Laughing can help end an argument, but it depends on the joke. Three American researchers recently studied humour and its effect on conflict. They videotaped couples while they were trying to resolve a relationship conflict and then rated the following types of humour.
Not surprisingly, they found that these types of humour had different effects on the conflict. Here is a basic summary of how these types of humour effected the conflict:
Affiliative humour was the safest type of humour during an argument. This type of humour led to more laughing, less anger, and more satisfaction with the argument. It seems this type of humour was particularly effective when the partner was highly distressed.
Aggressive humour was sometimes OK and sometimes not. People could take aggressive humour and see that it was a joke when things were calm. However, this type of humour did not work well when the recipient was actually seeking care.
Self-defacing humour did not work at any time. First, this type of humour was hard on the one telling the joke. It led to less satisfaction with the argument and this type of humour is generally connected with depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Secondly, it focused attention on the person's foibles and left less energy and attention on the other person who needed care.
Humour is important in relationships. Positive humour is associated with relationship satisfaction and inside-jokes are associated with intimacy and belongingness. This isn't surprising, but before looking at these results I didn't think humour would be helpful during a conflict. Looking back now on my own interactions, I realized that humour is often effective in tense situation.
Overall, it seems that humour can be helpful in arguments, you just have to make sure you're both laughing.
By Dr. Syras Derksen
Winterheld, H. A., Simpson, J. A., & Orina, M. M. (2012). It's in the way you use it: Attachment and dyadic us of humor during conflict negotiation in romantic couples. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39(4), 496-508. (http://psp.sagepub.com/content/39/4/496.abstract)