How Accurate is the Phrase 'Laughter is the Best Medicine'
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: Psychology|
|✅ Wordcount: 3764 words||✅ Published: 20th Sep 2021|
It is a very popular belief that laughter is the best medicine. What is meant by this is that by engaging in humorous activities and producing laughter, we are benefitting our health. This idea appears to be rationale, as one who is seen to enjoy humour and express laughter seems to radiate a positive energy.
We shall first explore the roots of humour and its importance to human life, leading on to its impact on benefitting our health, examining the age differences, investigating any gender differences, its significance to romantic relationships, and its influence in the workplace.
Humour has become an integral part of everyday life and we can evidently see this from the very beginning of our lives, as one of the first responses produced by infants is laughter (McGhee, 1979). It is claimed that both humour and laughter is part of natural selection which has a long history in evolution and even predates language, yet the advancement of intellect in humans has allowed us to adapt humour into a form of universal communication, which also serves as an important social function that may have contributed to our species survival (Gervais et al, 2005). This assertion seems to be accurate as humour is a universal human trait (Lefcourt, 2001), and is even found in other primates, such as apes (van Hooff et al, 2003). The importance of humour to us is vast as even children who are deaf or blind also express laughter (Provine, 2000). It is evident that humour has indeed evolved and integrated into a significant feature for humans; Today humour is found in many forms of media worldwide, including radio, television, film, advertisement, books and even politics (Martin, 2007). Humour is a broad term which doesn’t have a universally agreed scientific definition, but most definitions determine it as a form of amusement in a social context which emits an emotional response following the expression of laughter (Martin, 2007). A definition for a sense of humour is even more vague than humour itself as it can incorporate many different aspects, yet what it will mainly include is the ability to actively appreciate and express humour in a variety of ways and contexts, and for several varying reasons (Eysenck, 1972; Martin, 2003). For the past century to the present day, a sense of humour has become a very desirable characteristic, so much so that to brand someone as lacking a sense of humour is seen as an insult (Wickberg, 1998). Clearly this notion applies as 94% of men rate their sense of humour as average or above average, even though statistically half the population are below and the other half are above average (Lefcourt & Martin, 1986). Nonetheless the reasoning for why men rate their humour highly seems to be rational as women rate a sense of humour as the most desirable trait in a potential romantic partner (Provine, 2000). Interestingly when attributing a hypothetically person with other characteristics, if the person supposedly has a good sense of humour then positive traits are attributed, like friendly, smart and creative, yet if the person supposedly has a bad sense of humour then negative traits are linked, such as cold, nasty and passive (Cann & Calhoun, 2001). We can see that people want to be acknowledged as a humorous person because it is a vastly desirable trait, but also because it is attached with other highly positive characteristic as well.
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Before the nineteenth century laughter and humour were seen as something negative, and was used for aggressive mockery (Koestler, 1964). Humour was used as a tool for debate to ‘ridicule’ the opposition, which is the basis of what is known as the superiority theory. This theory is the oldest explanation for humour discussed by philosophers Plato, Aristotle and Hobbes which suggests that humour is used in an aggressive-playful manner in order to assert one’s superior status (Leacock, 1935; Rapp, 1951). Later the term ‘humour’ had become known as the object that initiated laughter and by the nineteenth century humour was seen as a form of amusement and a highly desirable social trait (Wickberg, 1998). In the early-nineteenth century there were two forms of mirth; humour and wit. Humour was seen as a positive and desirable source of laughter; however wit was a more intellectual and sarcastic yet negative. Freud (1960) stated that humour can induce positive psychological health whereas wit can result in negative feeling. In modern day wit is seen as a form of humour and although may contain some aggression is seen as a sympathetic component of laughter, and humour as a whole is highly encouraged (Wickberg, 1998).
Humour and health
The term humour itself comes from the Latin word ‘humorem’, which in translation means ‘fluid’. This may have come about due to the Greek philosopher Hippocrates, whom believed that for people to have good health a balance of the four fluids found in the human body was essential (Thorne & Henley, 2005). The fluids he was referring to were blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. Later, Roman philosopher Galen had extended this belief and stated that these liquids also have a psychological quality to them, as an imbalance or excess from one of these fluids can expose a certain characteristic within somebody. It is no secret that humour is believed to have positive effects on health, and this very idea traces back to biblical times (Martin, 2002). The notion that humour and laughter can be beneficial to us has been accepted by many famous psychologists as they believe that individuals who use humour in a positive and philosophical way are well-adjusted people (Maslow, 1954; Allport, 1961). Freud (1928) even referred to humour as the highest defence mechanism used by the ego. On the contrary Vasey (1877) had suggested that laughter is actually harmful to the human body, yet no empirical evidence is found to support this claim. Stories of the miraculous healing power of humour have been around for centuries. Cousins (1976), a famous magazine editor, allegedly recovered from a disease, which medical experts suggest had an extremely low recovery chance, via daily use of laughter. In this case however it is unknown as to whether it was actually the use of humour which had cured the illness, as it may have been due to misdiagnosis, high doses of vitamin C (which Cousins was taking along with the humorous activities), or simply the will to live. Cousins (1985) later dismissed the role of humour in his recovery and suggest that it was his will to survive which helped him recover. Nonetheless stories like this have spurred the belief of the healing qualities of humour worldwide, as now humour is believed to allegedly have positive and protective effects for a number of conditions ranging from headaches and flu viruses to heart attacks and AIDS (McGhee, 1999; Uchino et al, 2000). Nowadays mental health professionals, cancer patients, emergency responders, and even survivors of traumatic disasters are recommended humour techniques to deal with their experiences (Mesmer, 2001; Broeckel, 2000; Scott, 2007; Ritz, 2001). Henman (2001) even suggested that individuals in extreme hardship, such as those in prisoner-of-war camps, are believed to use humour to cope with their situation. Evidently we can see the vast amount of areas humour can benefit. Research has suggested that humour has also been found to have the power to change an unexciting task into a more interesting activity (Dienstbier, 1995), shift a conversation away from an uncomfortable topic (Norrick, 1993), and even affect one’s outlook on life as it enhances feelings of hopefulness (Vilaythong et al, 2003).
Examining research on the benefits of humour on physical health is too wide of a scope for this study. For psychologists what is important is how humour affects our psychological health. Many studies have found that humour is a contributor to positive psychological health (Gross & Muñoz, 1995; Szabo, 2003), and can reduce negative feelings (Moran, 1996). Although this may be due to the physiology taking place when laughing as some studies have found that laughter with the absence of humour also increases positive mood (Strack et al 1988; Neuhoff & Schaefer, 2002). However earlier studies like these have been looking at short-term improvements caused by humour, and have been conducted in laboratory settings , which predominantly only included canned jokes and cartoons, so neglected the spontaneous humour we encounter everyday (Martin, 2007). The problem with this is that it doesn’t convey what happens in the real world as accurately as non-laboratory studies, such as self-reported surveys, which are stated as a more valid approach than humour appreciation tests (Babad, 1974; Martin, 2007). These self-reported questionnaires measure the level of one’s sense of humour. It has been reported that a positive (or high) sense of humour is associated with higher self-esteem, overall psychological well-being, interpersonal ability, and lower levels of depression and anxiety. Whereas a negative (or low) sense of humour is associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety, and lower levels of self-esteem, psychological well-being and interpersonal competence (Kirsh & Kuiper, 2003). This notion is support as many studies measuring a self-reported sense of humour and well-being have found humour to have positive correlations with self-worth (Kuiper & Borowicz-Sibenik, 2005), self-esteem (Kuiper & Martin, 1993), morale (Simon, 1990) and personal achievement (Talbot & Lumden, 2000), and negative links with depression and other mood disturbances (Lefcourt et al, 1995; Kelly, 2002). Nonetheless not all studies have found positive associations between a sense of humour and health as some have failed to find a positive link with humour and optimistic feeling (Kuiper et al, 1992), and a negative correlation with anxiety (Nezu et al, 1988). Several studies have even conveyed that a high sense of humour is associated with unhealthy lifestyles such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and obesity (Cook et al, 1998; Patton et al, 1993; Haellstroem & Noppa, 1981).With the logic that a higher sense of humour score would mean better mental health, this would mean that scores between typical teenagers and psychiatric patient adolescents should be different. This however was not the case as studies by Gelkopf & Sigal (1995) and Freiheit et al (1998) found no difference in a measure of sense of humour between these two groups. Similar results were found with those who attempted to commit suicide (Corruble et al, 2004). Yet Kuiper et al (1998) reported a difference between patients suffering with schizophrenia and university students. These findings seem to suggest that a high sense of humour doesn’t necessarily defend one against mental disturbances. Kantor (1992) argued that those with a mental illness don’t essentially have a poor sense of humour but that their type of humour is rather dark and hostile, when compared to the general population.
These mixed findings may be due to the fact that most measures on psychological well-being load mainly on negative factors (DeNeve, 1999) and that most measures on humour ignore neurotic features, such as emotional stability (Köhler & Ruch, 1996). There have been many self-reported measures of humour, such as Svebak’s Sense of Humour Questionnaire (Svebak, 1974), The Situational Humour Response Questionnaire (Martin & Lefcourt, 1984), and The State-Trait Cheerfulness Inventory (Leventhal & Safer, 1977) yet these measures haven’t examined both positive and negative uses of humour. On the other hand The Humour styles Questionnaire (HSQ) does consider these aspects and distinguishes between them (Martin et al, 2003). The HSQ is a measure which sorts to distinguish between positive and negative expression of humour, and research with it has found that less use of negative humour links with positive psychological well-being (Martin et al, 2003). With the HSQ, high scores on negative humour are linked with high levels of depression and negative distress, whereas high scores on positive humour are linked with low levels of depression and negative distress, plus high levels of self-esteem and optimism (Kuiper et al, 2004). Saroglou & Scariot (2002) also found that the negative humour found in the HSQ is linked with low levels of motivation. Olson et al (2005) found that those who score high on the positive humour of the HSQ spend less time reminiscing about past depressing events and can even help them deal with these affairs.
Humour and age
Not many studies have examined humour and its relation to age; nonetheless some research has claimed that with age comes greater appreciation of humour (Schaier & Circirelli, 1976; Ruch et al, 1990). On the other hand, Mahoney et al (2002) reported that the younger population believe humour should be expressed actively and loudly, whereas the older population believe humour should be expressed gentler and less actively. This suggested a decreased interest in humour as one ages. Yet Thorson & Powell (1996) found no significant age differences with measures of a sense of humour, except that younger adults were more likely to use humour in an aggressive way. Even with these conflicting findings humour and age differences have not been a popular area of study in the past. Still some research regarding this topic can be found; Martin et al (2003) used the HSQ and reported that older adults are less likely to joke with and ridicule others than younger adults, but older women have a more humorous outlook on life than older men.
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Humour and gender
With over 25 years of research support the idea, it is generally assumed that women lack a sense of humour, as men are more likely to joke, and women are more likely to laugh (Lampert & Ervin-Tripp, 2006). Yet to conclude from these findings would be biased as they tended to use jokes and cartoons (which are more male-orientated) to measure humour and so overlook every day spontaneous humour (Martin & Kuiper, 1999). Crawford & Gressley (1991) reported with the use of a questionnaire that men and women have more similarities in humour than differences. There were no differences in creating humour, laughter and appreciation of jokes, unlike the findings from earlier research. Some differences were that men tend to enjoy and create aggressive humour and canned jokes more, and women tend to report funny personal stories more. This was further supported by Hay (2000) who found that in a same-sex or mixed group of friends, women are 8 times more likely to share humorous memories, and that same-sex groups are more likely to engage in teasing, which is also more likely to occur with men. Martin & Kuiper (1999) conclude that there is no difference between the amount of laughter produced between men and women, which were on average 18 laughs per day. The only difference was that women are more likely to laugh at spontaneous humour more than men. Interestingly the differences found in humour between men and women can show the way that gender is articulated in general social settings (Crawford, 2003). This suggests that humour is a very important aspect in the way we express ourselves in society.
Humour and relationships
The differences in the way men and women express their humour and how significant this is to social order, leads us to another notable side of humour. Preliterate cultures show evidence for the use humour in order to keep social command, such as relationships between romantic partners, grandparents-grandchildren, and different tribe members (Radcliffe-Brown, 1952; Apte, 1985). For the past century a sense of humour has become a highly desirable human trait (Sprecher & Regan, 2002), valued as much as physical attraction (Eagly et al, 1991), and is often related with many other desirable traits, such as intelligence, extroversion, friendliness and emotional-stability (Cann & Calhoun, 2001). Evidence for this comes from studies which have reported that laughing at another’s joke not only suggests attraction but also enhances one’s own attractiveness (Grammer, 1990; Cann et al, 1997). So humour has become an important social trait, and with this we can say that it may well be particularly crucial for romantic relationships. Thus a study by Murstein & Brust (1985) found that romantic couples with a similar sense of humour are happier in their relationship, yet Priest and Thein (2003) found that this is not found in married couples. Nonetheless evidence has found that happily married couples attribute their satisfaction to their shared sense of humour (Ziv, 1988). More specifically those with high levels of positive and low levels of negative humour on the Humour Styles Questionnaire are associated with higher levels of closeness and satisfaction in their relationships (Martin, 2003). An explanation for why humour results in positive relationships comes from Cook & Rice (2003) as they report that perceiving a positive sense of humour in another person increases the perceived benefits of maintaining a relationship with them, and reduces the costs of the relationship. In spite of this Keltner et al (1998) found that couples who use positive humour are more likely to end their relationship quicker than those who use an aggressive style of humour. This unexpected finding may be because as discussed earlier, humour is an attractive characteristic so those who have positive humour find it easier to get another romantic partner, hence why they experience a break-up. Felmee (1995) suggested that although at first humour is a highly desirable trait in a romantic partner, can later cause dissatisfaction and become unwanted, leading to a break-up. Nevertheless we can evidently see that, as suggested at the start, humour is vital for relationships, so much so that Buss & Kendrick (1998) stated that social relationships are evolutionarily essential for our survival.
Humour and occupation
It is suggested that a workplace which actively incorporates humour produces a more productive workforce and improves social interaction between employees and managers, which leads to a successful organisation (Morreall, 1991; Clouse & Spurgeon, 1995). Certainly, if humour can have positive affects for interpersonal relationships this should also include relationships at work as well. Thus humour does seems to be an important element in a working environment as Holmes & Marra (2002a) found out by analysing team meetings that humour and laughter is expressed in the workforce on average once every 2 – 5 minutes. Yet it is reported that this is about one eighth of what is produced by a group of close friends casually interacting (Holmes & Marra, 2002b). This is plausible as we are likely to be more relaxed around our close friends than around our work colleagues, for which we may need to keep a professional composure. Intriguingly Dwyer (1991) suggested that humour at work can be used for power dynamics within the establishment, as personnel can joke to complain about work and managers can use humour to show power and authority. Researched has found this to be true as those who are higher ranked staff members tend to use humour more in staff meetings then those who are ranked lower (Coser, 1960; Sayre, 2001). Robinson & Smith-Lovin (2001) found similar results in a group task situation, but also found that humour is used early on in the group to establish hierarchical group status, and males were more likely to use humour thus gain higher status. This isn’t to say that it is only those who are of higher rank that use humour in the workplace, of course every one of every status has the capacity to do so but as suggested before it may be used for differing purposes. Those who are of lower-status use humour to attain attention and approval from others (Kane et al, 1977). Interestingly humour has been found to be a significant characteristic in leadership (Yukl & Lepsinger, 1990). A study by Decker & Rotondo (2001) found that humour is a useful tool for those at the higher end of the organisational hierarchy, such as managers and supervisors, as it helps them to motivate, promote and interact effectively with others in the institution. Priest &Swain (2002) supported this with a survey from the military reporting good leaders with a good sense of humour and poor leaders with a lack of a sense of humour.
What we see here what we have seen in all other areas; humour is important. As with interpersonal relationships, humour plays a significant role in the workforce, for leadership and for an effective organisation. Gibson (1994) suggested that this idea that humour can better the workplace has created specialist whom enhance humour production techniques at work, and many business are hiring these individuals.
Present Study & Hypothesis.
As we can see humour touches on a number of different aspects, ranging from health to social relationships to age and gender. We have seen from the literature on the health side of humour that most previous research haven’t considered the differences between positive and negative humour when measuring self-reported sense of humour. Indeed the HSQ does differentiate between the two, and since its development has been used by many studies, however there still persists a lack of research in this area. More importantly, as mentioned by DeNeve (1999), previous studies on self-reported sense of humour and psychological well-being have only used measures of mental health that focus on negative factors, so positive well-being is measured as the absence of negative features. Therefore in this present study we shall be examining both positive and negative self-reported sense of humour and its relation to both positive and negative psychological well-being. Alongside this we shall examine the contribution of a sense of humour to both marital and occupation status, and also explore any age and gender differences. It is anticipated that a positive sense of humour will correlate with positive psychological well-being, and a negative sense of humour will correlate with negative psychological well-being. It is also expected that those with a positive sense of humour have a higher occupation status and are in a romantic relationship, and that there are no age of gender differences in humour.
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