Humorous Essays and Research Papers

Instructions for Humorous College Essay Examples

Title: Identifying variables

  • Total Pages: 1
  • Words: 388
  • References:4
  • Citation Style: APA
  • Document Type: Essay
Essay Instructions: Use the following information to ensure successful completion of the assignment:

In a study investigating the effects of humor on memory, Schmidt (1994) showed participants a list of sentences, half of which were humorous and half were non-humorous. Schmidt found that participants consistently recalled more of the humorous sentences than the non-humorous sentences, demonstrating that the use of humor increased participants’ recall of sentences.

Prepare this assignment according to the APA guidelines. An abstract is not required.
In as essay of 250-500 words, thoroughly address the following items:

Define the term independent variable and identify the independent variable for this study.
Describe the scale of measurement used for the independent variable.
Define the term dependent variable and identify the dependent variable for this study.
Describe the scale of measurement used for the dependent variable.
Provide an example of a simple study using Schmidt (1994) as a model. State the purpose of the research (Schmidt’s purpose was to examine the effects of humor on memory), the research question (Schmidt's research question was: What are the effects of humor on memory?), the independent variable, and the dependent variable for your study.

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Works Cited:

Schmidt, S. & Williams, A. (2001). Memory for humorous cartoons. Memory & Cognition. Vol. 29 (2) 305-311.

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Title: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

  • Total Pages: 2
  • Words: 579
  • Works Cited:0
  • Citation Style: MLA
  • Document Type: Research Paper
Essay Instructions: Write an essay analyzing how humorous scenes in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn underscore serious scenes and contribute to the work as a whole. Keep the essay as simple as possible but don't go too much into the plot.

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Title: Humor and Violence in U.S. Literature and Society

  • Total Pages: 4
  • Words: 1160
  • Bibliography:6
  • Citation Style: MLA
  • Document Type: Essay
Essay Instructions: Writer’s Username: Serban

I want you to use these 4 pages to add as much REFERENCES/QUOTES, throughout the whole essay (provided below), to/from the scholarly sources used in this essay as possible. Try to add different quotes from the texts/journals used as a cited work (six sources listed in the end of the essay), so that it will be clear that you used them. When use quotes from the texts, please use MLA format, indicate the text and page number. Quotes need to be followed or supported by an appropriate analysis (avoid at any cost uncritical summary!). You can either modify the existing passages by adding quotes/references and their analysis or add additional passages. I want you to distribute them THROUGHOUT the WHOLE essay, i.e. so that there will be enough quotes/references in the beginning, body and the conclusion of the essay. I want you to provide proper context (introduce characters and circumstances, providing the details necessary to understand and follow your points). Supporting all claims with specific details and examples (claims are empty without evidence). Define your terms; know your terms. I also want you to indicate the general argument/thesis in the beginning of the essay. The beginning of the essay needs to be restructured in the following way: 1)Hook: an interesting first statement that draws attention. 2)Introduction: including a central thesis and a preview/map of the speech.

To summaries everything, I want you to use these 4 pages to add different quotes/references from the texts/sources to this essay and modify the beginning (as it was explained above). The essay itself is good, but it lacks quotes/references and the beginning needs to be restructured.

Below is the actual essay:

Humor and Violence in U.S. Literature and Society

Humor and violence have always been best-selling products, and, most people from around the world are aware that the American society has benefited greatly from exploiting the two. It is surprising how people can enjoy the presence of violence in their everyday lives, reading books that involve violence and watching movies that show a degrading part of their society. It is virtually impossible for one today to attempt to escape violence, since it is present in most of the media and all over the country. In contrast to violence, humor is clearly something that is less likely to affect society in a bad way, as it is pleasant and it induces a beneficial state of mind into people. The American literature is also known to have taken advantage of humor and violence over the years, as writers became acquainted with the fact that it is advantageous to write about matters which readers get pleasure from.
From the beginning of time, humankind has been addicted to certain matters that they considered to be stimulating. Humor and violence had been just two of the factors that brought enjoyment to people. Humor influences the brain in ordering the body to make chemical reactions that make people happy. What is curious is that in spite of the fact that humor is apparently inoffensive, it tends to link to violence when it is exaggerated. Jokes can also be offensive, in spite of their cheerful character, and, moreover, humor can have side-effects, appearing to be insulting to some people even with the fact that it is satisfying to others. Jokes are harmful in situations when they are directed against certain people or groups, and, in those cases, their intended purpose presumably is to increase the superiority of the people telling them.
Humor needs to be analyzed on a social level, in order for its effects to be exclusively beneficial. One needs to consider all of the factors involved in a situation in which he or she would involve humor. Also, they would have to make sure that such an action would not seem offensive towards others.
Although it is intended to refer to society and its misdemeanor, satire cannot be considered to be offensive, since there is a small probability that it will produce any resentment in people. A good example of the American society giving birth to something that is funny and enjoyable, despite its satirical character, is Charlie Chaplin.1 In times when movies were something new to the American public, the English actor succeeded in making it addicted to him and to his movies. His merit is also largely owed to the scriptwriters and to the movie directors that invested hard work in making the respective movies. Even with his obvious success among the American public, there still are a number of critics believing that the characters played by Charlie Chaplin had been too vulgar for the period.
Satirical movies did not only go at condemning society in general, as movies have gone against great leaders, with no regard to the effects that they will have. The Great Dictator (1940) is but an example of Chaplin’s movies criticizing an entire regime. While the U.S. government had been reluctant when concerning their entering the war, The Great Dictator (1940) had a strong influence on destabilizing the balance between Nazi Germany and the U.S., which were then at peace.
Humor seems to be more appealing when it is used in movies than when it is used in books and articles. This is believed to be occurring because of the fact that the ordinary man finds satire and parodies to be more amusing than the normally harder to understand humor found in books and articles. Society’s problems are the issues by and large being presented by humorists, and, in spite of the fact that a lot of people are not interested in analyzing the respective problems, they can’t help letting out a smile when they come across such writings.
While humor is considered to be pleasurable due to the feelings that it triggers, it is a mystery why violence is also enjoyed by people. It might be because of the fact that it scares them so much in the real life. When concerning violence and the U.S., any amateur moviegoer will most probably relate to American Psycho. The movie’s story involves an accomplished young American murdering people randomly, with no regard to the effect that his actions have on society. Consequent to watching such movies, the audience returns home, where they presumably live safely ever after. However, what is disturbing is that a number of people are influenced by films that involve killing. It often happens that people attempt to replicate what they see in movies, identifying themselves with the killers. In addition to movies, books have also been recognized as having turned people into psychotic killers. In addition, the fact that movies have a much wider public makes it easier for people to be manipulated by them.2
People have become passionate about watching TV, and, as a result, they have begun to look upon certain elements from their daily lives differently. Most people consider TV to be a good source of information, and, as a result, they find themselves following several wrong examples that they see on TV. Violence is one of the most popular issues on TV, as some channels picture it most of the time. People have become less interested in TV in the recent years because they have learnt to filter the information that they had been receiving from the device. In the present day, it is believed that most people choose only what is good from the media. However, certain elements can act as camouflage for violence, and, whereas people believe that they are actually watching something that brings them relief, they are also receiving malicious information relating to violence.
The masses generally believe that violence receives too much coverage in the media, but, when it appears in an amusing context, it is believed to be less unpleasant. It seems that violence actually has a better effect on people when it is meant to represent something that is humorous. The fighting in cartoons, for example, is considered to have little to do with actual violence, as the public is less likely to be influenced by what they see there. The slapstick acts in the Charlie Chaplin movies are also believed to be perfectly normal, since they do not exhibit wrongdoings and there is a small possibility that people would become more aggressive consequent to viewing such scenes.3
While violence has been a subject that American writers had generally preferred to avoid writing about, it slowly became captivating to them. The result of comedy being introduced to violence had created a whole new chapter in American literature. In spite of its obvious malicious character, violence became superior and more enjoyable. A pie being thrown in the face, for example, involves both violence and humor. However, the final product is something that the public would most certainly consider to have little to do with violence. When embracing humor and violence, a text modifies genres, making humor seem more amazing and violence seem more sudden. While the readers might find a certain violent episode from a book appear to be too disturbing, a similar episode might be regarded as being less upsetting when it is tied to a humorous situation in a different book.
While most individuals are aware of the fact that guns (movies, books, articles, etc.) do not kill people because people kill people, it is almost impossible to believe that all killers act from their own will, without having been influenced by a certain thing. The American society has had a lot to suffer as a result of people being addicted to violence, with it being present in the everyday American life. Violence is becoming more and more common among Americans, and, while the issue can also be related to globalization, and, to the presence of technology, it is rather difficult for people to fail from observing that literature and the media have a lot to do with it.
Jokes generally depend on the moment and place when they are told, as the circumstances are critical when considering the influence that humor has on the surrounding persons. When the person making a joke is presented with an appropriate public for the joke, the performance would most certainly improve the atmosphere. In order for the surrounding public to be appreciative towards the person making the joke, the joke needs to be open minded, without it being in any way offensive.
Ethnicity has a lot to do with humor, as people have always taken advantage of the differences that they saw in others to play jokes on the respective individuals. It is extremely complicated for an American to claim that his or her bloodlines link them to the U.S., since most families have moved here in the recent centuries. Because of its ethnic diversity, the territory stands as an almost perfect ground for jokes involving ethnicity. Ethnic jokes are generally accepted by the general public, with people considering them to release violent feelings, thus making possible the peaceful coexistence of tens of millions of people.
While people formerly believed that it had been perfectly natural to lose your national identity once you became an American, ethnic groups gradually became determined to express their individuality through every method that they could find. People are no longer willing to have themselves melting in a pot of Americanization, as they are reluctant to change their customs in favor of American ones. Along with this performance, ethnic jokes are likely to become history, as people consider them to be an offense.
Sherman’s Alexie’s book, Flight, involves a lot of violence, and, despite of the book’s dramatic nature, it manages to raise a smile on people’s faces from time to time, as the story also includes humorous moments. Some people might consider the book to be difficult to swallow by teenagers, considering the fact that it includes a great deal of violence that is likely to have its readers being affected by it. The language and the sexual situations also contribute in having the book appear to be containing too much for one that did not become an adult. Even with that, children over 13 will most certainly enjoy the book, considering that Zit, the main character, definitely has a remarkable nature. The author almost perfectly manages to describe the general feelings experienced by a teenager.
In spite of the fact that Zits undergoes situations including extreme violence, the readers are less expected to consider the book to influence them in commiting acts of aggression. Similar to how it is in cartoons and in Charlie Chaplin movies, this violence falls into obscurity because of the story and because of the entertaining situations that it describes.
After the War of Independence, people largely believed that there had been nothing original in the U.S., considering the fact that most of the culture present here had been brought from Europe. In the nineteenth century, however, Americans gradually started to overthrow the monopoly owned by the British in literature. The so-called British wit, mostly used by American writers until the time, started to weaken its influence in America. The writers in Northern America began to develop a new style of involving humor into writing, and, thus, a national identity had arisen in American literature.4
Writers such as Charles Dickens returned to England dissatisfied with what they had witnessed, as they considered their American peers to have developed an unbalanced sense of humor. They believed that the Americans had used issues such as brutality and anger in writing humorous texts.5 This had most probably been a result of the Englishmen failing to understand the humor, since it had mostly differed from their British wit. Moreover, the English writers had been appalled at the fact that the Americans produced humorous writings for the masses, instead of chasing a particular audience.
Humor is very important when considering a certain nation’s character and, the American writers had been determined to create their own identity. Apparently, in order for it to be good, humor needs to involve anarchism and facts that go against society’s beliefs.6 Taking into reflection the fact that violence is something harshly condemned by society in general, it is only normal for humorists to attempt to present it in a different light. The public enjoys violence when it is presented under an amusing light, and this shows through the appreciation that they show to writers that link the two genres.
People generally believe that humor had been officially introduced into the American literature with the help of Washington Irving. Nineteenth century writers turned their attention toward humor writing and, as a result, a great number of American writers became famous during the time. Critics believe that the American literature owes a large amount of its success to the people writing humor in the nineteenth century. Even with that, a number of critics appeared to be discontent with the performance, considering it to have brought little benefits to the U.S. as a whole. The reason for their dissatisfaction had been the fact that the Southern writers directed the humor towards the lower class of society, intending to only have the upper class profit from the exploit. In opposition to their coworkers, certain writers started to write differently, and one particular writer, Mark Twain, presented the Southern society exactly as it had been, bettering the image of the African American by presenting Jim’s character.7 It is intriguing how sadistic humor can work so well in a seemingly modern society, and, furthermore, it is curious how people can accept and even become fond of humor of which they are aware that it indirectly affects others.
When bearing in mind violence, it is always easier to make it acceptable when the aggressors are being presented in more optimistic words than their targets. One cannot help admiring Zit, for example, even with the fact that the character is an outlaw and had performed a series of illegalities across his life. It appears that literature had a greater deal of violence involved in its humor-related writings at times when the American society went through difficult moments. One can deduce that it had been the violence in literature that had partly influenced the hard times experienced by the Americans. However, it can also be possible that people have actually been influenced by the respective writings to go over the periods easier than they would have done if literature had not touched the topic.
Whether it is something in its character, or whether there is some other presently unknown reason for the act, the American society embraces humor and violence whenever the genres are linked together. Horror movies have experienced an impressive success until the nineties. However, the public had begun to show less interest in the genre consequent to the period. Intriguingly, however, there developed a need for movies that involved both horror and humor. Movies such as Beetlejuice, The Adams Family, and Scary Movie had brought something that the audience had desperately yearned for.
Violence and humor are two genres that presumably have nothing to do, and, people are less likely to be scared and amused in the same time. It is certainly a mystery how these two genres can be linked together, and, furthermore, it is strange that they are enjoyed by people.
While the general public accepts and even welcomes literature when it includes both violence and humor, some critics believe that the writings are harming society. Apparently, a part of the violence present in society is owed to the violence present in literature under a gentler form. This gentler form of violence is considered to be attractive toward a greater number of people that irresponsibly absorb the things that they read and later attempt to recreate them in real life. In spite of the fact that it is almost impossible for a normal person to believe such a claim, it is actually real. Children and generally people that are inexperienced associate violence with humor subsequent to reading from the genre. As a result, they tend to believe that it is perfectly normal for them to act similar to the characters from the writings that they read.
All in all, violence and humor is something that the American public will always appreciate, regardless to the fact that the association has lead to a number of unfortunate events over the years. It is less likely that the genre will disappear in the following years, taking into consideration the fact that the U.S. literature has built part of its identity on it.

Works cited:
1. Berger, Arthur Asa. (1999). “An Anatomy of Humor”. Transaction Publishers.
2. Dupre, Anne P. “Violence, Depravity, and the Movies: The Lure of DEVIANCY”. USA Today (Society for the Advancement of Education), Vol. 127, January 1999.
3. Piacentino, Edward J. Inge Thomas M. (2001). “The humor of the Old South”. University Press of Kentucky.
4. Potter, James W. Warren, Ron. “Humor as Camouflage of Televised Violence”. Journal of Communication, Vol. 48, 1998.
5. Sherman, Alexie. (2007). “Flight”. Black Cat.
6. Walker, Nancy A. (1998). “What's so funny?: humor in American culture”. Rowman & Littlefield.

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Title: Physiological Psychology

  • Total Pages: 3
  • Words: 1026
  • Sources:0
  • Citation Style: MLA
  • Document Type: Research Paper
Essay Instructions: Physiological Psychology - Essay Assignment

For this assignment, select a feature article from Scientific American from the last few years and summarize its main points in an essay. (Feature articles are referred to on the cover and are at least 5 pages long) The article must be on some aspect of physiological psychology, but other than that you are free to choose whatever feature article you wish. In the last paragraph or two, describe your own reaction to the article. Your essay must be 3 full pages long, not counting the title page. It should use 12-point font, have standard margins, and use 1.5 line spacing.

Your grade will be based on the comprehensiveness of the summary, the quality of your writing, the depth of you thinking, and ability to follow directions.

Scientific American Mind - March 25, 2009

How Humor Makes You Friendlier, Sexier
Seeing the bright side of life may strengthen the psyche, ease pain and tighten social bonds
By Steve Ayan

Norman Cousins, the storied journalist, author and editor, found no pain reliever better than clips of the Marx Brothers. For years, Cousins suffered from inflammatory arthritis, and he swore that 10 minutes of uproarious laughing at the hilarious team bought him two hours of pain-free sleep.

In his book Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient (W. W. Norton, 1979), Cousins described his self-prescribed laughing cure, which seemed to ameliorate his inflammation as well as his pain. He eventually was able to return to work, landing a job as an adjunct professor at the School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he investigated the effects of emotions on biological states and health.

The community of patients inspired by such miracle treatments believes not only that humor is psychologically beneficial but that it actually cures disease. In reality, only a smattering of scientific evidence exists to support the latter idea—but laughter and humor do seem to have significant effects on the psyche, even influencing our perception of pain. What is more, psychological well-being has an impact on overall wellness, including our risk of disease.

Laughter relaxes us and improves our mood, and hearing jokes may ease anxiety. Amusement’s ability to counteract physical agony is well documented, and as Cousins’s experience suggests, humor’s analgesic effect lasts after the smile has faded.

Cheerfulness, a trait that makes people respond more readily to laugh lines, is linked to emotional resilience—the ability to keep a level head in difficult circumstances—and to close relationships, studies show. Science also indicates that a sense of humor is sexy; women are attracted to men who have one. Thus, in various ways, life satisfaction may increase with the ability to laugh.

Amusing Exercise
Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle viewed laughter as “a bodily exercise precious to health.” But despite some claims to the contrary, chuckling probably has little influence on physical fitness. Laughter does produce short-term changes in cardiovascular function and respiration, boosting heart rate, respiratory rate and depth, as well as oxygen consumption. But because hard laughter is difficult to sustain, a good guffaw is unlikely to have measurable cardiovascular benefits the way, say, walking or ­jogging does.

In fact, instead of straining muscles to build them, as exercise does, laughter apparently accomplishes the opposite. Studies dating back to the 1930s indicate that laughter relaxes muscles, decreasing muscle tone for up to 45 minutes after the guffaw subsides.

Such physical relaxation might conceivably help moderate the effects of psychological stress. After all, the act of laughing probably does produce other types of physical feedback that improve an individual’s emotional state. According to one classical theory of emotion, our feelings are partially rooted in physical reactions. American psychologist William James and Danish physiologist Carl Lange argued at the end of the 19th century that humans do not cry because they are sad but that they become sad when the tears begin to flow.

Although sadness also precedes tears, evidence suggests that emotions can flow from muscular responses. In an experiment published in 1988, social psychologist Fritz Strack of the University of Würzburg in Germany and his colleagues asked volunteers to hold a pen either with their teeth—thereby creating an artificial smile—or with their lips, which would produce a disappointed expression. Those forced to exercise their smiling muscles reacted more exuberantly to funny cartoons than did those whose mouths were contracted in a frown, suggesting that expressions may influence emotions rather than just the other way around. Similarly, the physical act of laughter could improve mood.

Additional studies have shown that laughing at a funny film can cause a drop in the blood’s concentration of the stress hormone cortisol (although other stress hormones appear to be unaffected). Because chronically elevated cortisol levels have been shown to weaken the immune system, this mechanism could conceivably help ward off disease. Indeed, experiments have indicated that laughter increases the activity of immune cells called natural killer cells in saliva in healthy subjects.

In some cases, though, laughter may dampen inappropriate immune responses. In a 2007 study allergy researcher Hajime Kimata of Moriguchi-Keijinkai Hospital in Japan measured levels of the hormone melatonin in the breast milk of nursing mothers before and after the subjects watched either a comic Charlie Chaplin video or an ordinary weather report. Melatonin regulates the sleep-wake cycle and is often disturbed in the allergic skin condition atopic eczema, which all of the 48 babies in the study had. Kimata found that laughing at the funny film, but not hearing the weather report, increased the amount of melatonin in the mothers’ milk. In addition, the laughter-fortified breast milk reduced the allergic responses to latex and house dust mites in the infants. Thus, making a nursing mom laugh might sometimes serve as an allergy remedy for her baby.

The idea that laughter itself, independent of humor, provides physiological and psychological benefits motivates proponents of “laughter yoga,” a group exercise in simulated laughter, which (like yawning) quickly becomes contagious. Many participants in such programs, which are growing in popularity, report feeling looser and happier after them. Some researchers are skeptical that feigned laughter has direct health benefits, however. Psychiatrist Barbara Wild of the University of Tübing­en in Germany, for example, believes that the sense of well-being that people report after such sessions results from the social experience of giggling and interacting as a group and not from a direct physiological effect of laughter itself.

Shifting Perspective
Of course, humor elicits various thoughts and emotions in addition to a social response such as laughing, smiling, groaning or verbal banter. Indeed, most humor researchers believe that the psychology of humor, rather than laughter per se, is what most benefits mental and physical health.

Humor is an intellectual skill that requires an ability to view situations in a particular light. Humor and comedy are often based on a logical twist, paradox or displacement. In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter announces to Alice: “If you knew Time as well as I do, you wouldn’t talk about wasting it.” And after Alice says she has to “beat time” when she learns music, the Hatter replies: “Ah! That accounts for it. He won’t stand beating.”

Understanding a reference to “time” as if it were a living thing with feelings requires the ability to shift perspective away from the conventional view of the concept. Clinical psychologist Michael Titze, founder of HumorCare, an association that promotes humor as therapy, believes the humorous perspective creates cognitive distance between yourself and the circumstances in a way that can be psychologically protective. As Sigmund Freud wrote in 1928, “No doubt, the essence of humor is that one spares oneself the affects to which the situation would naturally give rise and overrides with a jest the possibility of such an emotional display.”

Such cognitive and emotional distancing may help keep anxiety at bay. In a 1990 study Nancy A. Yovetich, now a pharmaceutical researcher at Rho, Inc., along with psychologists J. Alexander Dale and Mary A. Hudak of Allegheny College, told 53 college students they would receive an electric shock in 12 minutes (although no shock was forthcoming). During the wait, some students listened to a funny tape, whereas others heard a humorless speech or nothing at all. Those exposed to the humor rated themselves as less anxious as the fictitious shock approached than did those in the other two groups. In addition, participants who in a prior personality test had scored higher on “sense of humor” showed the least tension of all, suggesting that humor is indeed calming.

For similar reasons, humor can take the sting out of defeat and disappointment, helping people weather difficulty. In the mid-1990s psychologist Willibald Ruch, now at the University of Zurich, and his co-workers at the University of Düsseldorf in Germany created a measure of cheerfulness and sense of humor called the State-Trait Cheerfulness Inventory (STCI). Its questions distinguish between a person’s momentary mood (state)—triggered, say, by a joke—and a general disposition for enjoyment (trait). A high cheerfulness score means a person gets in a cheerful mood easily and laughs readily.

One benefit of a cheerful character is resilience, a psychic robustness that emotionally buffers people against crises and enables them to see silver linings in major disappointments such as the dissolution of a marriage or the loss of a job. “Humor strengthens the psyche,” Ruch says. In a study published in 1999, he and his colleagues assigned 72 students, all of whom took the STCI, to one of three rooms: a “cheerful” room with large windows, yellow walls, funny posters and colored drapes; a “depressing” room painted black and lit only by a small frosted bulb; and a small “serious” room filled with scientific equipment, books, manuals and presentation posters. The participants performed tasks such as drawing and filling out questionnaires in each of the rooms, as an excuse for spending time in the separate environments. As expected, the ambience of the rooms had a much larger effect on the less cheerful individuals: the depressing and serious rooms put the more humorless students in a worse mood but did not alter the mind-set of the sunnier participants, as measured by a mood test.

In another test of the buffering power of cheerfulness published in 1996, Ruch, physician Claus-Udo Wancke and their colleagues in Düsseldorf measured this trait in 68 adults and then asked them to discuss emotionally laden proverbs. The researchers found that talking about the negative proverbs put people with more sober personalities into a bad mood, whereas the more upbeat folks stayed as jovial as before, again indicating that being a cheerful person with a sense of humor may help you endure negative events and situations.

Easing Agony
In addition to being less affected by negative events, individuals with a sense of humor may also be able to distance themselves from the threat of pain. As early as 1928, New York physician James J. Walsh noticed that laughter seemed to dampen pain after surgery. Since then, research has indicated that humor can have painkilling properties. One 1996 study demonstrated that patients who watched funny movies needed less of their mild painkillers after orthopedic surgery than did patients who viewed serious flicks or nothing at all.

Humor’s analgesic effect requires enjoyment but not necessarily laughter, according to a 2004 study by Ruch, along with his then graduate students Karen Zweyer and Barbara Velker. The researchers asked 56 women to submerge a hand in ice-cold water before, immediately after and 20 minutes after a funny seven-minute film. In response to the film, some of the women were instructed to get into a cheerful mood without smiling or laughing; others were asked to smile and laugh a lot; the rest were told to create humorous verbal commentaries on the film while watching it.

As expected, seeing the funny film did boost pain tolerance in all the women: after exposure to the comedy, all the participants required a longer exposure to the water to feel pain and could tolerate longer submersions before pulling their hand out. These changes in pain perception were lasting, persisting for 20 minutes after the film ended. Smiling, but not necessarily laughter, seemed to be most important for the pain-suppressing effect. The women who were asked to refrain from smiling in response to the film generally felt the most pain, and the members of that group who failed to suppress a grin showed more pain tolerance than the others did.

A lack of seriousness (the counterpart to cheerfulness, though not its opposite) also seemed to help, the researchers found. The individuals who ranked low in seriousness, as measured by the STCI, showed the most genuine smiling and laughter, which lessened their pain. The authors speculate that people who are less sober in general may also take pain less seriously. They propose that seriousness or its opposite, playfulness, might be a good indicator of whether an intervention involving humor would alleviate pain in an individual.

In addition to suppressing pain, being funny and cheerful can cultivate friendships. Cheerful people have a lighthearted interaction style that facilitates bonding closely with others and builds social support. They also may get more dates. In 2006 psychologists Eric R. Bressler of Westfield State College and Sigal Balshine of McMaster University in Ontario reported that women are more likely to consider a man in a photograph a desirable relationship partner if the picture is accompanied by a funny quote attributed to the man. In fact, the women preferred the funny men despite rating them, on average, less intelligent and less trustworthy.

Although the men in Bressler and Balshine’s study did not prefer witty women as partners, other research indicates that both men and women value a “sense of humor” when choosing a partner. Either way, males do seem to like ladies who laugh at their jokes. A 1990 study suggests that when women and men chat, the amount of laughing by the woman indicates both her interest in dating the man and her sexual appeal to the man. (The man’s laughter did not relate to attraction in either direction.)

Healing with Humor
Because of humor’s many psychological benefits, some psychologists and mental health experts are testing comedy as a remedy for stress, mild depression or just feeling down. Psychologist Paul McGhee, a former humor researcher who is now president of the Laughter Remedy in Wilmington, Del., has developed a widely used humor training program to help people manage stress. In an unpublished study, Ruch, along with graduate students Heidi Stolz and Sandra Rusch, found that the McGhee program helped 96 mentally healthy individuals become more natrally cheerful and content with their lives, an improvement that lasted for at least two months.

In 2008 psychologists Ilona Papousek and Günter Schulter, both at the University of Graz in Austria, described a novel method of teaching people to make themselves cheerful that left participants in a better mood for at least two days after their three-week course ended. The subjects also felt calmer and showed reductions in blood pressure.

Wild and psychiatrist Irina Falkenberg, now at the University of Marburg in Germany, have adapted the McGhee program for patients with mild depression. Until recently, humor was taboo in psychotherapy. “Naturally, you can’t just laugh away a serious mental illness,” Wild says. And nobody is suggesting humor as a treatment for severe depression. But being funny could ease moderate distress. In psychotherapy, patients often learn how to reinterpret or distance themselves from negative emotions such as stress and fear. Humor can help with these goals. “Having a sense for the comedic can be an important coping strategy,” Wild suggests.

Wild and Falkenberg coach patients to weave comedy into their daily lives. The researchers first determine what individuals find funny by asking each of them to recall a humorous experience and to provide pictures or cartoons that make him or her laugh. Later, the patients are encouraged to see the amusing side of situations—in some cases, brainstorming as a group—or to collect or create punch lines. No one is supposed to laugh at anyone else or turn a patient’s illness into an object of fun. Also against the rules are potentially mean-spirited forms of humor such as sarcasm or schadenfreude (delighting in others’ misfortune or misery).

So far Wild and Falkenberg have discovered that the humor therapy can temporarily improve patients’ mood; they are now probing its long-term effects. Meanwhile another study hints that humor might be able to lift the veil of depression. In 2007 psychiatrist Marc Walter of the University of Basel in Switzerland and his colleagues reported that 10 elderly depressed patients who received humor training in addition to medication were more satisfied with their lives than were patients in a group that received only medication. “The patients open up more easily and are more lively in their interactions” after the therapy, Walter says.

One obstacle to such efforts is that some psychiatric patients have problems recognizing wit because social or memory impairments prevent them from understanding the intentions of the joke teller or from holding a joke in mind from start to punch line. Because of a failure to empathize, autistic persons also fail to see the humor in many jokes.

But for most of us, humor may be the balm we need to more calmly overcome the obstacles of everyday existence, to make friends and even to stave off physical pain. According to 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant, laughter is one of a trio of tactics humans may use to counterbalance life’s troubles. The others are hope and sleep.

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Works Cited

Ayan, Steve. (2009). How Humor Makes you Friendlier, Sexier. Scientific American.

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