Zoom assembly after Zoom assembly, whereas making an attempt to feed, entertain and beg-to-sleep an toddler whose day care had closed, I wanted a break however couldn’t actually take one in April of 2020.
Enter memes. Between work, shifting the laundry and taking good care of my very own canines, I may sneak a peak at Instagram and chuckle at pictures of very excited pups, psyched that their people have been now dwelling all day, each day.
I study media processes and effects, which is the psychology of how media messages can have an effect on you. Because the pandemic dragged on, I received increasingly occupied with how folks have been utilizing social media—and memes that includes cute and humorous pics, particularly—as a approach to suppose and talk with others about life throughout a world pandemic.
Memes are little models of tradition that unfold from one particular person to the following. They’ve existed since lengthy earlier than the start of the web, however digital know-how provides new dimensions, given the convenience of making, enhancing and sharing memes on-line. Standard web memes usually develop their very own names, comparable to “Distracted Boyfriend,” “Squinting Girl” and “Handshakes.”
Step one in our research was combing by way of tons of of actual memes we discovered within the wild on social media. We requested contributors to price them for the way humorous and cute they have been, in addition to how genuine they appeared as standard web memes.
Utilizing that knowledge, we developed two swimming pools of memes utilizing the identical pictures: One set had captions about COVID-19 and one other set had captions unrelated to COVID-19.
In our essential research, we recruited practically 800 contributors to view a sequence of pictures utilizing on-line survey software program. One group noticed the COVID-19 memes, whereas a second group noticed the memes not about COVID-19. A 3rd group noticed image-free plain textual content that summarized the final thought of the memes, however was not in in the least humorous.
Then, irrespective of which set of content material our contributors noticed, everybody subsequent answered questions on how they felt in that second. We requested notably about how they felt about COVID-19 and their capability to deal with pandemic stress.
Individuals who seen simply three memes rated themselves on a 1-7 scale as calmer, extra content material and extra amused in contrast with individuals who didn’t see the memes. As an example, individuals who noticed memes scored, on common, a 4.71 on our constructive feelings scale, in contrast with a median of three.85 for individuals who didn’t see a meme. In brief, viewing a couple of cute or humorous memes—no matter their subject—offered a fast enhance of constructive emotion for many individuals.
Furthermore, we discovered that contributors who rated themselves larger on the constructive emotion scale have been additionally extra more likely to really feel assured of their capability to deal with the stress related to dwelling by way of a world pandemic. There appears to be worth in reframing one thing that’s always aggravating and scary right into a extra approachable subject by utilizing humor.
The subject of the memes mattered. Individuals who seen memes about COVID-19 rated themselves as much less harassed about life throughout a world pandemic. Those that noticed COVID-19-related memes additionally reported pondering extra deeply concerning the memes and their that means—what media psychologists name “info processing.” Extra info processing was associated to extra confidence of their skills to deal with pandemic-related stress. It’s attainable that exerting extra effort interested by the subject may result in mentally rehearsing methods to deal with the associated stress, as a substitute of avoiding it totally.
This work provides to a rising physique of analysis demonstrating that individuals use media to assist them cope with stress. For instance, my collaborator Robin Nabi has present in earlier work that utilizing media—whether or not tv, books or social media—is without doubt one of the high methods for managing stress. In her surveys of faculty college students and breast most cancers sufferers, individuals who select media for stress administration reported it as an efficient approach to cope.
Collectively, these research recommend that media use will not be all the time the stress-inducing expertise or waste of time that it’s generally portrayed to be. As an alternative, it probably is dependent upon the precise sort of media message you’re consuming, the kind of particular person you’re and the scenario wherein you’re consuming it.
The pandemic, with its accompanying restrictions on journey, work and socializing, has been an uncommonly aggravating time. Taking a break to view and share bits of cute or humorous popular culture commentary within the type of COVID-19-related memes could be a fast and straightforward approach to join with others and deal with pandemic stress head on by way of laughter.
Jessica Myrick is a professor of media research at Penn State