A study discovers the psychological consequences of two different types of humor in patients with depression

A study discovers the psychological consequences of two different types of humor in patients with depression

People often say that laughter is the best medicine, but is all humor the same? According to a study published in Nature Science ReportsEven though many people like to joke about their stressors, non-stress humor is the best for emotional regulation.

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

Humor is a well-known positive emotion regulation strategy that previous research has shown can alleviate negative outcomes. Humor comes in different types with some stress-based humor (ie making jokes about the stressor) and some stress-distracting humor (ie making jokes that are off topic). This study aims to understand the effects of each of those types of humor on improving negative emotions for people with remitted depression.

Study author Anna Braniecka and colleagues recruited their sample from psychiatric outpatient clinics. Their final sample consisted of 94 participants, 65 women and 29 men, with an age range of 18 to 65 years. All participants had to have remitted depression. Participants were randomized into three groups: stress-related humor, non-stress-related humor, and non-humorous regulation (control).

For this study, subjects came to the lab in person and completed self-report measures of emotions and were then encouraged to share about 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 was ridiculous. For unrelated stress, the humorous scenario involved an unknown fictional person. Control participants identified positive and negative parts of the scenario.

All participants answered questions and then had a waiting period in which they watched a nature video. After this, they answered more questions about the video and how much they thought about 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 intervention without humor. Despite this, the positive effects of the mood-related intervention are very short-lived, with participants returning to baseline around 20 minutes after the intervention took place. The individual’s ability to use humor in the face of distress is not negatively affected by depressive symptoms.

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

This study advanced the understanding of humor as a tool for emotional regulation. Despite this, it still has its limitations. One of those limitations is that this research is limited to only the short-term effects of humor, and the long-term effects may be different. Also, this study did not have an intervention that was not mood based and was not related to the stressor. Future research could incorporate this.

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