Effects of State Humor, Expectancies, and Choice on Postsurgical Mood and Self-Medication: A Field Experiment1


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    Portions of this report were presented at the 101st annual convention of the American Psychological Association. We thank Karl Goodkin for his aid in gaining access to hospital patients and Brian Cutler, Paul Foos, Bernie Saper, and Steve White for comments on earlier drafts.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to James Rotton, Psychology Department, Florida International University, North Miami, FL 33181. e-mail: rottonj@servax.fiu.edu.


It was hypothesized that repeated exposure to humorous material reduces distress, pain, and medication following surgery. This hypothesis was tested in a field experiment by randomly assigning 78 postsurgical patients to either a control group or 1 of 8 experimental groups formed by the factorial crossing of type of videotape (humorous vs. serious), perceived control (choice vs. no choice), and expectation (positive vs. none). Multivariate analyses of variance disclosed that humor reduced requests for minor medication, combined with expectations to reduce pain, but increased use of heavy analgesic when patients were deprived of choice. Although more research needs to be done, the findings suggest that hospital patients benefit from humorous and distracting material when exposure is voluntary.