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Humor and Mental Illness

 

Investigators: Patrick W. Corrigan, Karina J. Powell, Konadu Fokuo, and Kristin Kosyluk


Background: Public stigma is frequently a barrier to many personal goals for people with mental illness including job opportunities, housing, and quality health care.  A number of anti-sigma programs have been developed with the intention of reducing stigma’s harmful effects.  Humor, though often associated with the promulgation of negative stereotypes, may have the potential to decrease stigmatizing attitudes in the context of disclosure.  Research suggests the effects of humor are impacted by personal differences in humor style.

 

Methods: Research participants completed pre-tests of stigmatizing attitudes and humor style and were then randomized to one of three conditions (a comedy sketch where the comic discloses his mental illness, the same sketch where all allusion to the comic’s mental illness is omitted, and a control comedy sketch).  Research participants then repeated the measure of stigmatizing attitudes and provided perceptions of the comic.

 

Results: Humor styles and perceptions of the comic significantly interacted with sketch type to diminish stigma.  Perceptions of the comic when he self-disclosed as having a mental illness, were associated with reduced stigma from pre to post when the comic was viewed as humorous, having a mental illness, “like me,” and sincere.  The self-disclosed comic who was viewed as less aggressive also showed significantly better change in stigma on the AQ.  People with affiliative humor style significantly decreased stigma after participating in either mental health comedy sketch compared to the control.

 

Conclusions: People who seem to enjoy humor and making people laugh were shown to have significantly larger changes in the disclosed comic condition compared to the nondisclosed and control condition.  An affiliative style was also found to interact with the nondisclosed comic condition which suggests comedy about mental health in general might reduce stigma in a person who enjoys laughing.  An aggressive humor style was not found to interact with either comic condition, a notable finding that suggests offense at a comic’s statement about mental illness does not seem to impede attitude change.  These findings suggest people exposed to comedy about mental health are not empty vessels.  Person-level variables need to be considered in crafting these approaches.  We began with humor styles here as natural mediators of the way comedy routines are experienced.

 

Related Publication:

Corrigan, P.W., Powell, K.J., Fokuo, J.K., & Kosyluk, K.A. (In Review).  Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness through Humor.  Journal of Community Psychology.