The Correlation Between Sense of Humor and Mental Health
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:
MILLER, D. M. (2003). The Correlation Between Sense of Humor and Mental Health. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 6. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Correlation Between Sense of Humor and Mental Health
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (
Recent studies have determined that having a sense of humor leads to a relationship with a person’s overall mental health. The purpose of this study is to determine if there is a correlation between the two variables. Two questionnaires were distributed to students on the campus of Missouri Western State College and the results were scored. The data were analyzed and a significant correlation was found between sense of humor and mental health. As scores on the Multidimensional Sense of Humor Scale increased (showing a high sense of humor), scores on the mental health survey decreased (showing great mental health). Further implications are discussed in the paper.

When people hear the word, “psychology”, they most likely associate it with mental disorders. Psychologists have studied the field of mental illness and disorders for many years; however, there is a new area to research. Positive psychology turned the focus from the negative aspects of psychology to the more optimistic aspects, such as happiness, courage, and sense of humor.Although the concept of positive psychology is rather new, the idea of sense of humor dates back to biblical times (Martin, 2001). Also, in the 13th century, physicians and philosophers described laughter and its health benefits. Sense of humor is a universal, multifaceted concept and thus has many definitions. Martin (2001) describes sense of humor as “habitual individual differences in all sorts of behaviors, experiences, affects, attitudes, and abilities relating to amusement, laughter, jocularity, and so on”. Because humor is so extensive, it can be labeled as a personality trait, a stimulus variable, an emotional response, a mental process, and a therapeutic intervention.Despite the fact that humor is universal, the content of the humor differs across cultures and genders. Every culture has a set of rules, norms, and values that decide what kind of humor is appropriate. For instance, Americans prefer jokes that consist of sexual or aggressive content, whereas Chinese humor is rather restrained and concealed (Nevo, Nevo, & Yin, 2001). Gender is another issue that causes difference in humor and content. Women prefer jokes with less aggressive and less sexual content than do men. However, both men and women favor to have women as the target of jokes. When it came to creating and appreciating humor, men scored higher on creation and women scored higher on appreciation (Nevo, Nevo, & Yin, 2001).Many theories have been created that explain the concept of humor; though three main theories help us to understand. First, incongruity theories concentrate on perceiving humor and the cognitive processes involved in it. Second, relief theories state the belief that laughter is a release of energy that has been suppressed. Finally, superiority theories describe that humor comes from a person’s aspiration to feel better than the other (Graham, 1995).Having a sense of humor includes many benefits. Individuals with a greater sense of humor are more motivated, cheerful, trustworthy, and have a higher self-esteem. They are also more likely to develop close, social relationships (Kelly, 2002). One of the greatest benefits of having a sense of humor is the influence it has on health. First, humor can be interceded by social relationships, which may create health-enhancing effects. Second, humor has an indirect effect on stress levels. By having a humorous outlook on life, stressful experiences are often minimized. Third, physiological processes are influenced by humor. For example, laughing may reduce muscle tension, increase the flow of oxygen to the blood, exercise the cardiovascular region, and produce endorphins. Finally, humor corresponds with positive emotional states (Martin, 2001) and is known to be an indicator of mental health.Mental health, or psychological well-being, is another multifaceted concept with many definitions. It is the ability to overcome psychological distress, develop psychologically and emotionally, become aware of others, and maintain social relationships (Zeman, 2003). Statistical definitions compare individuals who are on the outer ends of the bell-shaped curve to “normal” individuals who fall in the middle. Moral/spiritual definitions are used in traditional cultures and focuses on the characteristics that provide evidence of mental health. Finally, subjective definitions approach how disorders are either present or absent (Qualls, 2002). Mental health can be characterized by six essential factors: self-acceptance, personal growth, autonomy, environmental mastery, personality integration, and an accurate perception of reality (Compton, 2001).People with great mental health have a high self-esteem, strong sociable encouragement, and are members of warm, compassionate families (Zeman, 2003). Maintaining mental health over time is extremely important; however, risk factors exist for mental illnesses. Preserving mental health can be accomplished by three characteristics. First, having a low risk of disease or disability; second, functioning well, both mentally and physically; and finally, being fully engaged with life (Qualls, 2002). There are three main categories of risk factors for mental illness. Genetics can influence mental health by delaying development, causing physical illness, or producing a low IQ, which may result in problems in communication and academic failure. Another risk factor is the family and close relationships. Parental conflict, inconsistent discipline, abuse, loss of friendships, and parental mental illness are all factors that may lead to mental illness. External factors that may cause mental illness include socioeconomic status, discrimination, and poor education (Zeman, 2003).Many mental health theories of structure exist to help in the understanding of the concept. Compton, Smith, Cornish, and Qualls (1996) believe mental health is divided into three areas: personal growth, subjective well-being, and the stress-resistant personality. Personal growth refers to the development of a person’s psychological qualities and potentials. The most well-known theory on the idea of personal growth is Maslow’s self-actualizing person theory. Subjective well-being refers to positive emotions and the outlook one has on life. Stress-resistant personality refers to the factors that increase physical health outcomes. Compton (2001) also adds the area of religiosity to mental health.Not much research has been conducted on sense of humor and mental health. The purpose of this study is to determine a correlation between the two concepts. I am expecting to find a positive correlation.


One hundred eleven students of Missouri Western State College volunteered to perform two questionnaires. The students included General Psychology students, Intermediate Psychology students, and students in higher-level Psychology classes. All participants were treated in accordance with the APA ethical principles.

The Multidimensional Sense of Humor Scale (Thorson, Powell, & Brdar, 1997) was administered; it is a scale of 24 items that consist of four different concepts: humor production, coping with humor, humor appreciation, and attitudes toward humor (See Appendix A). The MSHS rates each item based on a five-point Likert-type scale, ranging from strongly agrees to strongly disagree. A high score on this test is associated with a person having a great sense of humor. A mental health questionnaire (Bargar, 1996) was also given to the participants (See Appendix B). This scale measures the difficulty one has in a particular area and ranges from no difficulty to extreme difficulty. A low score on this test is associated with low difficulty in dealing with everyday matters and improved mental health.

The two questionnaires were administered simultaneously to the participants. Also, the students completed two questions about his/her demographics. The researcher then scored the two questionnaires.

A Pearson correlation coefficient was calculated for the relationship between participants’ sense of humor and mental health. A moderate negative correlation was found (r(109) = -.479, p < .01), indicating a significant linear relationship between the two variables.

The results shown indicate that there is a clear relationship between sense of humor and mental health. As the scores of the MSHS increased, the scores on the mental health survey decreased (See Figure 1). Therefore, participants that have an elevated sense of humor also have no or little difficulty in daily life and have greater mental health. The present data from this study concur with Martin’s (2001) theory and establish a correlation between sense of humor and mental health, as hypothesized. It has been discovered that having a sense of humor will increase the chances of being mentally healthy. The results from this study can also be generalized to aid in real-life settings. For future research on this topic, more participants are needed from a more diverse background. Also, if there is the same number of questions on each survey, a different outcome may occur.

Compton, W.C. (2001). Toward a tripartite factor structure of mental health: Subjective well-being, personal growth, and religiosity. Journal of Psychology, 135, 486-500.Compton, W.C., Smith, M.L., Cornish, K.A., & Qualls, D.L. (1996). Factor structure of mental health measures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 406-413.Graham, E.E. (1995). The Involvement of sense of humor in the development of social relationships. Communication Reports, 8, 158-169.Kelly, W.E. (2002). An Investigation of worry and sense of humor. Journal of Psychology, 136, 657-666.Martin, R.A. (2001). Humor, laughter, and physical health: Methodological issues and research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 504-519.Nevo, O., Nevo, B., & Yin, J.L.S. (2001). Singaporean humor: A Cross-cultural cross-gender comparison. Journal of General Psychology, 128, 143-156.Qualls, S.H. (2002). Defining mental health in later life. Generations, 26, 9-13.Zeman, S. (2003). Mental health and illness in young people: An Overview. February 20, 2003.

For the following questions, please rate your level of agreement by circling the corresponding number:0=Strongly Disagree; 1=Disagree; 2=Undecided; 3=Agree; 4=Strongly Agree

1. Sometimes I think up jokes or funny stories 0 1 2 3 42. Uses of wit or humor help me master difficult situations 0 1 2 3 43. I’m confident that I can make other people laugh 0 1 2 3 44. I dislike comics 0 1 2 3 45. Other people tell me that I say funny things 0 1 2 3 46. I can use wit to help adapt to many situations 0 1 2 3 47. I can ease a tense situation by saying something funny 0 1 2 3 48. People who tell jokes are a pain in the neck 0 1 2 3 49. I can often crack people up with the things I say 0 1 2 3 410. I like a good joke 0 1 2 3 411. Calling somebody a “comedian” is a real insult 0 1 2 3 412. I can say things in such a way as to make people laugh 0 1 2 3 413. Humor is a lousy coping mechanism 0 1 2 3 414. I appreciate those who generate humor 0 1 2 3 415. People look to me to say amusing things 0 1 2 3 416. Humor helps me cope 0 1 2 3 417. I’m uncomfortable when everyone is cracking jokes 0 1 2 3 418. I’m regarded as something of a wit by my friends 0 1 2 3 419. Coping by using humor is an elegant way of adapting 0 1 2 3 420. Trying to master situations through uses of humor is really dumb 0 1 2 3 421. I can actually have some control over a group by using humor 0 1 2 3 422. Uses of humor help to put me at ease 0 1 2 3 423. I use humor to entertain my friends 0 1 2 3 424. My clever sayings amuse others 0 1 2 3 4

For the following questions, please rate your level of difficulty in the situations by circling the corresponding number:0=No difficulty; 1=A little; 2=Moderate; 3=Quite a bit; 4=Extreme

1. Managing day-to-day life (e.g., getting places on time, handling money, making every day decisions) 0 1 2 3 42. Performing your duties at home, work, or school 0 1 2 3 43. Relationships with family members 0 1 2 3 44. Getting along with people outside of the family 0 1 2 3 45. Lack of self-confidence, feeling bad about yourself 0 1 2 3 46. Adjusting to major life stresses (e.g., new job, new school, moving, separation, death) 0 1 2 3 47. Feeling satisfaction with your life 0 1 2 3 48. Overall emotional condition 0 1 2 3 49. Maintaining a relationship with a significant other 0 1 2 3 410. Feeling comfortable around people you don’t know 0 1 2 3 411. Accepting the authority of others 0 1 2 3 412. Expressing your needs to others 0 1 2 3 4

Gender: Male Female

Age: ____________

Submitted 4/22/2003 1:21:37 PM
Last Edited 4/22/2003 1:36:42 PM
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