Terror management theory has spawned a body of experimental research documenting a multitude of defensive responses to mortality salience manipulations (e.g., rigid adherence to dominant cultural values, self-esteem bolstering). Another substantive body of work suggests that humor functions as a natural and often effective means of down-regulating stressful or traumatic experiences. Integrating a terror management paradigm with a cartoon captioning task, the present study finds that participants subliminally primed with death wrote funnier captions than those primed with pain, as judged by outside raters. Interestingly, a reverse pattern was obtained for participants' own ratings of their captions; explicitly death-primed participants rated themselves more successful at generating humorous captions than their pain-primed counterparts, while no significant difference emerged between the two subliminal priming conditions. Findings contribute new insights to recent research suggesting that death reminders may sometimes facilitate creativity and open-mindedness.
HUMOR, the official publication of the International Society for Humor Studies (ISHS), was established over 25 years ago as an international interdisciplinary forum for the publication of high-quality research papers on humor as an important and universal human faculty. The journal publishes original contributions in areas such as interdisciplinary humor research, humor theory, and humor research methodologies.