Does Mood Affect Humor Appreciation
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
ARNOLD, L., GUERRERO, A., JACKSON, J., QUARLES, R. (2008). Does Mood Affect Humor Appreciation. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 11. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Does Mood Affect Humor Appreciation

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
Appreciation of light and dark humor was assessed as a result of induced mood (happy versus sad). Participants in the happy condition viewed the festival scene from Grease while those in the sad condition viewed the scene from Old Yeller where the boy shoots his rabid dog. After viewing the movie clips the participants rated light and dark cartoons as funny or not. The results revealed no main effect for differences in mood induction or interactions between mood and type of humor. There was a main effect for type of humor. Participants rated dark humor as funnier than light humor.

Does Mood Affect Humor Appreciation From humor’s effect on mood and vice versa to how mood affects cognition and perception, these two concepts have been studied at great length. The issue addressed in our study is whether mood state, happy versus sad, will influence appreciation of humor, in this case cartoons with either light or dark content. Previous research on mood induction and appreciation of humor has been equivocal. So does one’s mood effect cognitive processes such as memory and perception? If so, could this change in cognition be enough to influence humor appreciation?Huntermark & Hrenchir (2005) had participants view a 10 minute movie clip from the death scene in Old Yeller where the boy had to shoot his dog or a 10 minute segment from Scooby Doo’s Greatest Mysteries. The first was used to induce a sad mood, the second to induce a happy mood. After mood induction the participants read a prose passage from Bach’s (1984) novel The Bridge Across Forever. The passage describes a social interaction between a man and woman discussing marriage and marriage partners, in which emotions are expressed and informational material is covered. It was hypothesized that positive mood induction would enhance memory for emotional material, whereas negative mood induction would lead to remembrance for informational material. The results supported the hypothesis. Significantly more emotional compared to informational material was recalled as a result of happy mood induction as opposed to sad mood induction. This finding led us to believe that a change in mood may also affect perception, which was demonstrated in a study by Wicker, et al. (1998) when in a good mood, a person will appreciate humor more. Subjects completed an adjective checklist to determine their mood state, happy or sad. After completion of the checklist they viewed 24 jokes and rated them on degree of funniness. It was found that when subjects described their mood as happy or playful, that perceived funniness of the jokes was rated higher. Martin & McGaffick (2001) also investigated the relationship between mood and humor appreciation. They hypothesized that participants in negatively induced moods would rate jokes as less funny. Subjects participated in one of three conditions: elated, neutral, or sad. In each condition they induced a mood by exposing subjects to 30 statements developed by Velten (1968). The participants rated a set of ten jokes on a Likert-type scale as to how funny they found each one, each participant filled out a Mood Adjective checklist three times during the study: prior to being exposed to the Velten statements, prior to rating the jokes, and after rating the jokes. The results indicated that participants in the sad condition rated the jokes as less funny than those in the neutral or elated conditions. Their results support the position of Moran and Massam (1999, as cited in Martin & McGaffik, 2001), who suggested that humor has the ability to elevate the mood of people who are in a negative state. Danzer, Dale, & Klions (1990) suggested that humor can ease induced depression. They hypothesized that exposing a person to humorous material would relieve induced depression. The participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a humorous audio tape, a non-humorous audio tape, and a no audio tape control group. Subjects were then exposed to depressing slides, one-by-one for 15 seconds each. It was found that the slides induced a depressed mood. They also found that the humor group was able to successfully lower depression scores to baseline after listening to their audio tape. The control group’s depression scores were also significantly lowered, but not as effectively as the humorous tape. It was concluded that humor had an effect on lowering induced depression. These findings support the idea that people in a sad mood will prefer light humor more than dark humor because it will put them in a better mood.On the other hand, Cronin, Fazio, & Beins (1988) got different results when looking at how mood affects humor appreciation. Cronin, et al. (1988) had subjects read a set of statements intended to either raise or lower mood. The participants then rated a set of 21 jokes for their humor value and completed a mood adjective checklist. Participants in an elated state rated jokes the same way as those in the depressed state. After reading and rating the jokes, the subjects in the happy and sad groups showed no difference in their mood states. The results suggested that one’s mood had no effect on the rating of the jokes. A similar study conducted by Wimer, et al. (1998) had participants read sets of statements designed to either elevate their mood or have no effect on mood. The subjects then rated a set of 21 jokes with respect to how funny they thought the jokes were. The results showed no effect of mood change on subsequent rating of the jokes.Despite the studies showing no effect on joke ratings, the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of the idea that mood will affect humor appreciation. With this in mind, the present study concerns whether induced mood state (happy versus sad) effected appreciation of light or dark humor. Light humor is defined as nonsense humor where no attempt is made vilify or insult someone, whereas dark humor involves insult, vilification, and/or confrontation. The following hypotheses were tested: It was predicted that subjects in a sad mood would appreciate light humor more than dark humor. It was also predicted that subjects in a happy mood would appreciate light humor more than those in a sad mood. The last prediction was that across mood conditions, the subjects would appreciate light humor more than dark humor.


Twenty-three males and 37 females (average age 23) enrolled in Introductory Psychology at Missouri Western State University served as participants.

Ten black and white single frame cartoons featuring the work of Gahan Wilson served as dark humor and 10 black and white single frame cartoons taken from represented light humor. The cartoons were placed in notebooks along with a scoring sheet with the question, “Did you think the cartoon was funny?” The same question was used to record the participant’s response to either the light or dark humor. Two videos were used to induce the happy or sad states. A 10 minute segment of the scene where the boy has to shoot his rabid dog from Old Yeller was used to induce the sad mood and a 10 minute segment from the final carnival scene in Grease was used to induce the happy mood.

The sixty participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups with 20 in the happy induced mood condition, 20 in the sad induced mood condition, and 20 in a control group which received no mood induction. When the participants entered a small cubicle they were given the following instructions by the experimenter: “You are going to see a 10 minute video. Upon completion of the video you are going to look at a series of cartoons, 10 in number. After looking at each cartoon you are to indicate on the answer sheet whether you thought it was funny by circling yes or no. Do not go on to the next cartoon until you have answered the question concerning the previous one. At the top of the answer sheet indicate your gender, age, and answer the question listed below. The question was “How did the movie clip make you fee?”, with the choices being 1) it elevated my mood, I feel cheerful, more happy, 2) it decreased my mood, I feel sad, more gloomy, or 3) the movie clip had no effect on my feelings”. The control group participants were not shown a movie clip so they were not asked that question. After answering any questions that participant might have, the experimenter told the participant that he/she had 5 minutes to complete the task. The experimenter then left the cubicle to reduce any social facilitation effect. Upon completion of the task the participant returned to answer sheet to the experimenter. The participant was told that he/she would receive extra credit points for participating. The procedure and instructions were the same for the control group, except they did not view either of the videos.

The results, analyzed using a 3 x 2 between subjects analysis of variance (ANOVA) are presented in Table 1. As indicated in Table 1 the main effect for mood induction and all interactions with this variable were non-significant. There was no significant difference between the happy, sad, and no mood induction conditions. The means and standard deviations were as follows: There was a mean rating of 5.2 for the number of cartoons rated funny in the happy mood condition with a standard deviation of 1.84. For the sad condition the mean was 4.7 with a standard deviation of 2.05. For the control condition there was a mean of 5.3 with a standard deviation of 2.36.With respect to the question, “How did the movie clip make you feel?” 15 participants in the happy condition reported it elevated their mood and 5 said it had no effect on their mood. In the sad condition, 14 participants reported that the movie clip decreased their mood and 6 said the movie clip had no effect on their mood. Apparently the mood induction (happy versus sad) videos were effective with respect to inducing the desired mood for the majority of participants, but had no effect on the participant’s appreciation of the light and dark humor.The main effect for type of humor (light versus dark) was significant at the .05 level. Participants who received the light humor, on average, rated 4.3 of the cartoons as funny with a standard deviation of 1.97. Participants who received the dark humor, on average, rated 5.7 of the cartoons as funny with a standard deviation of 1.96. The results suggest that the dark humor was perceived as funnier than the light humor. All interactions between the mood inductions and the types of humor were not significant.

Inspection of the results reveals that all three hypotheses tested in this experiment failed to reach statistical significance. It had been predicted that subjects in a sad mood would appreciate light humor more than dark humor. This prediction was not supported by the data. This is different from the results obtained by Danzer et al. (1990) who suggested that humor can ease induced depression or sadness. He found that that a humor group was able to lower their depression scores after listening to a humorous audio tape.The second hypothesis was also not confirmed. It had been predicted the subjects in a happy mood would appreciate light humor more than those in a sad mood. A significant interaction between mood and humor was not found. As before, there was no significant interaction effect between mood induction and type of humor. Across both mood conditions the significant main effect for type of humor indicates that the subjects rated the dark humor a funnier than the light. This is similar to the findings of Cronin et al. (1998) who suggested that one’s mood has no effect on the rating of humorous material, in this case jokes rather than cartoons. The results also are at variance with the findings of Wicker et al. (1981) who found that when subjects described their mood as happy, they rated jokes to be funnier.The last prediction that across mood conditions that the subjects would appreciate light humor more than dark was also not confirmed. In the present study across all mood conditions the dark humor was rated funnier than the light. All these results also contradict the findings of Huntermark & Hrenchir (2003), who found that positive mood induction, i. e. a happy mood enhanced recall of emotional material, and that negative mood induction, i. e.; a sad mood resulted in higher recall of informational material. In this case the mood inductions influenced memory in the predicted directions, but not so in the present study. This would suggest that perhaps mood induction works with certain cognitive, e. g., memory but not others such as perceived funniness of light and dark humor.

Cronin, K., Fazio, V., & Beins, B., (1998) The Role of Embarrassment in Humor AppreciationDanzer, A., Dale, A., and Klions, H., (1990) Humor and PsychotherapyDonkor, K., Hull, J., Laport, M., Nagengast, K., & O’Connor, A., (2006) The Effects of Priming on Humor ResponsesFazio, V., Bove, C. Falvey, B., Cronin, K., Filiberto, C., Levitt, J., Schmitt, J., & Bernard C. Beins, (1997) Can Appreciation of Jokes be Raised by Mood Elevation, Ithaca CollegeHuntermark, J and Hrenchir, J. (2003) Mood and Memory: A Motivational Approach to Selectivity. 8th Annual Multidisplinary Research Day, Missouri Western State UniversityMartin, J. and McGaffick, S. (2001) Effects of Mood Induction on Humor Appreciation. 2001 University of Scranton Psychology ConferenceWimer, D., Falvey, B., Fortier, E., Killeleagh, M., Miller, T., Sambolec, E., &. Beins, B., (1998, April).

Table 1

Submitted 4/24/2008 1:00:28 PM
Last Edited 4/24/2008 5:05:26 PM
Converted to New Site 03/09/2009

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