Laughter Is (Powerful) Medicine: the Effects of Humor Exposure on the Well-being of Victims of Aggression

David Cheng, Rajiv Amarnani, Tiffany Le, Simon Restubog

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aggression at work is an expensive and widespread problem. While a large body of research has studied its antecedents and consequences, few studies have examined what victims can do to help mitigate the damage once it has occurred. Many practitioners and scholars have suggested that workers seek out humor to help them deal with the impact of stressors such as aggression, but little is known about whether humor can actually help victims deal with the psychological damage caused by aggression in the workplace. This paper presents a programmatic series of four experimental studies that examine whether and how exposure to humorous stimuli improves well-being among victims of interpersonal aggression by integrating the superiority theory of humor with Lazarus and Folkman’s transactional model of stress and coping. Study 1 (N = 84 students) showed that exposure to humor had a positive effect on well-being in a sample based in the Philippines. Consistent with theoretical prescriptions from the superiority theory of humor, this effect was mediated by increased momentary sense of power. Study 2 (N = 205 students) found the same positive effects of humor exposure on well-being in a sample based in Australia even when manipulating perpetrator power. These findings were replicated in studies 3 (N = 175 MTurk workers) and 4 (N = 235 MTurk workers) among a diverse sample of workers based in the USA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-402
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Business and Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 15 2019


  • Humor
  • Sense of power
  • Well-being
  • Workplace aggression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Applied Psychology
  • General Psychology


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