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Is humor the best medicine? The buffering effect of coping humor on traumatic stressors in firefighters

Authors

  • Michael Sliter,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.A.
    • Correspondence to: Michael Sliter, Department of Psychology, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, 402N. Blackford St., LD126P, Indianapolis, Indiana 46202, U.S.A. E-mail: msliter@iupui.edu

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  • Aron Kale,

    1. Department of Psychology, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.A.
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  • Zhenyu Yuan

    1. Department of Psychology, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.A.
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Summary

Although our understanding of workplace stressors has grown across the past 30 years, this research has generally ignored traumatic workplace stressors. This is a serious omission, given that many occupations (e.g., firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and police) are frequently exposed to traumatic stressors. As such, the first purpose of the current study was to examine the impact of exposure to traumatic stressors in firefighters. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), burnout, and absenteeism were investigated as cognitive, affective, and behavioral outcomes. Additionally, we sought to investigate coping humor as a mechanism for dealing with traumatic stressors. We frame these expectations by discussing humor from a transactional theory of emotion/coping perspective, as well as through humor's social bonding feature and its ability to combat the physiological impact of stressors. We surveyed 179 firefighters at two time points on relevant variables, with dependent variables collected at Time 2. The results indicated that traumatic events significantly predicted burnout, PTSD, and absenteeism and that coping humor buffered this relationship for burnout and PTSD. We discuss the implications of these findings and call for more research investigating occupations in which traumatic stressors are a concern, as well as for more integration of humor into the workplace literature. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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