Humor And Anxiety

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(touch this up) Abstract To determine if humor has an affect on anxiety. Eastern Kentucky University, College Students (N = 20; 16 women; 3 men; 1 unknown; Mean age = 21.33) were instructed to think of things that they were upset or nervous about and then about something humorous or relaxing. Students decreased in anxiety more when thinking of relaxation then when thinking of humor. This implies that relaxation techniques should be used over humorous ones where anxiety levels should be kept to a minimum, such as a study area or the work room of an anxiety-reduction center.

Humorous and Anxiety Humor is a wonderful thing that can lighten most peoples hearts. If we can use humor to alleviate problems associated with anxiety, many people will be able to have a more stress-free life.

It is possible that humor may affect muscle tension. Prerost and Ruma (1987) randomly assigned students from an introductory Psychology class to view different types of humor.

Each group saw a different type of humor, either sexual, violence, neutral, and a control group saw non-humorous scenery. The stimuli were on slides projected onto a screen facing the subjects (Ss). The Ss were then instructed to relax while viewing the slides. Finally muscle tension was measured several times with a biofeedback device. Results suggested that Ss who saw humorous stimuli decreased muscle tension more then Ss who saw non-humorous stimuli.

It is possible that anxiety may be affected by humor. Danzer, Dale, and Klions (1990) did a study with undergraduate women in an introductory Psychology class. All of the Ss initially completed an anxiety checklist. The Ss then were presented with 20 progressively more depressing slides for 15 seconds each. Ss were instructed to read each slide to themselves, read it out loud, then think about it and try to feel it. This induced anxiety as a side effect. Ss then completed another anxiety checklist. Ss were finally then randomly assigned to one of three groups, either humor, non-humor, or control. The humor group heard a tape of humorous content, the non-humor group heard a tape of non-humorous content, and the control group heard no tape but sat in silence for the same amount of time that the other groups listened. All Ss then completed a final anxiety checklist. Results suggested that all 3 groups decreased in anxiety.

The present study explored the effects of humor on anxiety. Ss were randomly assigned to either a humor group or a relaxation group. All Ss first completed an anxiety scale. Ss in the humor group were instructed to think of something humorous while Ss in the relaxation group were instructed to think of something relaxing. All Ss then completed another anxiety scale. The present study was different from the previous research in how the humor was presented. Previous research by Prerost and Ruma presented Ss with slides of cartoons. Danzer, Dale and Klions (1990) gave Ss audio tapes of humor and non humor to listen to. The present study instructed Ss to think of something humorous or relaxing. I predicted that students who thought of something humorous would decrease in anxiety more than students who thought of something relaxing. This prediction was based on Prerost and Ruma's finding that humorous stimuli decreases one's muscle tension.

Method Participants Twenty students (16 women, 3 men, 1 unknown) from a psychology research methods course at Eastern Kentucky University participated as a part of a class project. Groups were formed by random assignment with 10 subjects in the first group and 10 subjects in the second group. The average Students age was 21.32 (SD = 1.29).

Materials The Mood Scale was taken from the Profile of Mood States (POMS) (McNair, Lorr, & Dropleman, 1971). The only part that was used was the anxiety scale which consisted of 9 adjectives designed to measure anxiety. Responses were on a five-point scale from 0 (Not at all) to 6 (Extremely). Responses were summed to create a single anxiety score. Scores could range from 0 to 54. Higher scores indicated higher anxiety.

Procedure All Ss read instructions that were designed to induce anxiety. The instructions told Ss to think of things that they were upset or nervous about for 2 minutes. All Ss then completed an anxiety pretest. Ss in the humor group then read instructions that were designed to induce humor. These instructions told the Ss to think about something funny that happened to them or a funny joke or situation for 2 minutes. Ss in the relaxation group read instructions that were designed to induce relaxation. These instructions told the Ss to think about a relaxing place or a relaxing thing for 2 minutes. All Ss then completed an anxiety posttest. The responses were anonymous.

The research design was a experiment. The Independent Variable was Humor. Humor and relaxation were the levels. The Dependent Variable was the change in anxiety of the students and was operationally defined as a score on an anxiety scale.

Results The dependent variable was change in anxiety. The independent variable was humor with 2 levels: humor and relaxation. Data were analyzed by comparing the mean change in anxiety of Ss who thought of humor and Ss who thought of relaxation. The hypothesis was that students who thought of something humorous would decrease in anxiety more than students who thought of something relaxing. The hypothesis was not supported. The mean change in anxiety for students thinking of humor was -10.80 (SD = 9.14) and for students thinking of something relaxing was -12.80 (SD = 7.81). Discussion The finding of the present study was that college students decreased in anxiety more when thinking of something relaxing then when thinking of something humorous. This finding was inconsistent with previous research suggesting that humorous stimuli cause a greater decrease in anxiety then non-humor (Prerost & Ruma, 1987; Danzer, Dale & Klions, 1990). The present study is also different from previous research in the way anxiety was induced. The present study instructed Ss to think of something anxiety related while the previous research presented depressing slides to the Ss. Additionally, Prerost and Ruma used specific different types of humor (cartoons) and Danzer, Dale, and Klions used only humor (comedians) and non-humor while the present study used whatever type of humor the students may have thought of.

The internal validity of the present study was threatened because of demand of characteristics. The present study was part of a class project. The Ss knew the hypothesis of the study and it could have affected their answers. In order to rule out this possibility future researchers should consider conducting their experiment with Ss who don't know the hypothesis.

These results may generalize to other college students. The present study focused only on students in a psychology research methods course at Eastern Kentucky University. To better get an idea if the results can be generalized to students of other classes, majors, or universities, the current study should be replicated using Ss from these other areas.

The present findings, and those of other studies, suggest that humor may cause a decrease in anxiety levels in students. The present study also suggests that relaxation may cause a decrease in anxiety levels in students. This implies that students having trouble dealing with anxiety should use humor or find better ways to relax to help them deal with anxiety. Furthermore, students should try to avoid any unnecessary anxiety which may cause them to be stressed out such as procrastination, not enough sleep, or taking too many classes each semester.