Adventures in Dating

A savvy guide to courtship and communication.

Laughing Through Life

Humorous communication is an effective coping mechanism

One of my mottos is to “laugh through life.” I believe this stemmed from being raised in a large, very loud, funny family. Naturally, then, humor always appeared to be a “go to” method for me when facing difficult or stressful situations. Still, it was not until graduate school when I learned about the importance of humorous communication as a coping mechanism.

Numerous studies highlight the benefits of being a humorous communicator. Much of this research is conducted from a personality perspective, specifically focusing on humor orientation. That is, “this trait describes one’s predisposition to communicate humor.” This trait is referred to as “HO”— and no—that is not an attempt at humor, it is actually what they call it. Accordingly, highly humorous communicators are described as being “High HO” and individuals who infrequently communicate humor are “Low HO.” Such research is largely conducted by Drs. Melanie and Steve Booth-Butterfield (Melanie http://www.as.wvu.edu/~mbb/mbbhp.html; Steve: http://www.healthyinfluence.com and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Persuasion). 

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It is important to note, though, that there is a competency dimension here. In other words, one cannot simply think that he/she is funny; his/her peers must also view this person as funny. Research supports this claim, finding that high HO communicators are viewed as funny by their peers and, generally, are less lonely (Wanzer, Booth-Butterfield, & Booth-Butterfield, 1996). Importantly, HO communicators are considered to be competent communicators (Wanzer, Booth-Butterfield, & Booth-Butterfield, 1995).

Humor research indicates that highly humorous individuals appear to cope better with difficult situations. Nurses who reported using humor in their stressful career also reported a sense of effective coping (Wanzer et al., 2005). Similarly, humorous individuals who worked while also attending school full time reported coping better than less humorous individuals.

A natural question becomes, then, how and why can this benefit my romantic relationship? My own research, with Melanie Booth-Butterfield and Jaime Bochantin, revealed that humor and conflict/stress are related. We studied a stressful relationship, specifically focusing on couples where one person was a police officer. Our findings revealed that high HO communicators reported less romantic partner disagreement, lower levels of stress, and less intense and hostile conflict discussions. Once again, these findings support the argument that humor is an effective coping mechanism.

Collectively, the body of research examining humor orientation suggests that humorous communicators cope well with difficult situations. That said, if you have a low HO remember that you can interact with humorous media (e.g., stand-up comedy, movies, television shows) when feeling stressed and likely receive similar stress alleviating benefits.

With this research in mind, I hope we can all work to “laugh through life.”

Follow me on Twitter @therealdrsean for relationship commentary/links, complaints about mass transit, support for WVU sports, and irrelevant pop culture commentary. Continue to follow this blog for future entries romantic relationship processes.

Writing based on:

Horan, S. M., Bochantin, J., & Booth-Butterfield, M. (2012). Humor in high stress relationships: Understanding communication in police officers’ romantic relationships. Communication Studies, 63, 554-573. doi: 10.1080/10510974.2011.633297

See also:

Booth-Butterfield, S., & Booth-Butterfield, M. (1991). Individual differences in the communication of humorous messages. Southern Communication Journal, 56, 32–40.

Wanzer, M., Booth-Butterfield, M., & Booth-Butterfield, S. (1995). The funny people: A source-orientation to the communication of humor. Communication Quarterly, 43, 142–154.

Wanzer, M. B., Booth-Butterfield, M., & Booth-Butterfield, S. (1996). Are funny people more popular: The relationship of humor orientation, loneliness, and social attraction. Communication Quarterly, 44, 42–52.

Wanzer, M. B., Booth-Butterfield, M., & Booth-Butterfield, S. (2005). ‘‘If we didn’t use humor we’d cry’’: Use of humor as coping in healthcare. Journal of Health Communication, 10, 105–125.

Sean M. Horan, Ph.D. is a faculty member in the College of Communication at DePaul University who researches the communication that occurs in dating relationships.

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