Communication Article Review Paper on Does Humor Facilitate Coping with Physical Discomfort?

Does Humor Facilitate Coping with Physical Discomfort?

Zillmann, D., Rockwell, S., Schweitzer, K., & Sundar, S. S. (1993). Does humor facilitate coping with physical discomfort? Motivation and emotion, 17(1), 1-21.

Research Question: Can exposure to humor elevate the threshold of physical discomfort more than going for a proven treatment, for instance, a relaxation therapy?

Independent Variables

Exposure to films depicting humor

Effect of humor on physical discomfort

Dependent variables

Physical effects

Threshold of physical discomfort

Perception of humor on the health of individuals

Level of measurement

Independent variables: 1) Ordinal 2) Nominal

Dependent variables: Interval (likert- type scales


Experimental: Within the design for the subjects

First phase (Prescreening)

Convenience samples of participants N =100

Second phase

The subjects were 100 students; composed of 50 male and 50 females. 10 subjects of each gender were chosen for each category: tragedy, instruction, drama, situation, and standup comedy. Blood pressure was taken for all the members to test their exposure to physical discomfort threshold.

Third Phase

Each group was exposed to activities that would cause physical discomfort, such as carrying cartons from the ground floor to the second floor before joining the programs. The study was conducted for two days, and both individual and mean rates were taken for the experiments.

Fourth Phase

Control subjects were exposed to material classified as instructional and tragedy. Subjects were also debriefed as this was the final step of the study.


Emotional Response:

The subjects were happier and appeared less anxious after watching the comic material, such as standup comedy. Exposure to didactic material resulted in a change of M=85 mmHg, after no exposure, M= 91mmHg and exposure to relaxation therapy M= 130mmHg. Exposure to treatment affected physical discomfort threshold M=169mmHg. A second experiment produced similar results for accuracy and validation purposes.

Standup comedy was considered to be the funniest with subject referring to particular jokes that they thought were hilarious. There were different levels of enjoyment among the subjects.   Individuals cited being relaxed after watching comedy rated shows in comparison to the tragic classified movies. Laughter associated to the comedy resulted in less production of stress related hormones, such as cortisol, which in turn resulted in less physical discomfort.


External validity was okay because the convenience sample was used and was considered a sufficient representation of the general population (N=100). The subjects that were used in the control condition chose the classification, which could have led to a pre-condition of their mind on how to feel, thus affecting the outcome of the study.

Internal validity of the results might be as a result of a past encounter, such as having watched a comedy before and having experienced physical relief or having watched a similar comedy and had no any physical relief experienced in the past.

The subjects might have figured out the purpose of the study being carried out and preconditioned their feelings and responses to the humor. This might have affected their response or lack of it to physical discomfort and threshold levels of it.

Discriminate validity was low because the measure of discomfort could not be properly determined, as participants did not lift same weights. Long-term exposure to discomfort, as well as exposure to physical discomfort remedies was lacking, as the study was conducted for only two days. Decreasing levels of physical discomfort could result from natural mood changes, rather than exposure to humorous videos. Awareness of the study purpose could have interfered with the results, especially when the obvious outcomes are known. However, relaxation programs can assist in relieving physical discomfort, but they are not as effective as humorous programs.