Why do you laugh? Is it a stress reliever or perhaps a coping mechanism for grief? The study of humor, or scientifically known as gelotology, has been around for hundreds of years and was first studied by Sigmund Freud who found interest in the effects of laughter.

Melanie Booth-Butterfield, the Peggy Rardin McConnell Chair of Speech Communication in the West Virginia University Department of Communication Studies, in collaboration with numerous colleagues and graduate students, has been researching the intentional use of humor in communication since 1991. Her studies focus on why people use humor when communicating and more specifically how it helps them deal with possible personal or social issues.

“Although the average human may view humor as simply a joke or a funny story, it’s actually a form of highly recognized communication,” Booth-Butterfield said. “These forms of humorous messages are defined through verbal and nonverbal messages, which elicit laughter or other forms of spontaneous behavior taken to mean pleasure, delight and/or surprise in the targeted receiver.”

However the question is why someone would choose to include humor when communicating. Are they using it to fulfill a void or to lessen pain of some sort? Why do people engage in conversations with people who they view to be “reliably” funny or humorous?” Actually, pro-social humor is a skill, developed at a young age, which eases tensions, increases social attractiveness, heightens popularity and is a reliably positive part of one’s communication repertoire. Therefore people strive to use humor in order to associate themselves with these qualities.

“What we’re finding is that people cope better when they enact humor,” continued Booth-Butterfield. “They’re relieving bad emotions including those of stress or even grief. Those who are funny use humor to deal with social problems, while others will seek out relationships with friends or peers who are known to be funny; this allows them to see the funny or lighter side of something. However, there is much to be learned about the full array of mechanisms and benefits of communicating to entice people to laugh.”

For more information, contact Melanie Booth-Butterfield, at 304-293-3905 or Melanie.Booth-Butterfield@mail.wvu.edu



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