Humour and Stress in Male and Female Students


People face stress from various stimuli that end up affecting their lifestyle and responses related to various areas. This study attempts to investigate whether the stress can be affected by the priming effects associated with looking at humorous pictures. The research applied a quasi-experimental design with a controlled population sample of 20 individuals per group. Each of the groups comprised of an equal number of males and females. The data were collected using questionnaires in order to retrieve 40 responses. The results were analysed according to the two-way ANOVA. The results of the data analysis showed no exact relationship between the variables of gender, humorous or non-humorous conditions, and the perceived stress in students.

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Laughter is discussed by researchers as a specific reaction of the human organism to the stimuli that are positive and pleasant. Bennett and Lengacher (2009) note that laughter can improve human health in terms of increasing the level of life satisfaction and strengthening the mechanisms of the protection from stress. The researchers in the field of psychology are inclined to explain such positive outcomes of certain emotions and attitudes with the focus on the primary effect (Mora-Ripoll, 2011). Thus, the priming effect allows people to react differently to stimuli depending on the previous reaction to some other specific stimulus (Vlachopoulos, Xaplanteris, Alexopoulos, Aznaouridis, & Vasiliadou, 2009). The priming effect is important to be studied while assessing the perceived stress of a particular population. Studies show that the priming is a subconscious memory effect that activates another reaction in a person. In this respect, seeing the stimuli as a trigger, it is possible to expect a certain reaction of an individual. The priming effect has been investigated by researchers to find out the relationships between the behaviours of professors and students’ achievements (Lebowitz, Suh, Diaz, & Emery, 2011).

However, there were no appropriate studies to explain the priming effect in the relation between the laughter as a stimulus and the students’ reaction to the stress in their daily life. Hasan and Hasan (2009) note that students can be viewed as the stressed population on a daily basis, and much attention should be paid to finding ways to increase their optimism and improve the stress protection mechanisms. In this context, laughter can be one of such mechanisms. Moreover, male and female students are inclined to react to the stress differently, with the focus on various ways of demonstrating the reaction to the stress. Males seem to hide the impact of the stress on their lives when females are inclined to demonstrate their reactions more openly (Mora-Ripoll, 2011). Therefore, this study is important to be conducted because it is designed to explore the particular effects of laughter on the levels of stress reported by male and female students.

This study examines how male and female students react to humorous pictures and messages with the focus on possible laughter. The participants are divided into two groups, one of the groups represents students seeing humorous pictures, whereas the other group is a control one. Moreover, the study aims to examine how these reactions of males and females affect their perception of the stress according to the priming effect. Hypotheses for the study are the following ones:

  • H1: There can be a difference in the attitudes of students towards the perceived stress in relation to viewing humorous and non-humorous pictures.
  • H2: There can be a difference in the attitudes of students towards the perceived stress in relation to their gender.
  • H3: There can be an interaction effect of laughter and gender on students’ attitudes towards the perceived stress.



This study is an unrelated cross-sectional quasi-experiment designed to assess the specific groups of students while paying attention to the convenience sample as the selection of participants depending on their allocation and status. The two-way ANOVA experiment was conducted, and the independent variables (IVs) included laughter measured with the focus on the absence or presence of the reaction to the humorous material and gender with the focus on males and females. The dependent variable (DV) was the perceived stress captured by the Perceived Stress Scale questionnaire developed to indicate the persons’ feelings and thoughts. The control group included the number of male and female participants and could see the non-humorous material.


The total number of participants was 40 students (n=40), aged 18-29 years old. This targeted group included 20 participants. Another group comprising of 20 participants was a control group. In this group, the participants were not provided with humorous material. From these two sample populations, the individuals were divided into 50% males and 50% females; therefore, each group included 10 males and 10 females. Students studying at the University were allocated to the groups purposefully to keep the gender balance; thus, the convenience sample was used.


The participants in the two groups were provided with two types of priming materials. The participants in the targeted group were provided with the humorous pictures containing humorous messages, and the participants in the control group were provided with the non-humorous neutral pictures. The pictures were taken from the websites. The further assessment was conducted with the help of the Perceived Stress Scale questionnaire comprised of 10 questions (Appendix A). The questionnaire aimed to demonstrate the level of the students’ stress and stability in reacting to various issues such as the ability to control life problems and demonstrate the effective decision-making in the stressful situations. It was designed as a 5-point Likert scale in order to quantify the qualitative responses according to the provided alternative with the highest score meaning the positive answer (4 – “Very often”). The participants were also asked to note their age, sex, and occupation. The internal reliability of the questionnaire was guaranteed by the complacent questions directed towards attaining one goal, and the mean Cronbach’s α is.862. It included all the variables of the study to ensure that evaluations were satisfactory.

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The participants from two groups signed the informed consent, and then they were provided with the humorous materials (for the targeted group) and non-humorous materials (for the control group). After that, the same questionnaire was distributed to the patricians for the targeted and control groups. The participants were asked to complete the questionnaire using the 5-point Likert scale. All information was kept confidential by restricting the collection of the participant’s name in order to retain the expected research ethics. The quantified information has been selected as testable and applicable for confirmatory tests through the two-way ANOVA. The SPSS tool was used to analyse the received quantitative results.

Ethics. The researchers followed the ethical code of conduct of the University. The study was approved by the FRM team in the University. The research group form was submitted, as well as the consent forms signed by all participants in the study. The participants were informed about the actual procedure and their right to withdraw from the quasi-experiment at any stage. The protected confidentiality of the data results was accentuated. The questionnaire and SPSS data were anonymous.


The quasi-experiment was conducted to examine the priming effect of laughter or seeing humorous materials on the perception of the stress in males and females. The two-way ANOVA was conducted to test the hypotheses. Table 1 summarises the descriptive statistics related to the study.

Table 1. Descriptive Statistics

Dependent Variable: Sum
Gender Effects Mean Std. Deviation N
Female NonHumorous 18.3000 8.11104 10
Humorous 18.2000 8.61265 10
Total 18.2500 8.14264 20
Male NonHumorous 23.5000 6.80278 10
Humorous 15.4000 3.77712 10
Total 19.4500 6.77825 20
Total NonHumorous 20.9000 7.75887 20
Humorous 16.8000 6.63008 20
Total 18.8500 7.41983 40

The data from the table demonstrates that assuming the positive reaction to pictures, females reacted almost equally to humorous materials (mean = 18.2000) and non-humorous materials (mean = 18.3000). However, the reactions of males were distributed more categorically, and they reacted more actively to non-humorous materials (mean = 23.5000).

The significance level on the Levene’s test of equality of error variances was calculated using the SPSS. In this study, F (2.73) = 36, p >.058, which is above the P-value of 0.05. It can be concluded that the result was insignificant.

The two-way ANOVA results and effects were calculated (Appendix B). According to the results, a statistically significant interaction between gender and priming effects affecting the stress perception was observed at the p =.082 level. There was no statistically significant difference in the perceived stress in male and female students (p =.595). There were no statistically significant differences between the priming effects as influencing the stress perception (p =.082). Figure 1 demonstrates the differentiated priming effects between males and females in the study.

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Line graph of priming effects.
Figure 1. Line graph of priming effects.

According to Figure 1, the males scored the non-humorous pictures higher than humorous ones. Females did not demonstrate any significant difference in their choices related to humorous and non-humorous materials.


The relationship between humorous pictures or laughter and the perceived stress was not supported in the study. The priming effect was not meaningful in the context of the selected group of students. The hypothesis about the difference in the males and females’ reactions to the perceived stress was also not supported. Still, the study revealed that the reactions of the males to humorous and non-humorous pictures could be more differentiated than the reactions of women in spite of the fact it was assumed that females were more emotional. This study aimed to test the hypotheses that humour or laughter could have a significant priming effect on the stress level of female and male students. The results indicated the absence of any significant relationship in this case. The gender and effects had no active relationships that are significant to influence the stress levels for students participated in this study.

The research indicates that the perception of the humorous pictures can be different, with the focus on the absence of any reaction. As a result, the priming effect cannot be noted or observed by the researcher (Bennett & Lengacher, 2009). It is important to note that the possibility of the priming effect can be reduced with references to the convenience sample selected for the study, as it is impossible to guarantee the validity of the received results in terms of their representativeness. In the future study, the conditions should remain the same but the sampling strategy can be changed in order to achieve the statistically significant results. The study results are not in line with the previous studies in the field; therefore, more research is necessary for this area.

The limitations of the study are the small sample population selected using the convenience sampling strategy. In the future studies, it is important to test the perceptions of the randomly selected participants. However, it is also important to note that the perception of the stress and the ability to perceive the humour assessed in the study can provide invalid results (Vlachopoulos et al., 2009). When larger population samples are selected to make evaluations, the resultant information is highly reliable, and the potential errors are minimal. Such studies may require that the information can be requested in closed questionnaires in order to understand most of the stress factors completely.

This research investigation sought to understand the stress level determined by female and male students treated in different setups and discussed in the context of the priming effect. The setup was the possibility to look at humorous and non-humorous materials. The investigation detected no differences between treated and controlled populations in order to support the formulated hypotheses. More research is important to be conducted on the determined topic.

Appendix A

The Perceived Stress Scale Questionnaire

This questionnaire is designed to examine the scale about your feelings and thoughts in the last month. Please answer the following questions by indicating in a circle how often you felt or thought a certain way. Also we just want to let you know that your answers will be kept confidential and this questionnaire will remain anonymous. Should you wish to discontinue at any time, please do so. Thank for your time.

Demographic Data

Age —————–

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Sex ——————

Occupation ————–

Please indicate with circle one of the following.

0= Never, 1= Almost Never, 2= Sometimes, 3= Fairly Often, 4= Very Often

1. In the last month, how often have you been upset because of something that happened unexpectedly?

0 1 2 3 4

2. In the last month, how often have you felt that you were unable to control the important things in your life?

0 1 2 3 4

3. In the last month, how often have you felt nervous and “stressed”?

0 1 2 3 4

4. In the last month, how often have you felt confident about your ability to handle your personal problems?

0 1 2 3 4

5. In the last month, how often have you felt that things were going your way?

0 1 2 3 4

6. In the last month, how often have you found that you could not cope with all the things that you had to do?

0 1 2 3 4

7. In the last month, how often have you been able to control irritations in your life?

0 1 2 3 4

8.. In the last month, how often have you felt that you were on top of things?

0 1 2 3 4

9.. In the last month, how often have you been angered because of things that were outside of your control?

0 1 2 3 4

10. In the last month, how often have you felt difficulties were piling up so high that you could not overcome them?

0 1 2 3 4

Appendix B

Tests of Between-Subjects Effects
Dependent Variable: Sum
Source Type III Sum of Squares df Mean Square F Sig.
Corrected Model 342.500a 3 114.167 2.278 .096
Intercept 14212.900 1 14212.900 283.533 .000
Gender 14.400 1 14.400 .287 .595
Effects 168.100 1 168.100 3.353 .075
Gender * Effects 160.000 1 160.000 3.192 .082
Error 1804.600 36 50.128
Total 16360.000 40
Corrected Total 2147.100 39
a. R Squared =.160 (Adjusted R Squared =.089)


Bennett, M. P., & Lengacher, C. (2009). Humor and laughter may influence health IV. humor and immune function. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 6(2), 159-164.

Hasan, H., & Hasan, T. F. (2009). Laugh yourself into a healthier person: a cross cultural analysis of the effects of varying levels of laughter on health. International Journal of Medical Sciences, 6(4), 200-211.

Lebowitz, K. R., Suh, S., Diaz, P. T., & Emery, C. F. (2011). Effects of humor and laughter on psychological functioning, quality of life, health status, and pulmonary functioning among patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a preliminary investigation. Heart & Lung: The Journal of Acute and Critical Care, 40(4), 310-319.

Mora-Ripoll, R. (2011). Potential health benefits of simulated laughter: A narrative review of the literature and recommendations for future research. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 19(3), 170-177.

Vlachopoulos, C., Xaplanteris, P., Alexopoulos, N., Aznaouridis, K., & Vasiliadou, A. (2009). Divergent effects of laughter and mental stress on arterial stiffness and central hemodynamics. Psychosomatic Medicine, 71(4), 446-453.

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