Couples who laugh together and intentionally reminisce about that shared experience are likely more satisfied with their relationship than couples who don't have that reservoir of experience to draw on, according to research by an Appalachian State University psychology professor.
The study, conducted by Doris G. Bazzini and three of her former students, appears in the January 2007 issue of the journal Motivation and Emotion.
Bazzini, a social psychologist, used observations about her own family as the impetus for her latest research.
"I have often wondered why I enjoy visiting my family so much and why my husband fits in so well with my family," Bazzini said. "We all laugh a lot together. I think that's one of the reasons we have had success in our 15-year marriage."
Researchers have long studied the positive benefits of laughter, particularly in regards to successful relationships. In addition, researchers have studied the benefits that older people derive from reminiscing about past life events that they have experienced.
"What hadn't been done was research to see if intentionally reminiscing about shared laughter had benefits for couples," she said.
Bazzini, Elizabeth Stack, Penny Martincin and Carmen Davis interviewed 52 couples for the study. The couples were placed in one of four experimental groups and asked to reminisce about shared laughter, independent laughter (an event that did not involve their partner), a shared positive experience, or an independent positive experience.
Couples who recalled times they had laughed together immediately reported an increased satisfaction in their relationship. "For how long term that is, we don't know," Bazzini said.
Couples who recalled laughter experiences they had independent of one another, or who reminisced about shared positive events that did not involve laughter, did not report the same spike in relationship satisfaction.
Bazzini says there are several benefits from reminiscing about laughter. "First, it induces laughter, and laughter has a positive affective component," she said. Laughter has been shown to lower blood pressure, and it triggers the release of endorphins, which results in a sense of well-being.
"But you also reap this cognitive benefit which colors your judgment of the relationship and validates the self at the same time. I doubt that couples realize why it's so reinforcing," she said. "It says this is something special between us and creates a bond and cohesiveness in the relationship."
Sharing laughter and recalling shared humorous experiences may also help couples weather tough times, Bazzini said.
"Seemingly insignificant events that make you feel good, or make your relationship feel good for a moment, establishes almost a buffer for the relationship, so that a negative event, like a fight or disagreement, wreaks less havoc," she said.