The very premise of this article might sound ridiculous. After all, what could possibly be funny about a global pandemic that has altered our everyday lives, shutting down entire countries, and redefining the very notion of human interaction? In times of crisis, however, when we’re scared, don’t know what the hell is going on or when will it all end, comedy seems to be one of the best coping mechanisms.
So, as the coronavirus continues to spread across the world, let’s try and find a sense of reprieve in these dire circumstances, shall we? Bored Panda has collected another series of viral memes, jokes, and just about everything else that pokes fun at the difficult situation we’re currently in.
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Peter McGraw, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and director of the Humor Research Lab, said he and colleagues have established is that humor can emerge from benign moral violations. These are threats to worldviews that still manage to come off as harmless.
“The things that are bad in our life can also be good fodder for comedy,” McGraw told Inverse. “The act of making jokes is about transforming these violations and transforming them into something that is laugh-worthy. It allows us the opportunity to see situations differently.”
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The second benefit, according to the expert, is that we experience positive emotions when we laugh. Studies show that when we hear a joke that resonates with our sense of humor, our brain likes it. As soon as the punch line hits, our brain’s reward system lights up and releases “feel good” neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins.
What allows us to find certain serious topics funny is psychological distance, and this is mediated by four dimensions: spatial, temporal, social, and mental. McGraw said that psychological distance is what psychologists call a moderator — it can either turn up or turn down an effect.
“Things that seem absurd are immediately encoded as unreal — even if it’s actually something that is real,” McGraw explained. “That can help enhance the likelihood that it’s seen as amusing.”
A group of researchers also demonstrated that humor can both prevent negative emotions and cure them. In their experiment, participants watched a video of a stand-up routine and a compilation of graphic fatality scenes. When people watched the stand-up before the scary video, it made the fatalities feel less stressful. Meanwhile, when they watched the stand-up afterward, the clip reduced some of the anxiety caused by the first video.