Psychologists from Sheffield Hallam University studied the responses of 160 people to different Covid-19 internet memes. They compared the perception of humour, relatability, shareability and offensiveness of 80 people presenting clinically significant anxiety symptoms compared to 80 non-anxious controls.
The pandemic has had a huge impact on mental health as well as physical health, with a significant reported increase in the prevalence of anxiety and symptoms of depression.
Anxious individuals actively turn to social media as a means of adapting to an uncertain situation, a notion which has been evidenced in the context of the current pandemic.
Humour is considered vital in maintaining physical and psychological wellbeing
Humour is considered vital in maintaining physical and psychological wellbeing and is considered an effective coping mechanism in the face of negative and stressful life events. Indeed, the use of internet memes have become a vital aspect of digital culture which are well established on social media, using cultural and political references to satirise significantly topical events.
After discarding those deemed unrelated to the pandemic the participants were shown a series of 36 highest rated Covid-19 memes gathered from the online forum Reddit. The individuals suffering from anxiety found the memes more funny, relatable, and shareable relative to non-anxious controls.
Dr Umair Akram, lecturer in psychology at Sheffield Hallam University, who led the research said: “Our study found the perception of humour, relatability, and shareability were all greater amongst anxious individuals relative to non-anxious controls. These differences were not mediated by emotion regulation deficits.”
“We found a desire for cohesion and closeness to be prominent motivational factors when sharing what was considered as amusing content on social media.”
“This work tentatively suggests that internet memes related to Covid-19 can act as a coping mechanism; promoting a humorous take on negative experiences by connecting with others experiencing related symptoms.”
The research has been published in the journal Scientific Reports.