Good Jokes Cure Bad Moods
Dutch researchers discover how a good laugh distracts us from negative emotions.
Humor and Mood Study: Other Opinions
The new research verifies what humor experts have known or suspected, says
Clifford Kuhn, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Louisville
School of Medicine in Kentucky who gives presentations on the value of
''They have verified in numbers the fact that a joke is superior to any
other forms of distraction it was tested against," he tells WebMD.
He explains the work of "getting" a joke -- resolving the incongruity -- by
telling an old joke:
A frantic father calls the doctor, saying, "Doctor, my child just swallowed
a fountain pen." The doctor assures him he is on the way and asks, "What are
you doing in the meantime?" The father replies: "Using a pencil."
That punch line, of course, is unexpected. "The cognitive work of finding
the new 'congruent' is what we call 'getting the joke,'" he says. Listeners
must figure out that the father, frantic, misunderstood the question.
"What they are suggesting is that humor ... is an effective way to redirect
anxiety,'' says Ed Dunkelblau, PhD, a psychologist in
Northbrook, Ill., and past president of the Association for Applied and
Both humor experts offer caveats about the study and the value of humor.
Using jokes to boost moods works better if the situation that put you in the
bad mood is not extremely personal, Kuhn says. If someone's loved one was
just diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, for instance, making a joke that
they should just "forget about it" would not go over well -- the situation is
too personal, he says.
Your mood can't be so bad that the funniest joke in the world couldn't lift
your spirits, he says. "You have to be in the mood to play," Kuhn says. "You
have to be willing to participate in the joke to get the benefit out of