menu
William and Mary
search

Fall 2012

"What's So Funny? The Nature and Value of Humor"

  • Free and open to the public.
  • Presented by John Morreall, Chair and Professor of Religious Studies

Up until the 20th century, humor got no respect in society. The kid with the musical talent was sent to the music room, the one with a flair for art to the art room, but the kid with a good sense of humor was sent to the principal's office.

Humor – once viewed negatively and condemned – is actually healthy and has real medical, psychological and social benefits. Scholars, such as Chair and Professor of Religious Studies John Morreall, have explored what humor is and why it's valuable.

Morreall says that physically and mentally, humor is the opposite of stress. Laughter lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation, reduces muscle tension and pain and boosts the immune system.

Humor also creates psychological distance between the stressful situation and the person. This disengagement fosters mental flexibility, blocking negative emotions and allowing us to think our way through problems instead of feeling our way through them.

According to Morreall, "humor is a social lubricant," and it can defuse conflicts, reduce defensiveness and create rapport and good morale.  Companies such as Southwest Airlines have put play and humor into their work culture and have seen great results, he said.

With all its benefits, Morreall cautioned that humor is also inherently dangerous.

A fair warning to those attending the lecture.  You're sure to learn a lot – and laugh, too.