Why does humor improve our mood?

Humor makes us think and that interrupts negative emotions:

This study aimed to demonstrate that the cognitive demands involved in humor processing can attenuate negative emotions. A primary aspect of humor is that it poses cognitive demands needed for incongruency resolution. On the basis of findings that cognitive distraction prevents mood-congruent processing, the authors hypothesized that humorous stimuli attenuate negative emotions to a greater extent than do equally positive nonhumorous stimuli. To test this idea, the authors used a modified version of the picture-viewing paradigm of L. F. Van Dillen and S. L. Koole (2007). Participants viewed neutral, mildly negative, and strongly negative pictures, followed by either a humorous or an equally positive nonhumorous stimulus, and then rated their feelings. Participants reported less negative feelings in both mildly and strongly negative trials with humorous positive stimuli than with nonhumorous positive stimuli. Humor did not differentially affect emotions in the neutral trials. Stimuli that posed greater cognitive demands were more effective in regulating negative emotions than less demanding stimuli. These findings fully support Van Dillen and Koole’s working memory model of distraction from negative mood and suggest that humor may attenuate negative emotions as a result of cognitive distraction.

Source: “Finding comfort in a joke: consolatory effects of humor through cognitive distraction.” from Emotion. 2009 Aug;9(4):574-8.

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