover from emotional ailments, such as depression or an anxiety disorder, but there is little evidence that humor will help with cancer or even a common cold.

Similarly, comedy production (trying to make others laugh) sometimes helps people reach their goals but other times gets in the way. For example, cracking a joke can help people capture attention, but it also can make a message seem less important.

One notable conclusion from the paper is that the effects of comedy production depend on the type of joke people tell, as well as whether the actually makes an audience laugh. Teasing and telling insulting jokes are less likely to help people cope with loss or navigate an awkward social interaction than joking about the weather or creating an amusing pun. But even jokes about the weather and puns won't help if no one laughs.

Explore further: Relationship success tied not to joking but shared sense of humor, researcher says

More information: Caleb Warren et al. Humor, Comedy, and Consumer Behavior, Journal of Consumer Research (2018). DOI: 10.1093/jcr/ucy015

Related Stories

Relationship success tied not to joking but shared sense of humor, researcher says

February 9, 2017
Here's a relationship tip as Valentine's Day approaches: Study after study affirms that people want a mate with a sense of humor. But it's less about you being a jokester than about finding a style of humor that makes you ...

Study explores why humor is important in romantic attraction

September 3, 2015
Men might want to ditch the pickup lines and polish their punchlines in their quest to attract women, new research at the University of Kansas suggests.

Recommended for you

New study questions use of talking therapy as a treatment for schizophrenia

July 20, 2018
The findings of the first meta-analysis examining the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for psychosis (CBTp) on improving the quality of life and functioning and reducing distress of people diagnosed with schizophrenia ...

Perfectionism in young children may indicate OCD risk

July 19, 2018
Studying young children, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that kids who possess tendencies toward perfectionism and excessive self-control are twice as likely as other children to ...

Younger children tend to make more informed decisions

July 19, 2018
A new study from the University of Waterloo has found that in some ways, the older you get the worse your decision making becomes.

Finding well-being through an aerial, as opposed to ground-level, view of time

July 19, 2018
Do today and yesterday and tomorrow loom large in your thinking, with the more distant past and future barely visible on the horizon? That's not unusual in today's time-pressed world—and it seems a recipe for angst.

Are you prone to feeling guilty? Then you're probably more trustworthy, study shows

July 19, 2018
It turns out your mother was right: guilt is a powerful motivator.

Using an electronic device counteracts benefits of taking a break in nature, researchers find

July 19, 2018
Being in nature helps restore your brain's ability to focus attention on a task. But if you are checking social media on your phone or answering emails on your laptop – even if you are doing so while surrounded by trees ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.