Sunday 22 January 2017

Humour in Psychology is Serious Business

Rod Martin, who recently retired after more than three decades of teaching Clinical Psychology at Western University in Ontario, Canada, dedicated his career to the psychology of humour.

Using a questionnaire he developed in fieldwork during his PhD 30 years ago, Martin found people who scored highest – indicating they had a strong sense of humour – were less likely to become depressed or anxious when they experienced stressful life events.

However, he spent a good part of the rest of his career refining, and in many ways, discounting this finding. It turns out that the type of humour dictates how likely one is to be depressed or happy. Martin noted "...humour is a very complex thing, and it's not always positive. There are negative aspects of humour too, aspects that are associated with depression and anxiety – maladaptive humour,"

Martin became convinced that what's really important is not how much you laugh or how funny you are, but how you use humour in everyday interactions with people. Do you use it in an aggressive way? Do you put people down all the time? Are you sarcastic? Cynical?

The differences and results can be complicated and subtle as Martin explains "Self-deprecating humour is positive, healthy. You laugh at yourself. Self-defeating humour is not positive. It comes out of low self-esteem, putting yourself down in a funny way." but at great emotional expense.