Bring the Funny — and Measure It


Elizabeth S. Bast and Elliot M. Berry wrote “Laugh Away the Fat? Therapeutic Humor in the Control of Stress-induced Emotional Eating.” Their purpose was to call attention to the relationships between obesity and the “hypothesized mechanisms” of emotional eating. The publication included what the authors modestly termed a brief overview of the research on the relationship between humor and eating behavior.

They describe obesity as “a multifactorial condition of epidemic proportion across much of the developed world.” On the bright side, it appears that one of the ways to combat it is a virtual commodity that brings no profit to any pharmaceutical corporation, and that is the ability to tickle funny bones.

Yin and yang

Also important is an individual’s capacity to experience funny bone tickling. Humor is officially defined as a personality trait, and like everything else in science, it needs to be measured. To discover and describe a person’s sense of humor, Bast and Berry explain that there are two main “instruments” — in the sense that a ruler or a odometer is an instrument — because they all measure something.

In 1984, Rod A. Martin and Herbert M. Lefcourt introduced the “Situational Humor Response Questionnaire,” aka SHRQ. It was designed to figure out how a sense of humor can moderate stress. Dr. Martin has said that “we defined sense of humor as the frequency with which a person smiles, laughs, and otherwise displays mirth in a wide variety of life situations.” The SHRQ describes 18 situations, either pleasant or unpleasant, and respondents are asked about their reactions.

The report said that…

[…] significant correlations were found between the SHRQ and a number of criteria, including mirth responses during an interview, peer ratings of Ss’ sense of humor, a measure of positive mood, and rated wittiness of impromptu comedy monologs.

The other test with a similar aim is the “Coping Humor Scale or CHS,” “created to investigate how subjects used humor specifically to cope with stressful situations.” To make further investigation count, researchers hope to find an information-gathering tool more reliable than self-reporting, because bias can influence answers that relate to both humor and emotional eating.

There is also work to be done on the cross-cultural effects of humor. More recently, the “Humor Styles Questionnaire” (HSQ) was developed in an attempt to overcome problems inherent in the others. It classifies humor into four main pigeonholes…

[…] two of which are hypothesized to be psychologically beneficial (so-called affiliative and self-enhancing humor) and two detrimental (aggressive and self-defeating humor).

Also, what a sense of humor means is that two different things are going on — humor appreciation and humor generation. The ability to generate or create humor is more closely associated with effective coping, but humor appreciation can also go a long way toward success in dealing with mundane life. Here is an interesting detail:

Preliminary studies have shown that while people with a greater “sense of humor” have a greater subjective satisfaction with their health, they are not healthier per se.

Humor therapy is certainly not suggested as a stand-alone methodology. A person’s eating habits and choice of diet and activity level are all very important. However, research seems to imply that humor therapy can impact the personality in such a way that taking care of those other areas becomes easy and joyful, rather than burdensome.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Laugh Away the Fat? Therapeutic Humor in the Control of Stress-induced Emotional Eating,”, Jan. 2014
Source: “Situational Humor Response Questionnaire: Quantitative measure of sense of humor,”, July 1984
Photo credit: Philippe Put via Visualhunt/CC BY

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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