Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in Psychology



First Advisor

Stefan E. Schulenberg

Second Advisor

Todd A. Smitherman

Third Advisor

Mervin R. Matthew

Relational Format



Background: Humans have a sense of meaning, and people actively create and maintain meaning in their lives. One way humans make meaning is through fluid compensation, which is the automatic process of compensating for a threat to one’s global meaning system by temporarily strengthening other, non-related beliefs. This phenomenon has been thoroughly investigated in response to mortality salience (i.e., reminders of one’s death), but not absurd humor. This is important because little is known about the role of humor in meaning making. More research is needed to determine whether humor is a unique meaning-making process. Further, no studies have investigated the effects of absurd humor and mortality salience on multiple aspects of the global meaning system. Finally, influential models of meaning making suggest that distress tolerance moderates meaning-making processes — but this has not been empirically verified. The present study aimed to fill these gaps in the literature by investigating the fluid compensatory effects of absurd humor and mortality salience on moral identity, belongingness, belief in a just world, and meaning in life. Results: Participants found humor in each reading condition and did not fluid compensate, suggesting that humor is a meaning-making process. Since fluid compensation was not detected, the role of distress tolerance in meaning making remains a fruitful direction for research. Discussion: The results of the current study indicate that humor is a meaning making process and bidirectional fluid compensation is theoretically possible. Research corroborating humor as a meaning-making process, the mechanism(s) by which humor works within the context of meaning making, and the clinical application of humor have important implications for people’s mental and physical health.


Clinical Psychology


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