Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Acute Effects of Humor and Exercise on Mood and Anxiety

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

The Acute Effects of Humor and Exercise on Mood and Anxiety

Article excerpt

The stress- and illness-moderating role of humor is often publicized in the mass media. The scientific community also dedicates increasing attention to the beneficial effects of humor on health. For example, the professional organization Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH-formerly the American Association for Therapeutic Humor) was founded in 1988 to promote health and well-being through humor intervention. The association's website includes about 100 references to works linking humor with health and wellness (AATH, 2001).

The connection between humor and its therapeutic effect is unclear and complex. Monro (1988) presented an analysis of three theories of humor including the Superiority, Incongruity, and Relief theories. The emphasis was on what humor could provide to people to make them feel better. Some key features of humor include artificial empowering resulting in feelings of superiority (Superiority Theory), a means of dealing with frustration or injustice through resorting to divergent logic and contradiction (Incongruity Theory), and catharsis by removing social restrain through the expression of the inexpressible (Relief Theory). These psychological outcomes could, directly or indirectly, contribute to lower tension and anxiety as well as to more positive mood states.

Response to humor is manifested both physiologically and psychologically. An extensive electrical activity in the brain, engaging the whole cerebral cortex, has been observed in response to humor, which takes place before laughter (Doskoch, 1996). Then laughter, a general, but not universal, consequence of the appreciated humor is a form of "inner jogging" activity because it triggers a number of sympathetic responses similar to physical exercise (e.g., increases in heart rate, blood pressure, or breathing rate) without significant muscular activity (Sobel & Ornstein, 2002). On the psychological side, it was reported that humor improves mood and reduces state anxiety (Houston, McKee, Carroll & Marsh, 1998; Mannell & McMahon, 1982; Martin, Kuiper, Olinger & Dance, 1993; Moran, 1995; Newman & Stone, 1996; White & Winzelberg, 1992). It may be assumed, therefore, that humor has positive psychological effects. However, the magnitude or the significance of these effects is unknown.

To date, there is limited data on the psychological effects of humor in contrast to other interventions. White and Winzelberg (1992) showed that state anxiety decreased equally in three treatment conditions: control (geographical video watching), humor (Candid Camera and Comic Relief videos), and progressive relaxation. More recently, Snowball and Szabo (1999) reported that three forms of exercise (rowing, cycling, and running), humor (stand-up comedy), and video watching (geographical scenes) were equally effective in improving participants' mood state and state anxiety. However, these results were based on only 15 participants taking part in a within-participants experiment. Considering the number of treatments and the number of repeated measures in the study reported by Snowball and Szabo (1999), a lack of power may have masked possibly significant treatment differences. Consequently, the comparison of the psychological benefits of humor and exercise is still unclear. However, such a comparison is warranted in light of the widely publicized mental benefits of physical activity in contrast to the meager knowledge about the benefits of other accessible leisure activities, such as humor.

Indeed, several literature reviews reveal that aerobic exercise reduces state anxiety and that this effect is accompanied by positive changes in mood (Berger & Motl, 2000; LaFontaine, et al., 1992; McDonald & Hodgdon, 1991; O'Connor, Raglin & Martinsen, 2000; Petruzzello, Landers, Hatfield, Kubitz & Salazar, 1991; Scully, Kremer, Meade, Graham & Dudgeon, 1998). The practical implication of such a consensus is that exercise is prescribed not only for physical but also for mental health (Biddle, Fox, & Boutcher, 2000; Morgan, 1997). …

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