Does humor facilitate coping with physical discomfort?

Dolf Zillmann, Steve Rockwell, Karla Schweitzer, S. Shyam Sundar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


The mediation of superior coping with physical discomfort after humorous stimulation was explored through respondents' exposure to materials varying markedly in their capacity to evoke amusement and joviality. Both male and female respondents were exposed to (a) stand-up comedy, (b) situation comedy, (c) serious drama, (d) instructional material, or (e) tragedy. Discomfort threshold for cuff pressure at the upper arm was ascertained prior to and following exposure. Cognitive and affective responses to the materials were recorded after the postexposure threshold measurement. Compared against exposure to instructional material in the control condition, and compared against pre-exposure threshold measures, exposure to either type of comedy and, unexpectedly, to tragedy significantly elevated the threshold for physical discomfort in both male and female respondents. Serious drama had no such effect. Taken together, the exposure effects on the discomfort threshold could not be attributed to amusement reactions. Nor could they be considered mediated by responses of positive hedonic quality during and after exposure. There was some indication, however, that the capacity of stimuli to evoke humorous reactions (material being deemed funny) and the absorption potential of stimuli (material being deemed captivating) were positively involved in the mediation of postexposure tolerance of physical discomfort.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalMotivation and Emotion
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1993

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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