Researchers say humor is a powerful tool against depression
They say laughter is the best medicine; you might not be able to laugh a broken leg away, but it might help your depression.
- A new study examined 55 individuals recovering from major depression to see how well humor worked as a coping mechanism against stress.
- Individuals at risk for depression often fall into depressive episodes because of faulty coping mechanisms.
- Research indicates that humor works as a powerful defense against depression.
In 1894, Mark Twain had good reason to feel depressed. He owed $100,000 due to some poor investments, the equivalent of about $2.9 million today. To get out from under this debt, Twain did what he did best; he wrote a book called Traveling the Equator, a non-fiction account of his travels in the British Empire. In it, he noted, "The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven."
Whether humor's source is sorrow is still up for debate; however, more than a hundred years later, researchers have found that it is at least a powerful tool to combat sorrow. The research, published in Brain and Behavior, found that humor serves as an exceptionally effective mechanism to cope with depression.
Comedy as emotional defense
Prior research had shown that when an individual at risk for depression is exposed to stress, they fail to use the coping strategies that prevent most folks from falling into depressive episodes. Once their first depressive episode takes hold, it takes less and less stress to trigger subsequent episodes, a kind of depressive downward spiral. So, it stands to reason that teaching depression-prone individuals how to cope with negative life events is an excellent way to prevent further episodes of depression.
Study author Anna Braniecka explained the motivation for their study to PsyPost: "The use of adaptive emotion regulation strategies in people at risk of depression should boost their resilience against depressogenic experiences, however, there is still not enough scientific knowledge to determine which strategies are particularly beneficial in this respect. We decided to fill this gap by investigating one of the most promising, and at the same time the least studied strategy—humor."
The authors examined 55 patients who had been diagnosed with major depression but were in remittance; that is, patients who had been depressed but were diagnosed as healthy at the time of the study. They showed their 55-person sample a series of images designed to elicit a negative reaction, like scenes of war, violence, sick people, etc., and asked the participants to rate their reaction to them. Then, the participants were shown more images from the set, but this time they were asked to respond to them in one of three ways: either neutrally describing the scene, reframing it in a positive way, or making some kind of joke about it.
Unsurprisingly, the participants felt less negatively after they had reframed the scene either through positivity or humor. The participants were also asked about how difficult it was to reframe the scene, how funny or positive they thought their reframing was, and how distant they felt from the scene. Depressed people often fail to distance themselves from negative stimuli; in a sense, they immerse themselves in the negative event too much. The researchers found that humor and positive reframing boosted their sense of distance from negative stimuli, a capability that is associated with preventing depressive relapses.
What's more, although the participants reported that it was more difficult to reframe the scene with humor than it was with positivity, the effect for each was just about as strong, there was no negative impact when a participant tried to make a joke but couldn't pull it off. This is significant, since depressed people are particularly susceptible to "defeat stress," or the stress associated with failure.
Together, the results show that humor is an important arrow in people's quivers when combating depression. Braniecka explained that "humor could broaden depressed individuals' repertoire of adaptive tools of dealing with potentially depressogenic experiences, and in the long run, enhance their resilience."
While the results suggest that humor can be a powerful method for depressed individuals to bolster their emotional resilience, it's important to remember that this is preliminary work. The study didn't examine healthy people, so its hard to say whether the use of humor is an effective strategy for everybody, although the results do seem to suggest that it would be. In addition, the study didn't look at all kinds of humor. Humor can be positive, like laughing at adversity, or negative, like mocking others—how different kinds of humor promote or discourage healthy emotional regulation isn't clear. Despite this hedging, though, the study shows that the next time life feels like it's spiraling out of your control, at the very least, it won't hurt to make a joke.
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Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"
- A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
- Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
- Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
Beards and perceptions of masculinity<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg0MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzkxMjM3N30.cH-GqNwP5GVqvstgJWAhBPn1B_lYpVEAI0I7iax7EQw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C1900%2C0%2C849&height=700" id="caae6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cb0a355a4e8e1899789bc45f3f7aef56" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Photo Credit: Wikimedia<p>The study used 919 American (mostly white) women ages 18-70 who rated 30 pictures of men they were shown with various stages of facial hair growth. The photographs depicted men with faces that had been digitally altered to look more feminine or more masculine, with a beard and without a beard. The women rated the men according to perceived attractiveness for long-term and short-term relationships. The study found that the more facial hair the men had, the higher the men were rated on their attractiveness, particularly for their suitability for a long-term relationship.</p><p>Part of this might be attributed to facial masculinity — i.e. protruding brow ridge, wide cheekbones, thick jawline, and deeply set narrow eyes — which conveys information to a woman about a man's underlying health and formidability. Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength and social assertiveness. It can also indicate a man with a superior immune response. The researchers suggested that their findings favoring bearded men could be due to the fact that facial hair enhances the masculine facial features on a man's face, like creating the illusion of a thicker jaw line. This could communicate direct benefits to women like resources and protection that would enhance survival among mothers and their infants. In other words, while a beard doesn't mean superior genetics in and of itself, it might be a primitive, ornamental way of saying, "Hey girl, I'm a testosterone-fueled lean, mean, pathogen fighting machine." <br></p><p>It could also be that a beard becomes its own destiny. The researchers in this study cite prior research that found that by growing a beard, men felt more masculine and had higher levels of serum testosterone, which was linked to a higher level of social dominance. They also tended to subscribe to more old-school beliefs about gender roles in their relationships with women as compared to men with clean-shaven faces.<span></span><br></p>
What does disgust have to do with beard preference?<p>Obviously, not all women dig beards. The researchers were particularly interested in what traits make a women prefer bearded men over clean-shaven faces. They looked into several factors including a woman's disgust levels on various concepts, her desire to become pregnant, and her exposure to facial hair in her personal life. </p><p>According to the study, women who were not into facial hair were turned-off by potential parasites or other critters they imagined could be in the hair or skin. Women ranking high on this "ectoparasite disgust" scale might have viewed beards as a sign of poor grooming habits. However, women who ranked higher in levels of "pathogen" did find the bearded men to be desirable, possibly because they perceived beards as a signal of good health and immune function. An intriguing discovery in the study was links to morality. Women who displayed higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, were more likely to prefer hairy faces. The authors opined that this could reflect a link between beardedness, politically conservative outlooks, and traditional views regarding performances of masculinity in heterosexual relationships.</p>
Additional findings<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5OTg1My9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDI1NjUyOX0.P9B8WbmJR0q4nfzYZKbuNSA-2SAigVWJgrQE-_Gxlds/img.gif?width=980" id="49143" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2ed3b1d6f20fc170bf2974646e565e8d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Giphy<p>The correlations that existed between married and single women's rating on the attractiveness of beards were not particularly clear, although the researchers noted that single and married women who wanted children tended to find beards more attractive than the women who didn't want children. They also found that women with bearded husbands found beards to be more attractive, which might indicate that social exposure to beards influences how desirable they are perceived of as being. Or it could be that men with wives who like beards grow beards.</p><p>It's important to note that culture plays a huge role in how attractive women perceive certain male characteristics as being. This study looked at a small, culturally specific group of American women, so no big, universal claims should be made about masculinity, facial hair, and male desirability to women. However, research like this is important in highlighting how human grooming decisions are driven by much more than fashion trends. Sociobiological, economic, and ecological factors all play a part in the way we choose to present ourselves.</p>
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