Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

December 1995


Published in Motivation and Emotion, Vol. 19, No. 4 (1995), pp. 255–267. Copyright © 1995 Plenum Publishing Corporation, division of Springer Verlag. Used by permission.


Hypotheses derived from toughness theory suggest that nonaggressive humor should lead to increased feelings of energy without influencing tension, to preferences for studying materials that require more effort and energy, and to ratings of mundane laboratory activities as more challenging but not more threatening. Eighty-one college-age men and women were randomly assigned to watch a 12-minute video of Bill Cosby's humor or to watch a nonhumorous control video that analyzed the Cosby comedy routine. The humor condition resulted in significant increases in feelings of energy but not in feelings of tension. The other hypotheses were also confirmed except that performance on the mundane tasks was not significantly enhanced by exposure to humor. The usefulness of considering arousal quality rather than only quantity is discussed, as is the question of whether these results could be mediated by increased positive affect rather than increased energy. Implications of these results for toughness theory and for theories of humor are considered.