Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


This thesis studied several problems that concerned humor as a means of coping with stressful situations involving loss, threat, and challenge. First, the study sought to obtain empirical data as to the differential effectiveness and use of humor in coping with these three types of stressful situations. Coping effectiveness was measured in terms of perceived problem solving, perceived distress reduction, and the moods and coping-related outcomes associated with these situations. Secondly, this thesis studied problems pertaining to the possible stress-moderating processes involved when using humor as a coping strategy. Does the use of humor reflect some form of neurotic avoidance of the stressor, or does it reflect a more mature approach to the stressful situation? Also, does humor lead to a greater sense of personal control and in this way play a role in the stress-buffering process? Finally, since Cousins (1979) compared laughing to “internal jogging” that provides a mini workout for the body, the present study examined the relationship between humor and physical health. A sample of 101 university students was recruited to identify three stressful situations that they had encountered in the past six months “a loss, threat, and challenge” and to indicate on a coping questionnaire the methods by which they coped with each situation. They also indicated the moods and coping-related outcomes associated with these stressors. Other questionnaires included two measures of humor, a measure of personal control, and a health measure. Results indicated that humor was used most in situations involving challenge. Also, in terms of perceived problem solving effectiveness, humor was most effective in situations involving challenge. Regarding perceived distress reduction, results failed to indicate differential effectiveness. Regarding the moods related to the situation, the results failed to indicate that use of humor was associated with either total mood disturbance or vigor. The study also failed to evidence that humor was related to how well subjects thought they handled the situation or to the perceived stress associated with the situation. Additional analyses revealed that situations involving challenge were associated with more vigor, less total mood disturbance, and were regarded as handled better than situations involving loss or threat; a loss was associated with less vigor and was not handled as well as a threat or challenge; and a threat was associated with more total mood disturbance than a loss or challenge. Analyses revealed that individuals who use humor also used mature means of coping. This study failed to indicate a relation between humor and personal control or between humor and physical health.


Richard P. Schellenberg

Date of Award

Summer 1988

Document Type

Thesis - campus only access


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