Dr. Sean Horan, DePaul University – Humor and Coping with Stress

Sep 27, 2012

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Sean Horan of DePaul University reveals how those in stressful occupations often use humor as a coping mechanism in their relationships.

Sean Horan is an assistant professor of communication at DePaul University where he researches dating relationships, focusing on a number of factors including initial attraction, deception, affection, and deceptive affection. His findings have been published in multiple journals and he holds a Ph.D. from West Virginia University.

About Dr. Horan

Dr. Sean Horan – Humor and Coping with Stress

Humor is a good thing – we like to laugh, as evidenced by our society’s love of comedic movies and shows. Although perceptions of what is “funny” often vary, we are more consistent on who we think is funny. There is considerable variance in how much humor individuals communicate, and such differences are termed humor orientation. Research exploring humor orientation reveals that highly humor oriented individuals are viewed as funny by their friends, are less lonely overall, and more socially attractive. Recent work argues that highly humor oriented individuals are actually better able to manage stress.

Along with Chicago trial consultant Dr. Jaime Bochantin and West Virginia University’s Dr. Melanie Booth-Butterfield, we applied these humor as coping arguments to a stressful romantic relationship: specifically, we wanted to explore if humorous communication in relationships where one partner is a police officer appeared to exhibit similar benefits. Research indicates that relationships where one person is a police officer have both higher and unique stressors: their lives are characterized by alternating shiftwork, dangerous conditions while on duty, and confrontational interactions with the public. When romantically involved with a police officer, the partner of the police officer feels the effects of their spouse’s career choice.

We found support for the argument that humor appears to benefit their relationships. Specifically, romantic partners of police officers with a high humor orientation reported using humor more to cope with situations. Further, highly humor oriented individuals reported experiencing less stress (both perceived and physical), a lower frequency of conflict, and less intense and hostile conflict with their romantic partners.  
Collectively, our findings add to the growing body of research suggesting that humorous individuals cope better with difficult situations and associated stress.