Funny memes may have helped people cope with the stress of the coronavirus pandemic, a study published by the American Psychological Association found.
The researchers found that those who viewed memes, especially those with a higher "cuteness" level, reported more positive emotions in comparison to those who viewed other media content.
The study also found that those who viewed memes about the COVID-19 pandemic were even more likely to have lower stress levels about the pandemic than those who viewed memes unrelated to the pandemic.
The study comes after almost two years into a pandemic that has forced many people to become reliant on their electronic devices to work from home and communicate with loved ones. The pandemic has also had a negative impact on mental health. During the beginning of the outbreak, people across the globe were forced into isolation to prevent the spread of the disease.
“This suggests that not all media are uniformly bad for mental health and people should stop and take stock of what type of media they are consuming. If we are all more conscious of how our behaviors, including time spent scrolling, affect our emotional states, then we will better be able to use social media to help us when we need it and to take a break from it when we need that instead,” Jessica Gall Myrick, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, said.
The research was conducted online among 748 people, with an average age of 41.8. The participants were 72.2 percent were white, 54.7 percent were female and 63.5 percent had no college degree.
The researchers gave the participants memes categorized by whether it had content related to a human or animal, if the human or animal were young or old, and based on if the caption of the meme had to do with the pandemic.
The study also surveyed participants to gauge if they felt nervous or stressed. The participants were asked to view three memes with the same kind of subject, cuteness level and caption theme. Afterward, they reported their levels of anxiety or stress and rated the memes based on cuteness.
Myrick states that the findings could be used to help communicate about stressful events to the public.
“Public health advocates or government agencies could potentially benefit by using memes as a cheap, easily accessible way to communicate about stressful events with the public, though they should avoid overly cute memes,” Myrick said.
“The positive emotions associated with this type of content may make people feel psychologically safer and therefore better able to pay attention to the underlying messages related to health threats.”