An Exploratory Study of the Effects of Humor on Depression and Hopelessness of Incarcerated Males

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The objective of this research was to explore the effects of humor, in the form of video-tapes of stand-up comedy performances, on the levels of depression and hopelessness of incarcerated males. The major finding was a significant decrease in baseline levels of depression and of hopelessness, as serially measured by the Beck Depression Inventory and Hopelessness Scale. The level of significance was p<.05. The total population of fifty males housed in a medium-sized detention center in Baltimore County, Maryland were placed in one of two treatment groups designated as the Aggressive-Humor (A-H) and the Non- Aggressive Humor (N-A H) Groups. Each group had twenty five members; subjects in the A-H Group saw two comedy tapes, one by Eddie Murphy and one by Richard Pryor. The N-A H Group members viewed a tape by Bill Cosby and one by Whoopi Goldberg. Although both groups appeared to be rather homogenous, the data revealed a substantial difference in the response to the comedy tapes: on average, subjects in the A-H Group laughed approximately twice the total recorded for the N-A H Group. Notwithstanding, the Cosby and Goldberg tapes significantly decreased the depression and hopelessness of the subjects in the N-A H Group. The responsibilities of the correctional system are broad and diverse. With crime on the rise, its obligations from either a detention or rehabilitation perspective will continue to grow. Correctional centers are charged with expanded control in monitoring behaviors of the incarcerated in groups as well as individually; the over-representation of the mentally ill who are incarcerated extends this responsibility to safe environment. By necessity, part of this goal is to decrease depression and feelings of hopelessness so prevalent among inmates. Humor emerged as an effective conduit for this objective.