Perpetua: The UAH Journal of Undergraduate Research


College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences


Communication Arts


This study sought to explain the connection between self-reported public speaking anxiety level, humor use, and the effect that humor may have on public speaking anxiety levels during student's speeches. Existing studies theorize that humor may improve a speaker's disposition during their speech but are yet to empirically measure stress response. Humor in specific contexts, such as medical fields or business, has been shown to relax the audience, but it can backfire and make the speaker lose credibility. Our method relied on 120 undergraduate students who wore wrist-based, heart rate monitors during their speeches. Instances of humor were derived from the speeches using video recordings. We compared students' self-report stress level to the speaker's actual stress level during the live speech to see the impact of humor usage. Next, we looked at the speaker's sustained stress level during the time they were telling a funny story or joke. The results indicate that there might be a relationship between humor and public speaking anxiety, but the stress response was not different based on self-reported stress level. We provided examples of 8 participants, which all show instances in which there was a drop in RR levels during humor usage. This study gives empirical evidence for teachers and public speaking coaches on when to advise humor use in speeches. While humor can be rewarding, it appears to cause a heightened stress response due to a sense of vulnerability.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.