Study Reveals Psychological Consequences of Two Distinct Types of Humor in Depressive Patients

Study Reveals Psychological Consequences of Two Distinct Types of Humor in Depressive Patients
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People often say that laughter is the best medicine, but are all humors equal? According to a study published in Nature Science Reportsdespite the fact that many people like to joke about their stressors, non-stress humor is best for emotional regulation.

Negative experiences happen to everyone, but people who have never struggled with depression are able to recover from them much more easily than people who have a history of depression. This is due to a lack of emotional regulation in people who have previously been depressed, suggesting a need to understand and strengthen the emotional regulation skills of this population.

Humor is a widely known positive emotional regulation strategy that previous research has shown can mitigate negative outcomes. Humor comes in different types, some stress-based (i.e. making jokes about the stressor) and some stress-distracting (i.e. making jokes out of topic). This study aims to understand the effects of each of these types of humor on improving negative emotions in people with depression in remission.

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, aged 18 to 65. All participants had to have depression in remission. Participants were randomly assigned to three groups: stress humor, non-stress humor, and non-humor regulation (control).

For this study, subjects arrived at the lab in person and completed self-report measures on emotions, then were 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 result came out ridiculous. For those unrelated to stress, the humorous storyline involved an unknown fictional person. Witness participants identified the positive and negative parts of the scenario.

All participants answered questions and then had a waiting period during which they watched a nature video. After that, they answered more questions about the video and how they reflected on their stressful situation during the video.

The results showed that both types of humor were able to improve emotion, stress, and intrusive thoughts better than the humorless intervention. Despite this, the positive effects of the humor-related intervention are very short-lived, with participants returning to baseline approximately 20 minutes after the intervention. An individual’s ability to use humor in the face of distress is not negatively affected by depressive symptoms.

Researchers speculated that stress-related humor would perform better than non-stress humor, but this turned out to be incorrect. Both types of humor had similar effects on positive emotions, but non-stress humor performed better when it came to improving negative emotions, distress, and intrusive thoughts.

This study made progress in understanding humor as a tool for emotional regulation. Despite this, it still has its limits. One of these limitations is that this research is limited to only the short-term effects of humor, and it is possible that the long-term effects are different. Additionally, this study did not have an intervention that was not humor-based and unrelated to the stressor. Future research could incorporate this.

The study, “Differential effects of stress-related and non-stress-related humor in depression in remission», was written by Anna Braniecka, Iwona Wołkowicz, Anna Orylska, Anna Z. Antosik-Wójcińska, Agnieszka Chrzczonowicz-Stępień and Ewelina Bolek.

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