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Using humor to evaluate negative experiences can improve emotional health

Stanford psychologists have confirmed the importance of a positive attitude when it comes to dealing with stressful health situations. In a recently published study, researchers Andrea Samson, PhD, and James Gross, PhD, asked participants to make jokes - either positive or negative - about an initially disturbing image (e.g. a car accident or corpse). Those who did so reported showed both increases in positive emotions and decreases in negative emotions. Joking was especially effective for those who used positive, optimistic humor to evaluate the image. Further Stanford research supports the findings:

A similar head-to-head comparison of positive humor with typical, serious reappraisal was conducted by Stanford master's degree student Alana Glassco with Samson and Gross. The result, presented at the 2011 Society for Personality and Social Psychology Humor Preconference, again found optimistic joking to be the more powerful emotional regulator. By demonstrating that subjects who had been asked to use humor also exhibited an increase in verbal fluency after the trial (measured with a standard psychological test that asks subjects to say as many words as possible from a given category), the research may have bolstered the theory that humor changes cognitive processing.

These findings are relevant to more than just everyday emotional health. Learning to joke about scary health situations could play a crucial role in the healing process by relieving stress that would otherwise weigh down on weakened shoulders.

Photo by Dr Pete

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