The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach [Second Edition] 9780128121436

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The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach [Second Edition]
 9780128121436

Table of contents :
Front Cover
The Psychology of Humor
Copyright Page
Contents
Preface
Acknowledgments
1 Introduction to the Psychology of Humor
What Is Humor?
Cognitive-Perceptual Processes in Humor
Mirth: The Emotional Response to Perceptions of Humor
Laughter: The Behavioral Response to Perceptions of Humor
A Brief History of Humor-Related Concepts
Etymology of Humor
Changing Views of Laughter
Wit Versus Humor
Evolution of the Concept of Sense of Humor
The Psychological Approach
Trends in the Psychological Study of Humor
The Many Forms of Humor
Performance Humor
Jokes
Spontaneous Conversational Humor
Unintentional Humor
Humor in Psychology Studies
Psychological Functions of Humor
Emotional and Interpersonal Benefits of Mirth
Tension Relief and Coping with Adversity
Social Functions in Group Contexts
Summary and Overview of This Book
Key Concepts
Critical Thinking
2 Classic Theories of Humor
Relief Theories
Spencer’s Relief Theory
Empirical Investigations
Evaluation
Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory
Jokes
Humor
Comic
Empirical Investigations
Humor Preference Hypothesis
Catharsis Hypothesis
Jokework Hypothesis
Evaluation
Superiority Theories
Empirical Investigations
Evaluation
Incongruity Theories
Incongruity-Resolution
The “Humor Mindset”
Empirical Investigations
Incongruity-Resolution Hypothesis
Original Joke
Incongruity-Removed Joke
Resolution-Removed Joke
Humor Mindset Hypothesis
Surprise Hypothesis
Evaluation
Summary and Conclusion
Key Concepts
Critical Thinking
3 Contemporary Theories of Humor
Reversal Theory
Motivational States and Arousal
Cognitive Synergy and Diminishment
The Role of Context
Empirical Investigations
Evaluation
Comprehension-Elaboration Theory
Comprehension: Interpretation, Incongruity, and Reinterpretation
Humor Elicitation: Diminishment, Comprehension Difficulty, and Elaboration
Empirical Investigations
Comprehension and Elaboration
Comprehension Difficulty
Evaluation
Benign Violation Theory
The Benign Violation Hypothesis
Humor: Perceiving Violations as Benign
Empirical Investigations
Perceiving a Benign Violation: Wrong and Not Wrong at the Same Time
Perceiving a Benign Violation: Commitment to the Violated Norm
Perceiving a Benign Violation: Psychological Distance From the Violation
Benign Violations Versus Incongruity
Evaluation
Summary and Conclusion
Key Concepts
Critical Thinking
4 The Personality Psychology of Humor
What Is Sense of Humor?
Individual Differences in Humor Appreciation
Theory-Based Approach
Early Factor Analysis Approach
Ruch’s Factor Analysis Approach: The 3 WD Humor Test
Personality Correlates of the 3 WD Dimensions
Carretero-Dios’ Extension of Ruch’s 3 WD Humor Test
Individual Differences in the Use of Humor in Daily Life
Sense of Humor Questionnaire
Situational Humor Response Questionnaire
Coping Humor Scale
Multidimensional Sense of Humor Scale
Need for Humor Scale
State-Trait Cheerfulness Inventory
Humor Styles Questionnaire
How Many Different Senses of Humor Are There?
Personality Characteristics of Professional Comedians
Gelotophobia: Individual Differences in Perceptions of Laughter as Ridicule
What Is Gelotophobia?
Assessment
Research Model: Causes and Consequences of Gelotophobia
Extensions of Gelotophobia: Gelotophilia and Katagelasticism
Summary and Conclusion
Key Concepts
Critical Thinking
5 The Cognitive Psychology of Humor
Cognitive Methods in the Study of Humor
Semantic Distance
Semantic Priming
Cognitive Processes in Conversational Humor: Irony and Sarcasm
Linguistic Approaches to Humor
Computational Approaches to Humor
Effects of Humor on Cognition
Creativity
Memory
Humor as a Cognitive Ability
Summary and Conclusion
Key Concepts
Critical Thinking
6 The Physiological Psychology of Humor and Laughter
The Nature of Laughter
Laughter and Emotion
Facial Expressions of Laughter and Smiling
Acoustics of Laughter
Pathological Laughter
Excessive Laughter
Forced Laughter
Gelastic Laughter
Laughter in Animals
The “Play Face” and Laughter in Primates
“Laughter” in Rats?
Where Does Humor Occur in the Brain?
Cognitive Processes of Humor
Right Hemisphere Versus Left Hemisphere
Specific Brain Structures Responsible for Detecting and Resolving Incongruity
Mirth: Emotional Experience of Humor
Laughter: The Behavioral Expression of Humor
Evolutionary Psychology of Humor and Laughter
Summary and Conclusion
Key Concepts
Critical Thinking
7 The Developmental Psychology of Humor
Smiling and Laughter in Infancy and Early Childhood
Humor and Play
Humor and Cognitive Development
McGhee’s Four-Stage Model of Humor Development
The Role of Incongruity and Resolution in Children’s Humor
Humor and Cognitive Mastery
Cognitive Development of Irony and Sarcasm
Humor as Emotional Coping
Social Underpinnings of Humor in Children
Social Influences on Humor Appreciation and Laughter
Teasing Among Children
Individual Differences in Children’s Sense of Humor
Measuring Humor Styles in Children
Genetic Influences on Sense of Humor
Family Environment Factors in Sense of Humor Development
Personality and Behavioral Correlates of Children’s Sense of Humor
Humor and Aging
Summary and Conclusion
Key Concepts
Critical Thinking
8 The Social Psychology of Humor
Individual Social Psychological Processes
Humor and Persuasion
Humor and Social Perception
Interpersonal Relationships
Interpersonal Attraction
Relationship Satisfaction
Group Processes
Social Control
Status and Hierarchy Maintenance
Group Identity and Cohesion
Intergroup Relations
Disparagement Humor as an Initiator of Prejudice
Disparagement Humor as a “Releaser” of Prejudice
Disparagement Humor as Subversion of Prejudice
Summary and Conclusion
Key Concepts
Critical Thinking
9 The Clinical Psychology of Humor: Humor and Mental Health
Relationship Between Humor and Psychological Wellbeing
Humor Directly Relates to More Positive Psychological Wellbeing
Experimental Research
Clinical Research: The Effectiveness of Humor Interventions
Correlational Research
Humor Helps People Cope With Stressful Events
Experimental Research
Correlational Research
Humor Facilitates Healthy Relationships
Humor in Psychotherapy and Counseling
Humor as Therapy
Humor as a Specific Therapeutic Technique
Humor as a Communication Skill
Research on Humor in the Therapeutic Process
Risks of Humor in Psychotherapy
Summary and Conclusion
Key Concepts
Critical Thinking
10 The Health Psychology of Humor: Humor and Physical Health
Humor and Pain Threshold and Tolerance
Empirical Research
Humor and Immunity
Experimental Research
Correlational Research
Humor, Blood Pressure, and Heart Disease
Humor and Illness Symptoms
Humor and Longevity
Summary and Conclusion
Key Concepts
Critical Thinking
11 Applications of Humor in Education and in the Workplace
Humor in Education
How Often and in What Ways Do Teachers Use Humor in the Classroom?
Does Humor Affect Students’ Perceptions of the Classroom Environment?
Does Humor Improve Students’ Ability to Attend to, Learn, and Retain Information?
Does Humor Reduce Anxiety and Improve Test Performance?
Does Humor in Textbooks Help Students Learn the Material?
Caveats in the Use of Humor in Education
Summary
Humor in the Workplace
Humor and Organizational Culture
Positive Humor Climate and Organizational Culture
Negative Humor Climate and Organizational Culture
Humor in Leadership
Summary and Conclusion
Key Concepts
Critical Thinking
Bibliography
Author Index
Subject Index
Back Cover

Citation preview

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

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THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR An Integrative Approach SECOND EDITION ROD A. MARTIN Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada

THOMAS E. FORD Professor, Department of Psychology, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC, USA

Academic Press is an imprint of Elsevier 125 London Wall, London EC2Y 5AS, United Kingdom 525 B Street, Suite 1650, San Diego, CA 92101, United States 50 Hampshire Street, 5th Floor, Cambridge, MA 02139, United States The Boulevard, Langford Lane, Kidlington, Oxford OX5 1GB, United Kingdom Copyright r 2018 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Details on how to seek permission, further information about the Publisher’s permissions policies and our arrangements with organizations such as the Copyright Clearance Center and the Copyright Licensing Agency, can be found at our website: www.elsevier.com/permissions. This book and the individual contributions contained in it are protected under copyright by the Publisher (other than as may be noted herein). Notices Knowledge and best practice in this field are constantly changing. As new research and experience broaden our understanding, changes in research methods, professional practices, or medical treatment may become necessary. Practitioners and researchers must always rely on their own experience and knowledge in evaluating and using any information, methods, compounds, or experiments described herein. In using such information or methods they should be mindful of their own safety and the safety of others, including parties for whom they have a professional responsibility. To the fullest extent of the law, neither the Publisher nor the authors, contributors, or editors, assume any liability for any injury and/or damage to persons or property as a matter of products liability, negligence or otherwise, or from any use or operation of any methods, products, instructions, or ideas contained in the material herein. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress ISBN: 978-0-12-812143-6 For Information on all Academic Press publications visit our website at https://www.elsevier.com/books-and-journals

Publisher: Nikki Levy Acquisition Editor: Nikki Levy Editorial Project Manager: Barbara Makinster Production Project Manager: Anusha Sambamoorthy Cover Designer: Matthew Limbert Typeset by MPS Limited, Chennai, India

Contents

Individual Differences in the Use of Humor in Daily Life 115 How Many Different Senses of Humor Are There? 127 Personality Characteristics of Professional Comedians 128 Gelotophobia: Individual Differences in Perceptions of Laughter as Ridicule 131 Summary and Conclusion 137 Key Concepts 138 Critical Thinking 139

Preface vii Acknowledgments ix 1. Introduction to the Psychology of Humor What Is Humor? 3 A Brief History of Humor-Related Concepts The Psychological Approach 13 Trends in the Psychological Study of Humor 13 The Many Forms of Humor 19 Humor in Psychology Studies 23 Psychological Functions of Humor 24 Summary and Overview of This Book 30 Key Concepts 31 Critical Thinking 32

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5. The Cognitive Psychology of Humor Cognitive Methods in the Study of Humor 143 Cognitive Processes in Conversational Humor: Irony and Sarcasm 147 Linguistic Approaches to Humor 152 Computational Approaches to Humor 155 Effects of Humor on Cognition 160 Humor as a Cognitive Ability 166 Summary and Conclusion 168 Key Concepts 169 Critical Thinking 170

2. Classic Theories of Humor Relief Theories 36 Superiority Theories 46 Incongruity Theories 55 Summary and Conclusion Key Concepts 68 Critical Thinking 69

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6. The Physiological Psychology of Humor and Laughter

3. Contemporary Theories of Humor Reversal Theory 72 Comprehension-Elaboration Theory Benign Violation Theory 87 Summary and Conclusion 97 Key Concepts 98 Critical Thinking 98

The Nature of Laughter 174 Laughter in Animals 184 Where Does Humor Occur in the Brain? 188 Evolutionary Psychology of Humor and Laughter 200 Summary and Conclusion 202 Key Concepts 203 Critical Thinking 204

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7. The Developmental Psychology of Humor

4. The Personality Psychology of Humor What Is Sense of Humor? 101 Individual Differences in Humor Appreciation 103

Smiling and Laughter in Infancy and Early Childhood 206

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CONTENTS

Humor and Play 209 Humor and Cognitive Development 214 Social Underpinnings of Humor in Children 225 Individual Differences in Children’s Sense of Humor 229 Humor and Aging 242 Summary and Conclusion 244 Key Concepts 245 Critical Thinking 246

8. The Social Psychology of Humor Individual Social Psychological Processes 249 Interpersonal Relationships 257 Group Processes 261 Intergroup Relations 267 Summary and Conclusion 280 Key Concepts 281 Critical Thinking 282

9. The Clinical Psychology of Humor: Humor and Mental Health Relationship Between Humor and Psychological Wellbeing 284 Humor in Psychotherapy and Counseling 306 Summary and Conclusion 316

Key Concepts 318 Critical Thinking 318

10. The Health Psychology of Humor: Humor and Physical Health Humor and Pain Threshold and Tolerance 322 Humor and Immunity 326 Humor, Blood Pressure, and Heart Disease 331 Humor and Illness Symptoms 333 Humor and Longevity 337 Summary and Conclusion 339 Key Concepts 341 Critical Thinking 342

11. Applications of Humor in Education and in the Workplace Humor in Education 345 Humor in the Workplace 358 Humor in Leadership 367 Summary and Conclusion 370 Key Concepts 371 Critical Thinking 371

Bibliography 373 Author Index 511 Subject Index 529

Preface Humor is an ubiquitous human activity that occurs in all types of social interaction. Most of us laugh at something funny many times during the course of a typical day. Although it is a form of play, humor serves a number of serious cognitive, emotional, and social functions. Fascinating questions about humor touch on every area of psychology. Surprisingly, however, despite its obvious importance in human behavior, humor and related topics like laughter, irony, and mirth are hardly ever mentioned in psychology texts and other scholarly books. Although there is a sizable and continually expanding research literature on humor, most psychologists seem to have little systematic knowledge of it. Thus, the first edition of The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach was published in 2007 to provide a comprehensive review of theory and empirical research on humor in each of the disciplines of psychology as well as research in related disciplines that augments the work of psychologists. However, the psychology of humor, as a field, has rapidly expanded in the intervening years. Scholars in diverse areas of psychology (i.e., personality, cognitive, physiological, developmental, social, clinical, health, industrial/organizational) are increasingly investigating questions about the role of humor in topics within their disciplines. Indeed, over 1000 theoretical and empirical research articles related to the psychology of humor have been published since 2007. Moreover, humor is an interdisciplinary topic. Scholars from a number of other disciplines, including anthropology, biology, computer science, linguistics, literary and cultural studies, neuroscience, philosophy, religious studies, and sociology contribute to the advancement of humor studies. Indeed, the research contributing to the psychology of humor has become more widely dispersed in publication outlets within psychology as well as these other disciplines. Accordingly, the second edition consolidates this expansive and disparate literature, often touching on contributions of other disciplines to maintain an up-to-date, informed, comprehensive, integrative review of theory and research findings that contribute to our understanding of the psychology of humor. Like the first edition, we designed the second to serve multiple purposes and audiences. First, we intend the book to serve as a textbook for upper-level undergraduate and graduate-level courses on the psychology of humor. To facilitate the use of The Psychology of Humor: An Integrative Approach as a textbook, we have organized the chapters around different areas of psychology. We believe this will demonstrate to students how humor, a very intriguing, enjoyable, and personally relevant facet of human experience, can be approached from different psychological perspectives. Thus, like the first edition, the second covers the central research themes and questions across the different disciplines of psychology, highlighting key studies and integrating the findings from the most influential research to provide a comprehensive and compelling coverage of the psychology of humor.

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Second, we intend the book to be useful as a research handbook for academic psychologists and scholars from other disciplines seeking to conduct their own research in this topic area. Therefore, in each chapter we note interesting, yet-unanswered questions, novel hypotheses derived from recent developments in various areas of psychology, and promising directions for future research. We hope that by making psychologists and other scholars aware of noteworthy research findings and intriguing questions that remain, this book will stimulate further interest in the psychology of humor as a research domain. To enhance the usefulness of the book as a reference guide, the second edition includes an extensive bibliography, with references to most of the important works in this literature as well as a comprehensive subject and author index. Third, we hope this book will serve practitioners in health care, counseling, social work, education, and business, with an interest in potential applications of humor in their respective fields. By appealing to a broad audience of potential readers, we do not assume that readers have a strong background in psychology. For those who might be less familiar with the discipline, we try to provide enough information to make the theories and research findings accessible. In addition to updating and expanding our integrative review of theory and research on the psychology of humor and presenting it in a way that it is accessible to a wide scholarly audience, we have made a number of changes to the second edition to enhance all readers’ engagement with material in each chapter. The second edition includes more visual depictions of selected research findings (e.g., graphs, flowcharts, tables, and figures). We also have included pictures to illustrate and help us explain concepts, processes, theories, research settings, etc. throughout the book whenever relevant and useful. Moreover, the second edition highlights material in “text boxes.” For instance, we “introduce” readers to prominent scholars through short interviews that reveal insights into their careers as humor scholars and their perceptions of the pressing issues related to the psychology of humor in their particular disciplines. To increase the usefulness of the book as a textbook for students, in particular, we have included in the second edition at the end of each chapter a list of key concepts, and critical thinking questions. Finally, it has often been noted that the academic study of humor is not in itself very funny, and that nothing kills a joke like analyzing it. As McComas (1923) observed, “he who approaches laughter upon science bent will find it no laughing matter” (p. 45). Similarly, journalists reporting on the annual conference of the International Society of Humor Studies (ISHS) often take delight in pointing out the apparent irony of scholars presenting very weighty and unfunny research papers on the subject of humor. There is no reason, though, why a scholarly work on humor needs to be funny any more than a book on depression research should, itself, make the reader feel gloomy, or than scholarly studies of human sexuality should be titillating. In keeping with a long-standing tradition of scholarly books on humor, we therefore warn the reader at the outset that you are not likely to find this book particularly funny. However, we do hope you will find it interesting and informative, and that it will pique your curiosity and eagerness to engage in further study of this intriguing topic.

Acknowledgments Since the publication of the first edition of this book in 2007, I have been extremely gratified by how well it has been received by readers throughout the world. I have received emails from many college and university professors telling me they have started teaching courses in the psychology of humor and have adopted this book as the text. Numerous students and academic researchers have also written to say they have been inspired by the book to begin conducting research of their own in this topic area. With successive translations of the book into Spanish, Japanese, Russian, and Korean, it has become accessible to an even broader international audience. Over the intervening decade, the field of humor research in psychology and related disciplines has continued to flourish, with hundreds of new studies being published in academic journals, greatly expanding our knowledge and understanding. It became increasingly obvious that the book was in need of revision to keep abreast of these exciting new developments. However, as I was embarking on retirement from the university, I felt a need to recruit a colleague to take on this task. I was therefore delighted when Tom Ford, who has established himself as a highly productive and respected humor researcher, accepted my invitation to become coauthor of the second edition. Tom has very capably carried out the vast bulk of the job of revising and updating the book, integrating the many new developments in research and theory in this topic area. I wish to thank him for his tremendous contribution, and I trust that this second edition will continue to be a useful resource for students, teachers, and researchers with an interest in this fascinating and important aspect of human psychology. Rod A. Martin My interest in humor has defined my career as a social psychologist. Over the years, I have had the privilege of collaborating on a number of projects with great colleagues, most notably my good friend Julie Woodzicka from Washington and Lee University. I have also been blessed to work with a host of excellent graduate students: Mark Ferguson, Christie Boxer, Shane Triplett, Annie Kochersberger, Christopher Holden, Alyna Ohanmamooreni, Whitney Petit, Kyle Richardson, Christopher Breeden, Shaun Lappi, Sabrina Teeter, Olivia Muse, Emma O’Connor, Noely Banos, Riley McCallus, Hannah Buie, and Andrew Olah. I wish to thank all of you for your friendship, insights, inspiration, and hard work, and for making the challenging work of empirical research invigorating, exciting and, yes, funny. Working with you has absolutely been the most rewarding part of my career. I am honored that Rod Martin invited me to coauthor the second edition of the book; it has been a privilege to contribute to such an influential resource for the field of humor

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studies. Thank you, Rod, for giving me this opportunity. I am grateful to Bob Mankoff for his contribution of satire and amusement to the second edition. Thank you, Bob, for supplying the New Yorker cartoons. I also thank fellow humor scholars, Nick Kuiper, Sven Svebak, and Sonja Heintz, for their helpful comments. Additionally, I thank my students, Andrew Olah, Riley McCallus, and Hannah Buie for tracking down relevant articles for selected chapters, proof reading, and giving helpful feedback and suggestions. I want to extend a special “thank you” to my former student, Olivia Muse, for her tireless work in obtaining copyright permissions for images and for proof reading and providing constructive feedback on each chapter. Finally, I want to recognize and thank my wife, Wendy, for letting me take over the home office and for amiably “putting up with me” for the duration of this project. Thomas E. Ford

C H A P T E R

1 Introduction to the Psychology of Humor

We all know what it is like to experience humor. Someone tells a joke, relates an amusing personal anecdote, or makes a witty comment or an inadvertent slip of the tongue, and we are suddenly struck by how funny it is. Depending on how amusing we perceive the event to be, it might cause us to smile, to chuckle, or to burst out in peals of convulsive laughter. Our response is accompanied by pleasant feelings of emotional wellbeing or mirth. Most of us have this sort of experience many times during the course of a typical day.

The Psychology of Humor DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-812143-6.00001-1

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© 2018 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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1. INTRODUCTION TO THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

Humor and laughter are universal and fundamental human experiences, occurring in all cultures and virtually all individuals throughout the world, and in nearly every type of interpersonal relationship (Apte, 1985; Lefcourt, 2001). Although different cultures have their own norms concerning the suitable subject matter of humor and the types of situations where laughter is considered appropriate, the sounds of laughter are indistinguishable from one culture to another (Sauter, Eisner, Ekman, & Scott, 2010). Developmentally, laughter is one of the first social vocalizations (after crying) emitted by human infants (McGhee, 1979). Infants begin to laugh in response to the actions of other people at about 4 months of age, and cases of gelastic (i.e., laughter-producing) epilepsy in newborns indicate that the brain mechanisms for laughter are already present at birth (Sher & Brown, 1976). The fact that even children born deaf and blind laugh without having perceived the laughter of others further demonstrates the innateness of laughter (Black, 1984). Indeed, there is evidence of specialized brain circuits for humor and laughter in humans that researchers are beginning to identify in neural imaging studies (e.g., Yamao et al., 2015). Thus, the ability to enjoy humor and express it through laughter seems to be an essential part of human experience. Accordingly, humor and laughter are topics of popular interest that have captured the imagination and critical attention of scholars from multiple disciplines dating back to the writings of the classical Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. People often mock scholarly attempts to study humor; it seems that humor must naturally elude explanation by “serious” scientific methods. By putting humor under the “scientific microscope,” the humorless scholar misses the point and fails to appreciate its essence. This incredulity has been humorously and famously expressed by Elwyn B. White who quipped in the preface of the 1941 book, A Subtreasury of American Humor, “Humor can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.” However, As H. J. Eyesenck noted in Goldstein and McGhee’s (1972) edited volume, The Psychology of Humor, we can confidently dismiss such commonplace renunciations as they have been encountered by every scientist attempting to extend the scope of their inquiries into new fields. Common sense and folk wisdom explanations for many psychological phenomena have proven to be overly simplistic or simply wrong. Indeed, it is only through rigorous scientific investigation of humor that psychologists have been able to address a diversity of issues and questions. For instance, what are the mental processes involved in “getting a joke” or perceiving something to be funny? How is humor processed in the brain and what effects does it have on our bodies? What is laughter and why do we laugh in response to humorous things? What roles does humor play in interactions with other people? What is a “sense of humor” and how does it develop in children? Is a good sense of humor beneficial for mental and physical health? By subjecting such questions to rigorous scholarly inquiry, psychologists and other scholars have illuminated the integral role that humor plays in the human experience. In this chapter we define humor, discussing the essential elements of the humor experience. Next, we summarize the history of the study of humor, examining the way popular conceptions and assumptions about humor and laughter have changed dramatically over the centuries. We then discuss the psychological approach to the study of humor and describe current trends in the psychological study of humor. We then present a survey of

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

WHAT IS HUMOR?

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the many different forms of humor that we encounter in daily life, and then some of the psychological functions of humor and laughter. Finally, we present an overview of the rest of this book.

WHAT IS HUMOR? As psychologist Willibald Ruch proposed in the 2008 volume, The Primer of Humor Research, the perception that something is funny seems to be fundamental in defining humor. However, scholars and laypeople alike use the term humor in a variety of contexts to mean different things. Indeed, scholars have operationally defined and measured humor in terms of different facets of the humor experience that are relevant to specific research questions. As a result, the term humor has come to represent all phenomena related to the humor experience (Ruch, 1998, 2001). Thus, we offer the following definition of humor: Humor is a broad, multifaceted term that represents anything that people say or do that others perceive as funny and tends to make them laugh, as well as the mental processes that go into both creating and perceiving such an amusing stimulus, and also the emotional response of mirth involved in the enjoyment of it.

It is important to recognize that humor is fundamentally a social phenomenon; other people provide the context in which we experience humor. As mentioned above, humor occurs in nearly every type of interpersonal relationship. We laugh and joke much more frequently when we are with other people than when we are by ourselves (R. A. Martin & Kuiper, 1999; Provine & Fischer, 1989). People do occasionally laugh when they are alone, such as while watching a comedy show on television, reading a humorous book, or remembering a funny personal experience. However, these instances of laughter are still “social” in that they involve the imagined or implied presence of other people (Allport, 1954). One is still responding to people as characters in the television program or the book, or reliving in memory an event that involved other people. Humor essentially is a way for people to interact in a playful manner. From a psychological perspective, therefore, humor represents a form of social play. Max Eastman (1936) stated, “humor is play. . . Therefore, no definition of humor, no theory of wit, no explanation of comic laughter, will ever stand up, which is not based upon the distinction between playful and serious” (p. 15). He pointed out that, from reading the serious-sounding descriptions of humor written by many of the past theorists, one would not know that humor is a playful, lighthearted activity. More recently, Berlyne (1969) noted the close connection between humor and play, and Gruner (1997) emphasized the playful nature of humorous aggression. William Fry (1963) also viewed humor as essentially a form of play. Finally, Michael Apter (1982) incorporated the idea of humor as play as a central assumption in his reversal theory of humor (discussed in Chapter 3: Contemporary Theories of Humor). Humor, as a form of social play, can be divided into three essential psychological elements related to cognition, emotion, and behavior. As depicted in Fig. 1.1, the person

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1. INTRODUCTION TO THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

Cognitive perceptual processes (perceive incongruity in a non serious mindset)

Vocal-behavioral expression of mirth (laughter)

Stimulus event (social context)

Emotional response (mirth)

FIGURE 1.1 The essential cognitive, emotional, and behavioral elements of humor.

experiences (1) cognitive-perceptual processes underlying the perception of something as funny, which triggers (2) a unique emotional response of mirth and (3) the vocal-behavioral expression of laughter. Further, each element of humor, and therefore its overall experience, is fundamentally dependent on and affected by the social context.

Cognitive-Perceptual Processes in Humor The experience of humor appears to be predicated on two cognitive-perceptual processes activated by characteristics of a humor stimulus and the social context in which it is encountered: (1) perception of incongruity and (2) appraisal of incongruity in a nonserious humor mindset. As we will see Chapter 2, Classic Theories of Humor, scholars have debated over the characteristics that cause one to perceive a stimulus as funny; however, most contemporary investigators would agree that the perception of “incongruity” is at the heart of the humor experience (e.g., Carrell, 2008; Forabosco, 1992; Gervais & Wilson, 2005; Ruch, 2001). That is, humor involves an idea, image, text, or event that is in some sense incongruous, odd, unusual, unexpected, surprising, or out-of-the-ordinary. In addition, the humor stimulus must be accompanied by cues that signal us to appraise the stimulus in a playful, nonserious, nonliteral frame of mind in which people temporarily abandon rules of logic and expectations of common sense and congruity (e.g., Apter, 1982; Berlyne, 1972; Cohen, 1999; Cundall, 2007; McGhee, 1972; Morreall, 1987; Mulkay, 1988). Thus, in the humorous mode of thinking, contrary to the rational logic of normal, serious thought, a thing can be both X and not-X at the same time (Mulkay, 1988).

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FIGURE 1.2 Cartoon depicting playful incongruity. Source: Copyright John Jonik/Published in The New Yorker Magazine.

The cartoon depicted in Fig. 1.2 joins the two essential cognitive elements by presenting an incongruity to be interpreted in a playful, humor mindset. The funeral scene presents a “set-up” for the punch line. It provides an initial schema or set of logical expectations about the situation. The image of the people all laughing is the punch line that creates an incongruous violation of expectations (people don’t normally laugh at funerals). Because the incongruity appears in the context of a cartoon, people appraise it in a playful, humor mindset and thus interpret it as funny. The perception of incongruity in a playful, humor mind set illustrated by this cartoon appears to characterize all forms of humor, including jokes, teasing, and witty banter, unintentional types of humor such as amusing slips of the tongue or the proverbial person slipping on the banana peel, the laughter-eliciting peek-a-boo games and rough-andtumble play of children, and even the humor of chimpanzees and gorillas (Wyer & Collins, 1992). As we will see in later chapters, a great deal of theoretical discussion and research on the psychology of humor has focused on exploring in greater detail the cognitive processes underlying the perception and appreciation of humor. The word “humor” is sometimes used in a narrow sense to refer specifically to these cognitive processes that go into perceiving something as funny. We also will occasionally use it in this narrow sense, since there does not seem to be another word to denote this cognitive process. It is important to bear in mind, though, that in a broader sense, humor refers to the experience of the psychological elements collectively, and an integrated psychological study of humor should address all of them.

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Mirth: The Emotional Response to Perceptions of Humor Our response to humor is not just an intellectual one. The perception of humor invariably also evokes a pleasant emotional response, at least to some degree. Psychological studies have shown that exposure to humorous stimuli produces an increase in positive affect and mood (Szabo, 2003). Just as other emotions like joy, jealousy, or fear occur in response to specific types of appraisals of the social and physical environment (Lazarus, 1991), humor comprises an emotional response that is elicited by the appraisal that an event or situation is incongruously funny. The pleasant emotion associated with humor, which is familiar to all of us, is a unique feeling of wellbeing described by such terms as amusement, mirth, hilarity, cheerfulness, and merriment. It is closely related to joy, and contains an element of exultation and a feeling of invincibility, a sense of expansion of the self, which the 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes referred to as “sudden glory.” Surprisingly, although the emotional response to humor is a feeling that is familiar to everyone, scholars have not yet settled on an agreed-upon technical term to denote this particular emotion. Researchers have specific terms to denote emotions like joy, love, fear, anxiety, depression, and so forth, but there is no common name for the emotion elicited by humor. This is because it is so closely aligned with laughter that, until recently, theorists and researchers have tended to focus on the more obvious behavior of laughter instead of the emotion that underlies it. Some researchers have used the expressions “humor appreciation” (e.g., Weisfeld, 1993) or “amusement” (e.g., Shiota, Campos, Keltner, & Hertenstein, 2004) to denote this feeling, but these terms seem to be too cognitive and do not fully capture the emotional experience. Psychologist Willibald Ruch (1993) has proposed the word “exhilaration” (related to “hilarity,” from Latin hilaris, meaning cheerful) as a technical term for this emotion. While exhilaration, in its common English meaning, contains a sense of excitement in addition to cheerfulness, Ruch suggested that this use of the term would deemphasize the excitement component, underscoring instead the emotional quality of cheerfulness, amusement, and funniness. However, this term does not seem to have caught on with researchers, who likely have difficulty shedding the connotation of excitement. To denote the emotional response to humor, we need a term that is clearly emotionrelated, i.e., associated with humor and laughter without being synonymous with either, and that can have a range of intensities. In our view, the term “mirth” works very well for this purpose. The 2016 Oxford English dictionary defines mirth as “amusement especially expressed in laughter,” which seems to be exactly the required meaning. However, researchers have used “mirth” to refer to smiling and laughter, which are facial and vocal expressions of the emotion rather than the emotion itself, and therefore should be kept distinct. Mirth is the distinctive emotion that is elicited by the perception of humor. Like other emotions (e.g., joy, love, sadness, fear), mirth can vary in intensity, ranging from mild feelings of amusement to very high levels of hilarity (Ruch, 1993). Neurological studies support the distinction among the cognitive and emotional elements of the humor process, indicating that each involves different, but interconnected, regions of the brain (e.g., Marinkovic et al., 2011; Samson, Zysset, & Huber, 2008; Vrticka, Black, & Reiss, 2013). The cognitive processes of perceiving and resolving incongruity

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seem to primarily occur in the temporo-parietal junction and the temporo-occipito-parietal junction. In contrast, the mirth response involves the insula, the ventral anterior cingulate cortex, the amygdala, and the medial prefrontal cortex. In addition to involving particular parts of the brain, mirth is accompanied by a range of biochemical changes in the brain, autonomic nervous system, and endocrine system, involving a variety of molecules, including neurotransmitters, hormones, opioids, and neuropeptides (Panksepp, 1993). From other research we know that these biochemical changes underlie pleasurable emotional states associated with a variety of activities including eating, listening to music, sexual activity, and even ingestion of mood-altering drugs. This explains why people enjoy humor so much and go to such lengths to experience it as often as they can: whenever we laugh at something funny we are experiencing an emotional high that is rooted in the biochemistry of our brains. Moreover, this neurochemical cocktail affects many parts of the body, including the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, digestive, and immune systems (W. F. Fry, 1994). The biological concomitants of the emotion of mirth form the basis of claims that have been made in recent years about the potential health benefits of humor and laughter.

Laughter: The Behavioral Response to Perceptions of Humor Like other emotions, the mirthful pleasure accompanying humor also has an expressive component, namely laughter. Laughter is a distinctive, stereotyped pattern of vocalization that is easily recognized and quite unmistakable (Provine & Yong, 1991). At low levels of intensity, this emotion is expressed by a faint smile, which turns into a broader grin and then audible chuckling and laughter as the emotional intensity increases. At very high intensities, it is expressed by loud guffaws, often accompanied by a reddening of the face as well as bodily movements such as throwing back the head, rocking the body, slapping one’s thighs, and so on. Thus, laughter is essentially a way of expressing or communicating to others the fact that one is experiencing the emotion of mirth, just as frowning, scowling, yelling, and clenching one’s fists communicate the emotion of anger. Laughter is therefore fundamentally a social behavior: if there were no other people to communicate to, we would not need laughter. This is no doubt why it is so loud, why it comprises such a distinctive and easily recognized set of sounds, and why it rarely occurs in social isolation. Although different cultures have their own norms concerning the suitable subject matter of humor and the types of situations where laughter is considered appropriate, the sounds of laughter are indistinguishable from one culture to another. Developmentally, laughter is one of the first social vocalizations (after crying) emitted by human infants (McGhee, 1979). Infants begin to laugh in response to the actions of other people at about 4 months of age, and cases of gelastic (i.e., laughter-producing) epilepsy in newborns indicate that the brain mechanisms for laughter are already present at birth (Sher & Brown, 1976). The innateness of laughter is further demonstrated by the fact that even children born deaf and blind have been reported to laugh appropriately without ever having perceived the laughter of others (Provine, 2001). Indeed, there is evidence of specialized brain circuits for humor and laughter in humans, which researchers are beginning to identify by

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means of neural imaging studies. Thus, the ability to enjoy humor and express it through laughter seems to be an essential part of what it means to be human. Many theorists have suggested that the main function of laughter is to signal to others that one is engaging in play, rather than being serious (e.g., van Hooff, 1972). That is, people use laughter to communicate positive emotion and to signal friendliness and playful intentions, indicating that one is in a nonserious frame of mind. The laughter accompanying friendly teasing, for example, signals that one should not take a seemingly insulting message seriously. More recently, researchers have suggested that the purpose of laughter is not just to communicate that one is in a playful state, but to actually induce this state in others as well (Owren & Bachorowski, 2003; Russell, Bachorowski, & Fernandez-Dols, 2003). According to this view, the peculiar sounds of laughter have a direct effect on the listener, inducing positive emotional arousal that mirrors the emotional state of the laugher, perhaps by activating certain specialized brain circuits (Gervais & Wilson, 2005; Provine, 2001). In this way, laughter may serve an important biosocial function of coupling together the positive emotions of members of a group and thereby coordinating their activities. This would explain why laughter is so contagious; when we hear someone laughing, it is almost impossible not to feel mirthful and begin laughing too. Yet another potential social function of laughter is to motivate others to behave in particular ways (Shiota et al., 2004). For example, laughter can be a method of positively reinforcing others for desirable behavior (“laughing with”), as well as a potent form of punishment directed at undesirable behaviors (“laughing at”).

A BRIEF HISTORY OF HUMOR-RELATED CONCEPTS As mentioned above, laypeople and contemporary scholars alike use the term humor very broadly to refer to anything people say or do that is perceived to be funny and evokes mirth and laughter in others. Interestingly, this broad meaning of humor has developed only quite recently. Indeed, the word has a very interesting and complex history, starting out with an entirely different meaning and gradually accumulating new connotations over the centuries. Cultural historian Daniel Wickberg (1998) has provided a detailed and fascinating analysis of the history of humor, from which we have drawn much of what follows (see also Ruch, 1998a).

Etymology of Humor Humor began as a Latin word (humorem) meaning fluid or liquid. It still retains this meaning in physiology in reference to bodily fluids, such as the aqueous and vitreous humors of the eye. The Greek physician Hippocrates (4th century BC), who is considered to be the father of medicine, believed that good health depends on the proper balance of four fluids, or “humors,” of the body, namely blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. Later, the Greek physician Galen (2nd century AD), who lived in Rome, introduced the idea that these four fluids possessed particular psychological qualities such that an excess

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of any one of them in an individual created a certain kind of temperament or character. A predominance of blood caused one to have a sanguine or cheerful temperament, too much black bile produced a melancholic or depressive personality, and so on. Besides seeing body fluids as the basis of relatively enduring character traits, physicians began to view fluctuations in these humors as the cause of temporary mood states. The dual meanings of humor as an enduring character trait or temporary mood are still present today when we speak of someone being a “good-humored person” or “in a bad humor.” Thus, having originally referred to a physical substance, humor gradually developed psychological connotations relating to both enduring temperament and temporary mood. Until the 16th century, however, humor still did not have any connotation of funniness or association with laughter. In the English language, the word humor (which had been borrowed from the French humeur) continued to evolve. In the 16th century the idea of humor as an unbalanced temperament or personality trait led to its use to refer to any behavior that deviates from social norms. Thus, a “humor” came to mean an odd, eccentric, or peculiar person (cf. Ben Johnson’s Every man out of his humour, 1598). Because such people were often viewed as ridiculous, or objects of laughter and ridicule, it was a small step from there to the association of humor with funniness and laughter, and its entry into the field of comedy (Ruch, 1998a). Eventually, the odd or peculiar person who was the object of laughter became known as a “humorist,” whereas a “man of humor” was someone who took pleasure in imitating the peculiarities of a humorist (e.g., Corbyn Morris in An essay toward fixing the true standard of wit, humour, raillery, satire, and ridicule, 1744). Thus, humor came to be seen as a talent involving the ability to make others laugh. It was not until the mid to late 19th century, however, that the term “humorist” took on the modern meaning of someone who creates a product called “humor” in order to amuse others (Wickberg, 1998). Mark Twain is viewed by many scholars as one of the first humorists in this modern sense.

Changing Views of Laughter At the same time that the meaning of the word humor was evolving in the English language, popular conceptions of laughter and the laughable were also changing (Wickberg, 1998). Prior to the 18th century, laughter was viewed by most authors almost entirely in negative terms. No distinction was made between “laughing with” and “laughing at,” since all laughter was thought to arise from making fun of someone. Most references to laughter in the Bible, for example, are linked with scorn, derision, mockery, or contempt (Koestler, 1964). The philosophical conception of laughter as essentially a form of aggression can be traced to Aristotle, who believed that it was always a response to ugliness or deformity in another person, although he thought it would not occur if the object of laughter aroused other strong emotions such as pity or anger. Following in the long tradition of Aristotle, the 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes linked laughter with a feeling of superiority, or “sudden glory,” resulting from some perception of inferiority in another person.

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During the 18th century, the word “ridicule” (from Latin ridiculum 5 joke and ridiculus 5 laughable) was used in much the same way that we use the word “humor” today, i.e., as a generic term for anything that causes laughter and mirth. However, while laughter was a passive response, ridicule was seen as active and aggressive, a form of attack. Throughout Europe during this time, ridicule became a popular debating technique for outwitting and humiliating adversaries by making them laughable to others. It also grew into a socially accepted conversational art form for entertaining others in social gatherings. The person who was adept at generating clever remarks to skewer others and thereby provoke laughter was seen as a particularly desirable dinner guest. Other words that were commonly used during this time along with ridicule were “raillery” and “banter.” While both of these terms referred to aggressive forms of witty repartee used in conversation, banter was seen as a coarser, more impolite, and low-class type of ridicule, whereas raillery was more refined and socially pleasing. With the growing view of ridicule as a socially acceptable verbal art form and a desirable part of amiable conversation, the idea of laughter as an expression of contempt and scorn gradually gave way to a view of it as a response to cleverness and gamesmanship. The sense of superiority inherent in laughter was now downplayed and seen as secondary, and the intellectual aspects were elevated over the emotional. Laughter was associated with a game of wits, a way of showing off one’s cleverness by creating intellectual surprise in novel relationships between ideas, rather than an expression of contempt, scorn, superiority, and aggression. By the early 19th century, Hobbes’ superiority theory was being replaced by theories that viewed incongruity as the essence of laughter. William Hazlitt, an English writer of the early 19th century, epitomized this theory in his statement, “the essence of the laughable is the incongruous” (quoted by Wickberg, 1998, p. 56). The shift from an essentially aggressive view of laughter was motivated also by a new sensibility among middle-class British society in the 18th century which emphasized the importance of benevolence, kindness, civility, and sympathy in people of refinement. As reflected, for example, in the writings of Adam Smith (e.g., Theory of moral sentiments, 1759), a new set of humanitarian values elevated emotional discernment above cold rational logic. In keeping with this general outlook, social reformers began to argue in favor of a more humanitarian form of laughter based on sympathy rather than aggression. This led to the need for a new word to describe this benevolent basis of laughter, and “humor” was coopted to serve this purpose. In contrast, the word “wit” (from Old English witan 5 to know) began to be used to refer to the more aggressive types of laughter-evoking behaviors that had previously been described by the generic term “ridicule.” Thus, by the early 19th century, the umbrella term “ridicule” had been replaced by the two contrasting words, “wit” and “humor.”

Wit Versus Humor Both wit and humor were based on the notion that incongruity provoked laughter, but they were thought to do so in radically different ways. In theories of dramatic comedy, wit represented comedy based on intellect, while humor represented comedy based on character (Wickberg, 1998). Over time, wit became associated with ridicule, referring to

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aggressive cleverness and word play, whereas humor emphasized sympathy and benevolence, a more positive and desirable basis for laughter. Wit was intellectual, sarcastic, and related to antipathy; humor was emotional, congenial, and related to “fellow-feeling.” The two words also had different social class connotations. Wit was associated with the aristocracy and elitism. Humor was a more bourgeois, middle-class concept associated with universality and democracy. Wit was also considered to be artificial, something that could be acquired through learning and practice, whereas humor was viewed as natural, an inborn talent of the individual. Thus, the modern distinction between “laughing at” and “laughing with” was captured by wit and humor, respectively. Not surprisingly, people began to view humor as more socially desirable than wit, and many writers described it in glowing terms. For example, one 19th-century author identified humor as “the combination of the laughable with an element of love, tenderness, sympathy, warm-heartedness, or affection” (quoted by Wickberg, 1998, p. 65). The association between humor and democratic values (as opposed to the elitism and snobbery of wit) made humor a very popular concept in the egalitarian culture of the United States, particularly after the Civil War. Sigmund Freud and most of his psychology contemporaries made the distinction between humor as benevolent and psychologically healthy and wit as aggressive and of questionable psychological value (Freud, 1960 [1905]). Over the course of the 20th century, the distinction between wit and humor gradually diminished, and humor became the umbrella term for all things laughable. Many theorists in the early 1900s also suggested that laughter almost always contained an element of sympathy. Thus from the 17th to the 20th centuries, popular conceptions of humor and laughter underwent a remarkable transformation, shifting from the aggressive antipathy of superiority theory, to the neutrality of incongruity theory, to the view that laughter could sometimes be sympathetic, to the notion that sympathy is a necessary condition for laughter (Wickberg, 1998). These changing views reflected the prevailing social norms. As recently as the 1860s, it was considered impolite to laugh in public in the United States. Even in the early 20th century, some spheres of social activity (e.g., religion, education, and politics) were considered inappropriate for humor and laughter. Today, humor and laughter are not only considered acceptable, but are actively encouraged in virtually every social setting.

Evolution of the Concept of Sense of Humor Along with changes in the meaning of humor and attitudes toward laughter, the concept of “sense of humor” has also evolved over the past two centuries (Wickberg, 1998). In the 18th and early 19th centuries, British philosophers developed the notion of various aesthetic and moral “senses,” which were seen as refined sensitivities or abilities to discern or judge the quality of certain things. Thus, they spoke of a sense of beauty, a sense of honor, a sense of decency, moral sense, and common sense. The “sense of the ridiculous” was an early expression to describe sensitivity to laughable things. By the mid-19th century, however, this phase had been replaced by “sense of humor.” Although it began as a purely descriptive term, the sense of humor quickly became a highly valued virtue, taking on the positive connotations that were associated with humor

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(as opposed to wit) during that time. By the 1870s, the sense of humor acquired the very desirable meaning that it has today. Indeed, a sense of humor came to be one of the most important characteristics a person could have and no one wanted to admit that they did not have a sense of humor. Over the course of the 20th century, the concept of sense of humor became increasingly vague and undefined. While it always retained some notion of the ability to make others laugh or the enjoyment of amusement and laughter, it took on the added meaning of a more general set of desirable personality characteristics. What it meant to have a sense of humor came to be defined in large part by what it meant not to have one. Saying that someone lacked a sense of humor came to mean that he or she was excessively serious, fanatical, or egotistical. Indeed, the lack of a sense of humor was viewed as a defining characteristic of some forms of mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, and denoted instability and paranoia (Wickberg, 1998). In the latter half of the 20th century, psychologists increasingly defined sense of humor as an essential ingredient of mental health. For example, Gordon Allport (1961) associated a sense of humor with self-awareness, insight, and tolerance, and viewed it as a characteristic of the mature or healthy personality. It is important to note, however, that he distinguished between this mature type of humor, which he saw as quite rare, and the less healthy “sense of the comic,” or laughter at absurdities, puns, and the degradation of others, which he saw as much more common. In sum, having a sense of humor became synonymous with being stable and well-adjusted, able to adapt to stress, affable, easygoing, and not prone to anger. During the 20th century, sense of humor also took on sociopolitical connotations for propaganda purposes. In the United States, it was seen as a distinctly American virtue, associated with tolerance and democracy, in contrast to those living in dictatorships, such as the Germans under Nazism or the Russians during the Communist era, who were thought to be devoid of humor. After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, many American commentators expressed the opinion that Al Qaeda terrorists, and perhaps even all Muslims, lacked a sense of humor. By the mid-20th century a sense of humor became a necessary characteristic in a politician, especially someone aspiring to be president. A popular way for both liberals and conservatives to disparage one another was to claim the other lacked a sense of humor. For years, a sense of humor also was viewed as a masculine characteristic. For instance, many writers commonly assumed that women generally lacked a sense of humor (Wickberg, 1998). The positive qualities associated with the concept of sense of humor influenced popular connotations of humor and laughter more generally. By the end of the 20th century, humor and laughter were not only seen as a socially desirable personality characteristic, but as an important factor in mental and physical health. This view gained greater prominence following the publication of a book by Norman Cousins (1979), a well-known magazine editor, describing how he supposedly cured himself of a painful and debilitating disease by means of hearty laughter (along with massive doses of vitamin C). This book appeared at a time of growing disenchantment with traditional Western approaches to medicine and the rising popularity of alternative or complementary medicines.

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THE PSYCHOLOGICAL APPROACH Psychology is often defined as the scientific study of behavior and mental processes (e.g., Myers, 2013). Thus, psychology is a very broad discipline that subjects all facets of the human experience to scientific inquiry, including all kinds of overt actions, speech, and social interactions, as well as less easily observed processes such as thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and the biological mechanisms underlying all of these in the brain and nervous system. As scientists, psychologists derive knowledge about people from direct, systematic, objective observation using predominantly empirical, quantitative research methods. Psychological research methods include controlled laboratory experiments in which one variable is manipulated to observe its effect on other variables, as well as correlational approaches in which variables are operationally defined and quantified, and their association across individuals is assessed. Psychologists engage in both basic and applied research. The goal of basic research is to make new discoveries about people, to contribute new knowledge to our understanding of behavior and mental processes. In contrast, the goal of applied research is to solve specific, practical problems by conducting research in real-world settings or applying findings derived from basic research to real-world situations. The centrality of humor to the human experience makes the study of humor applicable to disciplines of psychology that emphasize basic research as well as those that have a more applied focus (R. A. Martin, 2000). Basic researchers in the area of cognitive psychology may be interested in the mental processes involved in the perception, comprehension, appreciation, and creation of humor. The functions of humor in interpersonal relationships and in broader social contexts are topics that interest social psychologists. Developmental psychologists may focus on the way humor and laughter develop from infancy into childhood and throughout the lifespan. Personality researchers might examine individual differences in sense of humor and their relation to other traits and behaviors. Biological psychology can shed light on the physiological bases of laughter and the brain regions underlying the comprehension and appreciation of humor. Similarly, psychologists in applied disciplines such as clinical, health, educational and industrial-organizational psychology conduct and apply research to address real-world problems relating to mental health and psychotherapy, physical health, teaching and education, and workplace productivity, respectively. In sum, researchers from nearly every branch of psychology potentially could make interesting contributions to the study of humor. Indeed, a complete understanding of the psychology of humor requires an integration of findings from all these areas. Table 1.1 provides a summary of the study of humor across different disciplines of psychology.

TRENDS IN THE PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDY OF HUMOR Despite the integral and obvious role that humor plays in many different areas of human experience and its relevance to all branches of psychology, psychologists have been slow to devote much research attention to humor. Nonetheless, they have produced

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TABLE 1.1 The Study of Humor Across Different Psychology Disciplines Psychology Discipline

Primary Research Emphases Related to Humor

Cognitive

• Structural qualities of humor stimuli and the mental processes involved in the perception and appraisal of incongruity • The way humor affects other cognitive processes, particularly memory and creative thinking

Personality

• Humor as a personality trait (sense of humor) describing general, stable tendencies in the way people perceive, respond to and initiate humor in daily life • Relationship between sense of humor and other psychological variables and behaviors

Developmental

• Development in the cognitive, emotional and social capacities to understand, enjoy and produce humor over the life span • The changing social and emotional functions of humor over the life span

Social

• The functions of humor in interpersonal relationships and broader social contexts

Physiological

• Areas of the brain and neural processes underlying the cognitive-perceptual, emotional and behavioral elements of humor

Clinical

• Potential benefits of humor for facets of mental health (e.g., subjective wellbeing, ability to cope with stress) • Applications of humor in psychotherapy

Health

• Potential benefits of humor and laughter for physical health and wellness including immunity, pain tolerance, blood pressure, and longevity

Educational

• Potential benefits of humor as a teaching tool to make learning enjoyable, stimulate attention, increase retention and performance, and promote creativity

Industrialorganizational

• Potential benefits of humor in the workplace including better relations among workers, and more creative thinking and problem-solving

a sizable body of research over the past 50 years. Fig. 1.3 presents the results of a PsycINFO search on the number of peer-reviewed journal articles with the words “humor,” “humour,” or “laughter” in their titles published by decade across the nine branches of psychology that we depicted in Table 1.1. As you can see in Fig. 1.3, psychology has a long history of studying humor. However, psychology experienced a dramatic surge of humor research in the 1970s. Indeed, the 184 humor articles published in the 1970s represents a whopping 349% increase over the 41 from the prior decade and a 50% increase over the total number of articles on humor appearing from 1900 through 1969. The sudden interest in humor in the 1970s is reflected most strongly in the basic research disciplines of personality, developmental and social psychology. Collectively, those three disciplines accounted for half of the peer-reviewed research articles published in that decade. Most strikingly, 39 social psychology articles were published in the 1970s, an increase of 875% over the four published in the previous decade. The growth of humor research in the 1970s was sustained throughout the 1980s; however, the emphasis shifted from social and developmental psychology to the applied

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500 440

450

464

400 350 271

300 250 184

200

184

150 100 50

2

4

6

21

27

22

41

19 00 –1 90 9 19 10 –1 91 9 19 20 –1 92 9 19 30 –1 93 9 19 40 –1 94 9 19 50 –1 95 9 19 60 –1 96 9 19 70 –1 97 9 19 80 –1 98 9 19 90 –1 99 9 20 00 –2 00 9 20 10 –2 01 6

0

FIGURE 1.3 The number of peer-reviewed psychology journal articles with the words, “humor,” “humour,” or “laughter” in their titles by decade.

research of clinical and educational psychology. Together, personality, clinical and educational psychology accounted for 62% of the humor research published in the 1980s. Psychology experienced a second surge of humor research in the 1990s. Not coincidentally, this coincided with the formation of the International Society of Humor Studies (ISHS) founded in 1988 by English literature professors Alleen Pace Nilsen and Don Nilsen (Fig. 1.4). ISHS is a multidisciplinary organization of humor scholars that holds annual conferences and publishes a quarterly scholarly journal entitled Humor: International Journal of Humor Research (HUMOR; for more information, see the ISHS website at www.hnu.edu/ishs). Thus, as the 1990s began, psychologists and other humor scholars had a publication outlet available to them that was devoted solely to humor research. Indeed, HUMOR published 90 (33%) of the 271 psychology articles that appeared in the 1990s. There appears to be a third wave of humor research in the 2000s that has continued to the present time. Each of the nine disciplines depicted in Table 1.1 is responsible for this third wave; however, the greatest number of research articles from 2000 to the present appeared in personality psychology (272 articles), social psychology (133 articles), and clinical psychology (129 articles). Jon Roeckelein (2002) noted that one of the curiosities of the psychology of humor is that, although it comprises quite a sizable research literature, it remains on the fringe of the discipline as a topic of peripheral rather than central importance. Roeckelein (2002) examined 136 introductory psychology texts published between 1885 and 1996 and found only three—all published before 1930—that made any reference to humor or humorrelated topics. In preparing the 2nd edition of this book we searched the subject index of 10 introductory psychology textbooks published between 2010 and 2016. The terms “humor” or “laughter” appeared in only three. Each of the three textbooks briefly

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FIGURE 1.4 Alleen Pace Nilsen and Don Nilsen, cofounders of the International Society of Humor Studies. Source: Image courtesy of Don Nilsen.

mentioned humor as it related to coping with stress and only two alluded to empirical research findings. Similarly, as Roeckelein also observed, humor appears to receive only rare and cursory mention in scholarly reference works. For instance, the recent 2016 APA Handbook of Personality and Social Psychology, a major reference work for social psychologists spanning more than 2700 pages, included only six sentences about sense of humor and cited only six empirical studies. We propose that psychologists tend to relegate humor to secondary importance for two reasons. First, because of its nonserious nature and association with fun and mirth, many psychologists view it as too frivolous for serious academic study. In his 2010 book, Humor: The Lighter Path to Resilience and Health, Paul McGhee concluded from personal conversation with research psychologists that most are simply interested in more serious topics. Fortunately, the idea that psychologists should concentrate only on “serious” topics like psychopathology and human deficits seems to be waning in recent years, as demonstrated by an increased interest in “positive psychology,” with its emphasis on the study of human strengths and positive emotions (Aspinwall & Staudinger, 2003; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). However, even within the field of positive psychology, humor receives relatively little attention. As McGhee (2010) noted, “major books by acknowledged leaders in the field do not include the word humor in the subject index— let alone devote a chapter to it” (p. xix). McGhee further noted, “Among the 64 chapters in the latest (2009) Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, none of the 131 contributors to the volume saw any basis for including humor or laughter in their discussion of the field” (p. xx).

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Second, as Dixon (1980) suggested, humor is an elusive phenomenon that is difficult to study in part because it historically lacked a precise definition that lent itself to clear operational definitions. Once again, however, we propose that the complexity of humor is all the more reason for researchers to apply their efforts, skills, and ingenuity to an understanding of it. Furthermore, as we will try to demonstrate in this book, the cumulative efforts of many researchers over the past few decades have brought increasing focus to the field, generating new theories with testable hypotheses and developing practical and reliable research methods for investigating them. Thus, although it certainly continues to pose interesting challenges for researchers to tackle, humor no longer seems to be such an intractable topic of study (Box 1.1).

BOX 1.1

A C O N V E R S AT I O N W I T H D R . R O D M A R T I N After completing a PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Waterloo in 1984, Rod Martin worked as a professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario, until retiring in 2016. A major focus of his research has been on the psychology of humor, particularly as it relates to psychological health and wellbeing. He has authored more than 100 scholarly journal articles, books, and book chapters on his research, and has given presentations in numerous countries. His research has been featured in national and international newspaper and magazine articles and radio and television programs. He is married with three adult children and eight grandchildren.

Thomas Ford: What have been your primary areas of interest related to the psychology of humor? Rod Martin: As a professor in the field of clinical psychology, most of my research has focused on the role of humor in mental health and wellbeing. This interest started when I was a graduate student and did my PhD dissertation on potential benefits of a sense of humor in moderating the effects of stress on negative emotions. This led to further research examining various mechanisms of the stress-buffering effects of humor, including humorrelated changes in cognitive appraisals and effects on interpersonal relationships and social support. This research also led to interesting questions about what exactly a sense of humor is, and how we can measure it. Over the years, my students and I have developed several self-report tests for assessing various aspects of humor. In recent years most of my research focused on ways in which humor may be detrimental as well as beneficial for emotional well-being and relationships, using the Humor Styles Questionnaire. TF: What was it about humor that you found appealing as a topic for psychological inquiry?

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BOX 1.1

(cont’d)

Rod Martin: I’ve always been fascinated by the way humor touches on every aspect of psychology, from cognitive to social to biological, and so on. Research and theories from all areas of psychology can help to understand humor, and in turn the research on humor can further enrich these other areas as well. There’s no end to the possibilities for research on humor. I’ve also always been intrigued by the fact that humor is such an important part of everyday life for most people, and yet traditionally it was largely ignored by the mainstream of psychological research. It has been exciting to be part of a relatively small number of researchers, feeling somewhat like pioneers exploring new territory. TF: What would you say have been some of the most interesting developments in psychology of humor that you have seen over the course of your career? Rod Martin: Overall, I’d say the most exciting development is the way research on humor has mushroomed in recent years. When I first started in this field, it was fairly easy to keep up with the published humor studies in psychology journals from year to year, but now there are so many new studies coming out in such a wide range of topic areas that it’s much more difficult to keep up with it all. Along with all this growth in the quantity of studies, I think there has also been an increase in the quality and sophistication of a lot of this research. As a result, it has been gratifying to see how humor research has gradually become more recognized and accepted as a “respectable” topic of study in mainstream psychology. For example, we’re starting to see general psychology textbooks include sections on humor-related research findings and applications. TF: In what areas of psychology do you see particularly interesting developments in theory and research related to humor today? Rod Martin: I’m very interested in theories and research on the role of humor and laughter in interpersonal relationships and social communication. It’s fascinating to explore the ways humor can facilitate social interaction and bring people together, while at the same time having a potential for dividing people, gaining power, ostracizing people, and so on. Humor is certainly enjoyable and beneficial, but it also has its darker sides, which I find interesting. Another development that I’ve found very interesting is the increase in neurosciencerelated humor research exploring the brain structures and mechanisms underlying humor comprehension and enjoyment. There’s still so much that we don’t know about the brain, and the whole field of neuroscience is fascinating to me, so it’s great to see more research in this field coming out on humor. TF: Do you have a favorite joke? Rod Martin: It’s not really a joke, but my favorite cartoon for demonstrating the cognitive mechanisms involved in humor is one in which a doctor is talking to Kermit the Frog and is holding an X-ray of Kermit’s head, showing the bones of a hand reaching up inside it. The doctor says, “Sit down Kermit. What I’m about to tell you may come as a big shock.” I think it’s a great illustration of bisociation, because when people get the joke, their minds are reverberating back and forth between a view of Kermit as a sentient individual with a personality, and Kermit as just a hand puppet. It’s also incongruous to think of this doctor who doesn’t seem to realize that, if Kermit is really just a puppet, there’s no use giving him his X-ray results.

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THE MANY FORMS OF HUMOR Humor is a form of social play elicited by a perception of playful incongruity that produces the emotional response of mirth expressed through smiling and laughter. Although the basic cognitive, emotional and behavioral elements are common to all instances of humor, the range of social situations and events that can elicit the humor response is remarkably diverse. Further, the complexity of human language and imagination enables us to create humor in a seemingly endless variety of forms. As human language, culture, and technology have evolved, we have developed new methods and styles of communicating humor, from spontaneous interpersonal joking and banter, to oral story-telling traditions, to comedic drama and humorous literature, to comedy films, radio and television shows, and to jokes and cartoons disseminated over the Internet. Most of the humor and laughter that we experience in our daily lives arises spontaneously in the course of our everyday interactions with other people (R. A. Martin & Kuiper, 1999). This sort of interpersonal humor occurs in nearly every type of informal and formal interaction, including conversations between lovers, close friends, fellow students, coworkers, business associates, store clerks and customers, doctors and patients, teachers and students, and even complete strangers standing in line at a bank. Individuals vary in the degree to which they produce humor in their daily interactions with others. Most of us enjoy the positive emotion of mirth so much that we highly value those individuals who are especially good at making us laugh. These are the people that we often describe as having a “good sense of humor,” and they tend to be particularly sought out as friends and romantic partners (Maner & Ackerman, 2013; Bressler, Martin & Balshine, 2006). Some people develop such a talent at eliciting mirth in others and making them laugh that they become professional humor producers, entering the ranks of humorous authors, cartoonists, stand-up comedians, comedy writers, and actors. The billions of dollars spent on various forms of comedy each year further attests to the high value placed on the emotional pleasure associated with humor. The kinds of humor we enjoy in daily life can be divided into four broad categories: (1) performance humor, (2) jokes, (3) spontaneous conversational humor, and (4) unintentional humor.

Performance Humor Performance humor includes things like television sit-coms, stand-up comedy, humorous books and movies, in which people produce humor as part of staged performance or “act.” Given the immediate availability of performance humor on media outlets like YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix accessible through computers and smart phones, people have greater access to performance humor in the course of daily life than ever before. Thus, questions related to the appeal and interpersonal functions of performance humor are important topics of psychological research. Questions about performance humor, however, have historically generated greater interest from disciplines such as cultural and media studies and literary studies than psychology.

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Jokes During the course of normal conversations, some people like to amuse others by telling jokes, which are short, amusing stories ending in a punch line. These are sometimes also referred to as “canned jokes” to distinguish them from the sorts of informal jesting and witty quips to which the words “joke” and “joking” can also refer. Here is an example of a joke of this sort (adapted from Long & Graesser, 1988, p. 49): A man goes to a psychiatrist who gives him a battery of tests. Then the psychiatrist announces his findings, “I’m sorry to have to tell you that you are hopelessly insane.” “Hell,” says the client, indignantly, “I want a second opinion.” “Okay,” says the doctor, “You’re ugly too.”

The joke consists of a set-up and a punch line. The set-up, which includes all but the last sentence, creates for the listener a particular set of expectations about how the situation should be interpreted. The punch line suddenly shifts the meaning in an unexpected way, creating the perception of incongruity. In this particular joke, the punch line plays on the meaning of the phrase “second opinion,” shifting the frame of reference from that of a serious, professional doctor patient relationship to a nonsensical one in which one person is insulting another. The structure of the joke itself signals that the incongruity of the punch line should be appraised in a playful, humor mindset. Note, however, that there is also an aggressive element in this joke (“You’re ugly too”). As we will see, there is much debate about the degree to which aggression is an essential aspect of all jokes (and perhaps even all humor). In everyday conversation, joke-telling is usually prefaced by verbal or nonverbal cues (e.g., “Did you hear the one about. . .”) or conforms to certain stock formats (e.g., “A man went into a bar. . .”) that indicate to the audience that the story is meant to be humorous and that the listeners are expected to shift to a humor mindset (Cashion, Cody, & Erickson, 1986). Although joke-tellers typically try to draw links between the jokes they tell and the ongoing topic of conversation, a joke is a context-free and self-contained unit of humor that carries within itself all the information needed for it to be understood and enjoyed. It can therefore be told in many different conversational contexts (Long & Graesser, 1988). Riddles are another form of prepackaged humor closely related to jokes, often involving play on words and particularly enjoyed by young children (e.g., What tastes better than it smells? A tongue!).

Spontaneous Conversational Humor Performance humor and canned jokes represent only a small proportion of the humor that we experience in our everyday social interactions. In a daily diary study in which adults kept a record of every time they laughed over the course of 3 days, only about 11% of daily laughter occurred in response to jokes. Another 17% was elicited by performance humor in the media, and fully 70% arose spontaneously during social interactions, either in response to funny comments that people made or to amusing anecdotes people told about things that had happened to them (R. A. Martin & Kuiper, 1999). This sort of spontaneous conversational humor is more context-dependent than joke-telling, and is therefore often not as funny when recounted afterwards (“you had to be there”). In such

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conversational humor, nonverbal cues indicating a humorous intent, such as a twinkle in the eye or a particular tone of voice, are often more ambiguous than in joke-telling, so that the listener is often not entirely sure if the speaker is jesting or being serious. Spontaneous conversational humor takes many forms, and different words exist to describe them (e.g., jest, witticism, quip, wisecrack, gag). Neal Norrick (2003), a linguist who has conducted research on humor occurring in everyday conversations, suggested that, besides the telling of canned jokes, conversational humor may be classified into: (1) anecdotes (relating an amusing story about oneself or someone else); (2) wordplay (creating puns, witty responses, or wisecracks that play on the meaning of words); and (3) irony (a statement in which the literal meaning is different from the intended meaning). Psychologists Debra Long and Arthur Graesser (1988) developed a more extensive classification system of spontaneous conversational humor or “wit.” To obtain a broad sample of the types of humor occurring in naturalistic conversations, they recorded a number of episodes of television talk shows (e.g., The Tonight Show) and then analyzed the different types of humor that arose in the interactions between the hosts and their guests. Audience laughter was used as an indicator of humor. Based on their analyses, these authors identified the following 11 categories, which were distinguished from one another on the basis of their intentions or uses of humor: 1. Irony—the speaker expresses a statement in which the literal meaning is opposite the intended meaning (e.g., saying “what a beautiful day!” when the weather is cold and stormy). 2. Sarcasm—an aggressive type of humor that targets an individual rather than an institution (e.g., at a fashionable dinner, a dignified lady rebuked Winston Churchill. “Sir, you are drunk.” “Yes,” replied Churchill, “and you are ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you shall still be ugly.”). It is noteworthy that many researchers treat sarcasm and irony as strongly related (e.g., Attardo, 2007) or even interchangeable (e.g., Liebrecht, Kunneman, & van den Bosh, 2013). 3. Satire—aggressive humor that exposes contradictions of individuals or social institutions through ridicule. Examples in the media include the Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update.” Mark Twain famously used satire in his novel, Huckleberry Finn (e.g., “What’s the use you learning to do right, when it’s troublesome to do right and isn’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same?”). 4. Overstatement and understatement—changing the meaning of something another person has said by repeating it with a different emphasis (e.g., A guest asks host Johnny Carson, who had been married several times: “Have you ever been married?” A second guest says, “Has he ever been married!”) 5. Self-deprecation—humorous remarks targeting oneself as the object of humor. This may be done to demonstrate modesty, to put the listener at ease, or to ingratiate oneself with the listener. Rodney Dangerfield was a master at this kind of humor. He once joked, “One year they asked me to be a poster boy—for birth control.” 6. Teasing—humorous remarks directed at the listener’s personal appearance or foibles. Unlike sarcasm, the intention is not to seriously insult or offend. An example of

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7.

8.

9.

10.

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1. INTRODUCTION TO THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

teasing is “playing the dozens,” an exchange of humorous insults between two people that continually escalates until one person has nothing left to say. The “yo’ mama joke” was a form of playing the dozens popular in the 1990s (e.g., “Yo’ momma is so fat, I took a picture of her last Christmas and it’s still printing.”). Replies to rhetorical questions—because rhetorical questions are not asked with the expectation of a reply, giving an answer to one violates a conversational expectation and surprises the person who posed the question. This can therefore be perceived as funny, and the intention is usually to simply entertain a conversational partner. Clever replies to serious statements—clever, incongruous, or nonsensical replies to statements or questions that were meant to be serious. A statement is deliberately misconstrued so that the speaker replies to a meaning other than the intended one. The 1980 comedy Caddyshack exemplified this type of humor in an oft-recounted scene featuring Chevy Chase’s character Ty Webb and the much shorter Judge Smails played by Ted Knight: Judge Smails: Ty, what did you shoot today? Ty Webb: Oh, Judge, I don’t keep score. Judge Smails: Then how do you measure yourself with other golfers? Ty Webb: By height. Double entendres—statements or words are deliberately misperceived or misconstrued so as to evoke a dual meaning, with one usually referring to sex (e.g., What did Bill Gates’ wife learn to her horror on their wedding night? Where he got the name “Micro soft.”) Transformations of frozen expressions—transforming well-known sayings, cliche´s, or adages into novel statements (e.g., complaint of a bald man: “Hair today, gone tomorrow.”) Puns—humorous use of words that evoke a second meaning, usually based on a homophone—a word with a different meaning that sounds the same (e.g., “How do you organize a space party? You planet!”)

Although these categories are not mutually exclusive and there may be other forms of spontaneous wit that occur in natural conversation but are not observed in television talk shows (Wyer & Collins, 1992), this list does provide a useful starting point for thinking about the many different ways humor may be expressed. Neal Norrick (1984) also discussed what he called “stock conversational witticisms,” which are humorous sayings or expressions that are routinely and recurrently used in conversation (e.g., “faster than greased lightning,” or “bring that up again and we’ll vote on it” in response to someone belching). Besides these verbal forms of humor, people also often intentionally create humor in social interactions by nonverbal means, such as funny or exaggerated facial expressions, odd ways of walking, bodily gestures, or mannerisms.

Unintentional Humor In addition to the things people intentionally say and do to amuse others, much mirth and laughter also arises from things people say and do that are not meant to be funny (Wyer &

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Collins, 1992). English literature professors Alleen Pace Nilsen and Don Nilsen (2000) referred to such things as accidental humor, which they divided into physical and linguistic forms. Accidental physical humor includes minor mishaps and pratfalls, such as a person slipping on a banana peel or spilling a drink. These sorts of events are funny when they occur in a surprising and incongruous manner and when the person experiencing them is not seriously hurt or badly embarrassed. This type of humor also forms the basis of slapstick and screwball comedy exemplified by comedians such as Jim Carrey, Chevy Chase, Robin Williams, Chris Farley, and The Three Stooges. Accidental linguistic humor involves misspellings, mispronunciations, errors in logic, or ambiguity in a text or an utterance that creates humorous alternative meanings. Amusing instances of such humor sometimes occur in newspaper headlines (e.g., “Prostitutes appeal to pope,” “Red tape holds up bridge,” “Queen Mary having bottom scraped,” “Two sisters reunited after 18 years in checkout line”) and on church marquees (e.g., “Do you know what hell is? Come hear our preacher,” “Don’t let worries kill you. Let the Church help.”). Speaker confusions such as malapropisms, and spoonerisms also represent instances of accidental linguistic humor. A malapropism is the incorrect use of a word that sounds similar to the correct one, resulting in humorous nonsense. Baseball legend Yogi Berra is famous for his malapropisms (e.g., “Texas has a lot of electrical votes,” “He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.”). Spoonerisms are a speech error in which the initial sounds of two or more words are transposed, creating an unintended and humorous new meaning. They were named after a 19th-century British clergyman named William Spooner who frequently made such mistakes in his sermons and speeches (e.g., he is said to have proposed a toast to Queen Victoria, saying “Three cheers for our queer old dean”).

HUMOR IN PSYCHOLOGY STUDIES As detailed above, humor takes many different forms in daily social interaction. And, although only about 11% of daily laughter seems to occur in response to jokes and 17% in response to performance humor in the media (Martin & Kuiper, 1999), psychologists primarily use jokes, cartoons, and media performance humor (clips from television sitcoms, comedy routines, or comedy sketches) in their investigations. In humor research, jokes and cartoons have long served as the equivalent of T-mazes or nonsense syllables in other fields, providing experimenters with a way to manipulate the conceptual independent variable, “exposure to humor.” Participants might be randomly assigned to view either humorous or nonhumorous videos in order to examine the effect of exposure to humor on such variables as perceived stress or wellbeing. Controlled experiments using self-contained and context-free jokes and cartoons are well suited for testing theoretically derived hypotheses about the ways that the humor experience might affect other relevant psychological or behavioral variables. In one set of experiments, for instance, Ford, Ford, Boxer, and Armstrong (2012) hypothesized that exposure to humor prior to taking a difficult test could inhibit anxiety associated with the test and, consequently, enhance performance. They manipulated exposure to humor by randomly assigning participants to read 10 humorous cartoons or 10 nonhumorous poems while anticipating taking a math test. Participants in the cartoon condition experienced less

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anxiety associated with the math test and, as a result, performed better on it. From these findings, the researchers concluded that the psychological experience of humor could reduce stress associated with a test and thus enhance performance. Importantly, the conclusion addresses the effect of the conceptual independent variable, humor experience, on stress and test performance, and not the specific events that induced the humor; the researchers did not draw conclusions about the virtues of cartoons over poems. The specific events that induced the humor experience, whether they were cartoons or spontaneous conversational humor, were immaterial for testing the hypothesis so long as they created a humor experience. Controlled experiments using jokes and cartoons, however, are not well suited to describe how different forms of humor naturally occur in social settings. To address descriptive research questions, investigators may need to go out of the laboratory and study humor as it occurs spontaneously in naturalistic settings, or at least have dyads or groups of people spontaneously interact with one another in the laboratory (see Robinson & Smith-Lovin, 1999). Besides being the focus of most research, jokes have also served as the humor prototype in linguistic theories focusing only on written or spoken humor in narratives that end with a punch line. Victor Raskin’s (1985) Script-based Semantic Theory of Humor was the first purely linguistic theory of humor, examining the cognitive processes underlying the comprehension of these types of narratives. Because the cognitive processes involved in comprehending a joke might be different from those involved in comprehending other forms of humor (e.g., physical slapstick humor), theories of verbal humor comprehension provide a limited explanatory scope. More recently, researchers are beginning to develop theories that account for other sorts of humor occurring in social interaction besides jokes. These theories often incorporate the emotional and social aspects of humor as well as the cognitive elements. Thomas Veatch (1998), for instance, proposed that people derive humor from perceiving a situation simultaneously as normal and as a violation of an expectation that carries affective or emotional significance. Emphasizing the importance of emotion, Veatch described humor as “affective absurdity” and “emotional pain that doesn’t hurt.” Building on Veatch’s theory, Peter McGraw and Caleb Warren’s (2010) benign violation theory addresses the role that social norms play in the interpretation of incongruity or expectancy violations. McGraw and Warren propose that all humor arises from "benign violations" of personal dignity, linguistic norms, social norms, or moral norms. Essentially, anything that challenges socially defined expectations of "how the world ought to be" can be interpreted through the humor mindset and found to be humorous, as long as the violation also is considered benign (p. 1142).

PSYCHOLOGICAL FUNCTIONS OF HUMOR Although it is essentially a form of social play enabling us to have fun and derive emotional pleasure from nonserious incongruities, humor serves a number of important and “serious” psychological functions. The psychological functions of humor can be classified into three broad categories: (1) emotional and interpersonal benefits of mirth, (2) tension relief and coping, and (3) social functions in group contexts.

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Emotional and Interpersonal Benefits of Mirth Human emotions have important adaptive functions. Emotions such as fear and anger, for example, cause individuals to focus their attention on threats in the environment, mobilize their energies, and motivate them to take action to deal with these threats (Levenson, 1994). However, the functions of positive emotions like mirth and joy are less immediately obvious, since they do not seem to evoke specific action patterns. In the past, psychologists tended to focus primarily on negative emotions like depression, fear, and hostility, and did not give much attention to positive emotions. The emergence of positive psychology, however, has shifted the focus of emotion research to include positive emotions such as happiness, optimism, joy, and mirth. Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that emphasizes the study of emotions and traits that enable people to lead happy, fulfilling lives (Gable & Haidt, 2005; Weiss, Bates, & Luciano, 2008). The term “positive psychology” first appeared in Abraham Maslow’s 1954 book, Motivation and Personality. And in the 1960s and 1970s, humanistic psychologists such as Maslow and Carl Rogers emphasized the importance of studying human potential and self-actualization. In 1998, Martin Seligman, president of the American Psychological Association, called for a revival of these humanistic approaches coupled with more rigorous research methodologies. He argued that psychology had historically overemphasized an understanding of human pathology (i.e., what can go awry in individuals, families, groups, and institutions) and neglected the study of human strengths and flourishing. In keeping with psychology’s renewed interest in positive emotions and human potential, Alice Isen (2003) summarized a body of experimental research indicating that, when people are experiencing positive emotions (including comedy-induced mirth), as compared to neutral or negative emotions, they show improvements in a variety of cognitive abilities and social behaviors. For example, they demonstrate greater cognitive flexibility, enabling them to engage in more creative problem-solving; more efficient organization and integration of memory; more effective thinking, planning, and judgment; and higher levels of social responsibility and prosocial behaviors such as helpfulness and generosity (see also Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005). An experiment by Barbara Fredrickson and Robert Levenson (1998) also demonstrated that the induction of positive emotions, including mirth, helps to reduce physiological arousal caused by negative emotions. Barbara Fredrickson (2001, 2009, 2013) proposed a “broaden-and-build” model of the psychological functions of positive emotions. Unlike negative emotions, which tend to narrow an individual’s focus of attention and actions, she argued that positive emotions broaden the scope of the individual’s focus of attention, creating a wider range of behavioral response options. This in turn builds physical, intellectual, and social resources needed to cope with life’s challenges and further contributes to the experience of positive emotions. Supporting Fredrickson’s “broadening” hypothesis, researchers have shown that positive emotions broaden people’s view of the world (Fredrickson, 2013b). For instance, people exhibit a wider scope of visual attention when experiencing positive emotions (e.g., Rowe, Hirsh, & Anderson, 2007; Wadlinger & Isaacowitz, 2006). Also, supporting the “building” hypothesis, research has shown that positive emotions contribute to one’s resources and

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ability to generate further positive emotions (e.g., Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008). Finally, the daily experience of positive emotions contributes to physical and mental health (Fredickson, 2013a; Fredrickson & Branigan, 2005; Kok et al., 2013). Michelle Shiota and her colleagues (2004) also proposed that positive emotions could play an important role in the regulation of interpersonal relationships. They pointed out that humans are social animals that require close relationships in order to survive, and suggested that positive emotions play a role in accomplishing three fundamental tasks required for relationships: (1) identifying potential relationship partners; (2) developing, negotiating, and maintaining key relationships; and (3) collective agency (i.e., working together with others to achieve goals that could not be accomplished alone). They suggested that the humor-related positive emotion of mirth is effective for accomplishing all three of these tasks in various types of relationships, including romantic partnerships, friendships, and group relations. For example, the mirth associated with mutual laughter can be a way of identifying members of an in-group, selecting and attracting partners, rewarding cooperative efforts, and enhancing interpersonal bonding and group cohesion. Positive psychologists have come to view humor as a core component of emotional or psychological wellbeing. Indeed, Peterson and Seligman (2004) identified 24 “strengths of character” that make up six basic virtues. Together, these character strengths and virtues affect people’s ability to lead happy, fulfilling lives (Gable & Haidt, 2005; McGhee, 2010; Weiss et al., 2008). Peterson and Seligman defined humor as liking to joke and laugh and sharing humor with others. They identified humor as a character strength that contributes to the virtue of transcendence: the ability to find meaning and purpose in one’s life by connecting with the wider world outside the self. From the perspective of positive psychology, we will examine the emotional and interpersonal benefits of humor in fostering positive interpersonal relationships (see Chapter 8: The Social Psychology of Humor) and in regulating the experience of positive and negative emotions and coping with stressful experiences (see Chapter 9: The Clinical Psychology of Humor: Humor and Mental Health).

Tension Relief and Coping with Adversity Another function of humor that has often been noted is its role in coping with life stress and adversity (Lefcourt, 2001; Lefcourt & Martin, 1986). People use the nonserious play of humor as a means of cognitively managing many of the situations that threaten their wellbeing by making light of those situations and turning them into something to be laughed at (Dixon, 1980). Because humor inherently involves incongruity and multiple interpretations, it provides a way for the individual to shift perspective on a stressful situation, reappraising it from a new and less threatening point of view. As a consequence of this humorous reappraisal, the situation becomes less stressful and more manageable (Kuiper, Martin, & Olinger, 1993; R. A. Martin, Kuiper, Olinger, & Dance, 1993). The positive emotion of mirth accompanying humor replaces the feelings of anxiety, depression, or anger that would otherwise occur, enabling the person to think more broadly and flexibly and to engage in creative problem-solving (Fredrickson, 2001). In addition, this positive emotion may have a physiological benefit of speeding recovery

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from the cardiovascular effects of any negative stress-related emotions that may have been evoked (Fredrickson & Levenson, 1998). Thus, humor may be viewed as an important emotion regulation mechanism that can improve mental health (Gross & Mun˜oz, 1995). Studies of survivors of extreme adversity such as the brutal conditions of concentration camps indicate that humor, in the form of joking about the oppressors as well as the hardships endured, is often an important means of engendering positive emotions, maintaining group cohesion and morale, preserving a sense of mastery, hope, and self-respect, and thereby enabling individuals to survive in seemingly hopeless circumstances (C. V. Ford & Spaulding, 1973; Frankl, 1984; Henman, 2001). Less extreme examples of the liberating potential of humor as a means of triumphing over adversity and refusing to be defeated by the slings and arrows of life can be found in the daily lives of many people. Humor and laughter provide a means for cancer patients to make light of their illness and maintain a spirit of optimism, and jokes about death are a way for people to distance themselves emotionally from thoughts of their own mortality. Thus, by laughing at the fundamental incongruities of life and diminishing threats by turning them into objects of nonserious play, humor is a way of refusing to be overcome by the people and situations, both large and small, that threaten our wellbeing. The aggressive forms of humor discussed earlier also play a role in coping. Many of the threats to wellbeing that humans experience come from other people. By making fun of the stupidity, incompetence, laziness, or other failings of the people who frustrate, irritate, and annoy them and thwart their progress toward their goals, individuals are able to minimize the feelings of distress that others cause and derive some pleasure at the expense of these others. This use of aggressive humor in coping can be directed toward particular individuals who create difficulties or at nonspecific representatives of broader social groups or power structures that are perceived as irritants. While providing a means of enhancing personal feelings of wellbeing in the short run, however, such aggressive uses of humor for coping can also alienate others and have an adverse effect on valued relationships in the long run (R. A. Martin, Puhlik-Doris, Larsen, Gray, & Weir, 2003). Like all forms of humor, the use of humor for coping with adversity usually takes place in a social context. People typically do not begin laughing and cracking jokes about their problems when they are all alone. Instead, coping humor commonly takes the form of joking and laughing with other people, either in the midst of an adverse situation or shortly afterwards. For example, when the events of a particularly stressful day are discussed among a group of close friends later in the evening, difficulties that earlier seemed distressing and overwhelming can be perceived as humorously incongruous and become the basis of a great deal of hilarity and boisterous laughter. The greater the emotional arousal and tension engendered by the stressful events, the greater the pleasure and the louder the laughter when joking about them afterwards (Berlyne, 1972). Many theorists have noted the tension-releasing function of humor over the years, and some have even suggested that tension relief is a defining characteristic of all humor. Although this view is perhaps overstated, it does reflect one of the important functions of humor and laughter. Thus, it appears that people use the cognitive play of humor as a means of dealing with difficulties and hardships, thereby contributing to people’s resilience and coping potentials.

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Social Functions in Group Contexts In addition to serving beneficial psychological functions for individuals, humor also has important social psychological consequences for interpersonal relationships and broader group processes. Researchers historically have recognized that humor can serve both positive (adaptive) and negative (maladaptive) social functions. Humor can both unite people by solidifying bonds and the sense of belonging to a group, and it can divide people by establishing social boundaries and fostering discrimination. In describing the paradoxical social functions of humor, sociologist William H. Martineau (1972) proposed that humor plays both a “lubricant” and an “abrasive” role in social relationships. Communication scholar John Meyer (2000) similarly suggested that humor functions as a double-edged sword in social settings; it has the power to increase both interpersonal closeness and interpersonal distance among people (Fig. 1.5). Humor’s dual functions as a social lubricant and abrasive stem from its unique paradoxical quality as a mode of communication. As sociologist Michael Mulkay (1988) noted, people often use humor to communicate two conflicting messages. Through humor, one can communicate an explicitly negative message while implicitly communicating that the message is not real, but is to be interpreted as “just a joke” from a humor mindset. By making the meaning of a message and the intent of the speaker ambiguous, humor allows someone to communicate controversial or sensitive messages in a way that averts confrontation or opposition that “serious” modes of communication likely would incur. This could have either beneficial or detrimental social consequences. As a beneficial consequence, for example, two friends attempting to discuss a difference of opinion in a serious way may become embroiled in endless arguments and counterarguments with an accompanying escalation in feelings of frustration and annoyance. However, by using humor to joke about each other’s perspective, they can deescalate conflict and communicate a sense of acceptance and appreciation of one another while still maintaining and acknowledging their different points of view (Kane, Suls, & Tedeschi, 1977). Thus, humor can be a means of averting or smoothing over conflicts and tensions between people.

FIGURE 1.5 Humor has the power to increase both interpersonal closeness and interpersonal distance among people. Source: Images used under license from Lee Torrens & oliveromg/Shutterstock.com.

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Similarly, people can use humor to communicate criticism that would not be well received if communicated in a more serious manner. In friendly teasing, for example, a message of mild disapproval or censure is communicated using humor (Keltner, Capps, Kring, Young, & Heerey, 2001). This allows the speaker to retract the message if it is not well received by invoking the “I was only joking” defense (Johnson, 1990). In this way, humor provides a way for individuals to “save face” for themselves and others, using it to soften the impact of a message or to “test the water” to see how others will respond. The same qualities of ambiguity that make humor a social lubricant also allow it to function as a social abrasive, serving functions that can be quite divisive, aggressive, and manipulative. Humor and laughter can be used for the purpose of disparaging or denigrating others (e.g., members of social out-groups) or punishing people who violate social norms within a group. For instance, disparagement humor, such as racist and sexist jokes, denigrates a social group or its representatives. Members of a target group may or may not be physically present. Such humor presents a unique social challenge because it often can avert challenge or opposition that the same sentiments communicated in a more obviously serious manner would likely incur (Bill & Naus, 1992). This allows someone to communicate derision without fear of social sanction. Indeed, if a disparaging humorous message is not received favorably a person can easily retract it with the “just joking” defense mentioned above. Disparagement humor can have a number of detrimental social consequences for intergroup relations. For instance, social psychologists Gordon Hodson and Cara MacInnis (2016) proposed that it “delegitimizes” social groups by declaring them socially acceptable targets for denigration. Furthermore, it affirms that demeaning stereotypes and prejudiced attitudes are collectively shared within a given culture. Indeed, in order to “get” a disparaging joke one has to share knowledge of certain demeaning stereotypes with the joke teller. In addition, disparagement humor has been shown to foster a social norm in a given context that permits active discrimination against the targeted group (e.g., Ford & Ferguson, 2004). Finally, by positively distinguishing the in-group from a relevant out-group, disparagement humor functions to make people feel better about their ingroup, which, in turn, increases a sense of solidarity or cohesion among in-group members (Thomae & Pina, 2015). The pleasurable emotion of mirth accompanying humor and laughter can therefore be gained at other people’s expense, either by passively deriving amusement from others’ misfortunes (as described by the interesting German word schadenfreude), or by actively seeking to humiliate, embarrass, or ridicule others in some way and thereby enhancing one’s own status relative to theirs. Thus, humor can involve “laughing at” not just “laughing with.” As we will see, many traditional theories suggest that aggression is actually an essential element of all humor and laughter. Although most theorists today would not take such an extreme view, few would disagree that humor can be used in aggressive and even hostile ways. Since being the target of others’ laughter is painful and something most people seek to avoid, aggressive forms of humor can also be used as a method of coercing people into conforming to desired behaviors. Within social groups, people can use humor to enforce group norms by teasing members within the group when they engage in deviant behavior (Janes & Olson, 2000; Janes & Olson, 2015). Thus, in aggressive types of joking, teasing,

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1. INTRODUCTION TO THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

ridicule, or sarcasm, humor can be used to exclude individuals from a group, reinforce power and status differences, suppress behavior that does not conform to group norms, and have a coercive influence on others. In summary, the social play of humor can be used to communicate a variety of messages and serve a variety of social functions, some of which may be congenial and prosocial, promoting unity among people, while others may be more aggressive or coercive, fostering social divisiveness. Humor, then, is inherently neither a social lubricant nor a social abrasive. Rather it can serve both social functions; it can be a means of deriving emotional pleasure that can be used for both amiable and antagonistic purposes. This is the paradox of humor. If one’s goal is to strengthen relationships, smooth over conflicts, and build cohesiveness, humor can be useful for those purposes. On the other hand, if one’s goal is to ostracize, humiliate, or manipulate someone, or to build up one’s own status at the expense of others, humor can be useful for those purposes as well. Either way, humor can evoke genuine feelings of mirth.

SUMMARY AND OVERVIEW OF THIS BOOK Humor is a universal human activity that most people experience many times over the course of a typical day and in all sorts of social contexts. At the same time, there are obviously important cultural influences on the way humor is used and the situations that are considered appropriate for laughter. From a psychological perspective, humor is fundamentally a social phenomenon; it is a form of social play comprised of the perception of playful incongruity that induces the positive emotional response of mirth and the vocalbehavioral expression of laughter. In social interactions, humor takes on many different forms, including canned jokes, spontaneous witticisms, and unintentionally funny utterances and actions. There is a good deal of evidence suggesting that humor and laughter confer adaptive cognitive and social benefits for individuals, including a way to relieve tension, regulate emotions and cope with stress. In addition, humor has important social psychological consequences for interpersonal relationships and broader group processes. Humor can serve both positive (adaptive) and negative (maladaptive) social functions; it can both unite people by solidifying bonds and sense of belonging to a group, and divide people by establishing social boundaries and fostering discrimination. Popular conceptions of laughter have changed dramatically over the past two or three centuries, from being viewed as essentially aggressive and somewhat socially inappropriate to being seen as positive, psychologically and physically healthy, and socially desirable. The meaning of the word “humor” has also evolved from a narrow focus on benign and sympathetic sources of mirth distinguished from more aggressive types of wit, to its use as a broad umbrella term to refer to all sources of laughter. Although humor has important psychological functions and touches on all branches of psychology, and there is a sizable and growing research literature on the topic, mainstream psychology has paid relatively little attention to it until now.

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In Chapter 2, Classic Theories of Humor, we review the three most influential, comprehensive theories for the study of humor: Relief Theory, Superiority Theory, and Incongruity Theory. In Chapter 3, Contemporary Theories of Humor, we consider contemporary theories of humor that build upon the early classic theories. In Chapter 4, The Personality Psychology of Humor, through Chapter 8, The Social Psychology of Humor, we explore relevant theories, research approaches, and empirical findings in the study of humor from the perspective of each of the basic research domains of psychology, with individual chapters devoted to personality, cognitive, physiological, developmental, and social psychology. Chapter 9, The Clinical Psychology of Humor: Humor and Mental Health, and Chapter 10, The Health Psychology of Humor: Humor and Physical Health, focus on research examining the implications of humor for mental and physical health, corresponding to the fields of clinical and health psychology, respectively. Finally, in Chapter 11, Applications of Humor in Education and in the Workplace, we examine theories and research pertaining to potential applications of humor in educational and industrial-organizational psychology. By the end of the book, we hope it will be evident that the study of humor has relevance to every area of the discipline.

KEY CONCEPTS • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Humor Incongruity Nonserious humor mindset Mirth Laughter Psychology Basic research Applied research Performance humor Jokes Spontaneous conversational humor Stock conversational witticisms Accidental physical humor Accidental linguistic humor Malapropism Spoonerisms Affect Positive psychology Etymology of humor Wit Sense of humor

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CRITICAL THINKING 1. What are the three key elements of humor, as described in this chapter? How does each element affect the psychological experience of humor? 2. How has the prevalence of research on humor in psychology changed over time? What are the three waves of psychology research and what characterizes these waves of research? 3. What are the primary forms of humor? Which of these forms of humor is the most prevalent? Name and describe three examples of this most prevalent humor form. 4. What is mirth? Why is “mirth” considered a good term to describe the emotional response to humor? What are the neurological and biochemical fluctuations that occur when people experience an emotional response to humor? 5. What are the three broad psychological functions of humor outlined in this chapter? 6. Based on the research and history discussed in this chapter, describe some areas of research or particular questions that you perceive as important for modern psychologists?

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The question of what makes something funny has perplexed scholars for centuries, and philosophers, psychologists, linguists, and other theorists have proposed numerous theories to answer this question (for more detailed discussion, see Keith-Spiegel, 1972; Roeckelein, 2002).

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In this chapter we review classic psychological theories of humor that have been most influential in shaping research on humor. We have grouped the classic theories according to the emphasis they place on different psychological mechanisms (i.e., relief, superiority, incongruity) presumed to explain humor (see also Berger, 1993; Meyer, 2000; Monro, 1988; Morreall, 1983). Relief theories focus primarily on intrapersonal needs, proposing that mirth and laughter result from the fulfillment of motivations or needs, namely the relief of tension either in the form of physiological arousal (Spencer, 1860) or “forbidden” sexual and aggressive impulses (Freud, 1905, 1928). Like relief theories, superiority theories propose that the fulfillment of fundamental motives is central to all humor experience. They, however, emphasize the interpersonal motive of self-enhancement. Mirth and laugher result from a sense of sudden triumph or feeling of superiority over another person or group of people. In contrast to relief and superiority theories, incongruity theories deemphasize the role of motivation and focus instead on the cognitive processes involved in the perception and interpretation of a stimulus event, identifying perceptions of incongruity as minimally necessary for all humor. Table 2.1 provides a summary of the critical differences between the three classic humor theories. Each of these classic approaches attempts to provide a comprehensive explanation for the entirety of humor with the fewest concepts and processes necessary. In the pursuit of parsimony, however, they incorporated too few concepts that were too vaguely or broadly defined. This resulted in two important limitations. First, they could not be completely comprehensive: they could not easily capture the nuances of different forms of humor and the different settings in which humor occurs under a single theoretical “umbrella.” Thus, the classic theories are like the six blind men and the elephant: each felt a different part of the animal and came away with a different conclusion about what an elephant is like (Berger, 1995). Each theory explains something about the experience of humor, but fails to give a complete picture. Second, they were difficult to test or potentially falsify (this is particularly true of relief and superiority theories). A theory should derive hypotheses that can be tested— confirmed or disconfirmed—by empirical observation (Popper, 1959; Van Lange, 2013). If a theory cannot be empirically tested, then one cannot know what it explains and what it does not explain. Although the classic theories had limitations, they each left an important legacy to the study of humor. They provided many of the conceptual foundations—the explanatory mechanisms and constructs—that form the basis of contemporary theory and research that we will consider throughout this book (Box 2.1). TABLE 2.1 Summary of the Critical Differences Between the Three Classic Humor Theories Theory

Primary Focus

Explanatory Mechanisms

Relief

Motivational: intrapersonal needs

Relief of tension

Superiority

Motivational: interpersonal motives

Self-esteem enhancement

Incongruity

Cognitive: perception and interpretation

Perception of unexpected incongruity of a stimulus or event

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BOX 2.1

W H AT M A K E S A J O K E F U N N Y ? E X P L A N AT I O N S F R O M CLASSIC HUMOR THEORIES Joke 1.

A woman gets on a bus with her baby. The bus driver says: “Ugh, that’s the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen!” The woman walks to the rear of the bus and sits down, fuming. She says to a man next to her: “The driver just insulted me!” The man says: “You go up there and tell him off. Go on, I’ll hold your monkey for you.”

Joke 2.

Why didn’t the dinosaur cross the road? Because there weren’t even any roads during the Jurassic Period!

In a nationwide survey of 100 adults in the United States we found that people perceived Joke 1 as significantly funnier than Joke 2. But why? What makes Joke 1 funnier than Joke 2? Below we provide explanations from the framework of each of the classic humor theories.

Perceived funniness

5 4 3 2 1 Joke 1

Joke 2

Relief Theory • Spencer’s Relief Theory: Spencer’s relief theory does not provide a simple, clear-cut explanation for why Joke 1 is funnier than Joke 2. It focused only on the individual’s release of pent up energy without consideration for the content or structure of humor material. Spencer’s theory does not explain why one joke would release pent up nervous energy more than another. • Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory: Joke 1 is funny because it contains an insult that arouses latent aggressive impulses that are suddenly released by the punch line. One experiences mirth and laughter because of the pleasurable release of repressed hostile impulses in a way that bypasses the inhibitions of the censoring superego. The content of Joke 2, in contrast, does not contain hostile or sexual themes; thus it does not arouse and subsequently release latent aggressive or sexual impulses.

Superiority Theory • Joke 1 is funnier than Joke 2, not because it arouses more latent aggressive impulses in a psychoanalytic sense, but because it more explicitly allows the listener to triumph over

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BOX 2.1

(cont’d)

the object of the joke, the woman with the ugly baby. The punch line, “Go on, I’ll hold your monkey for you,” suddenly makes the listener feel superior to the woman because she, and not the listener, has the misfortune of having an ugly baby.

Incongruity Theory • In Joke 1, the punch line is original and surprising, causing incongruity followed by mirth upon resolution. In the joke setup we learn that the bus driver has perpetrated a terribly inappropriate insult by calling the woman’s baby “ugly.” From this we predict an outcome when the man sitting by the woman tells her to “go up there and tell him off.” The punch line, “Go on, I’ll hold your monkey for you” is surprising and incongruous with joke setup, causing the listener to go back over the joke setup and search for a “cognitive rule” that will make the surprising ending fit with the setup. When the listener realizes that the bus driver was right about the woman’s baby, the joke makes sense (the incongruity is resolved). Joke 2 is not so funny because the punch line does not provide a very surprising or unexpected ending to the joke; thus there is little incongruity.

RELIEF THEORIES Philosophers of the 18th century had conceptualized laughter as a way of relieving built-up psychological tension or strain. Immanuel Kant (1724 1804), for instance, stated, “laughter is an affection arising from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing” (in Critique of Judgment, reprinted in Morreall, 1987, p. 47). Building on this notion of tension release, several 19th and early 20th century writers developed theories of laughter (and humor more generally) based on a hydraulic metaphor of the nervous system, which holds that the function of laughter for the nervous system is similar to the function of a pressure relief valve for a steam pipe. A pressure relief valve is set to open when fluids or gases build up pressure in a pipe, providing an auxiliary route for their release. In a similar way, laughter functions to release pent-up nervous energy.

Spencer’s Relief Theory English philosopher Herbert Spencer (1860, 1911) offered a physiological theory of laughter comprised of two broad propositions outlined in his 1911 essay, “On the Physiology of Laughter.” First, emotions and sensations represent forms of “nervous energy” that stimulates motor nerves and thus bodily movement; we express our emotions physically. Spencer stated, “It becomes manifest both that emotions and sensations tend to generate bodily movements and that the movements are vehement in proportion as the emotions or sensations are intense” (p. 584). Second, the body must release this built up nervous energy so people reflexively engage in motor behaviors starting with the most habitual (e.g., speech, smiling). If these habitual channels do not sufficiently relieve THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

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pent-up nervous energy, the person engages in an increasing number of behaviors (laughter, gestures, etc.) involving the use of an increasing number of muscles until the surplus energy is sufficiently vented. According to Spencer, then, the respiratory and muscular action of laughter is a specialized way for the body to release excess nervous energy.

Empirical Investigations As Morreall (1987) described in his critique of Spencer’s theory, there seems to be a connection between some experiences of laughter and the release of physiological arousal. We can all relate to the experience of laughing with relief after a near-accident had been averted or when a situation that had aroused great fear turned out to be rather benign after all. Shurcliff (1968) conducted an experiment to test the hypothesis that humor results from the sudden relief of built up nervous energy in the form of anxiety. To manipulate anxiety, Shurcliff told participants that they would perform different tasks with a laboratory rat. In the low-anxiety condition, participants were simply asked to hold a docile rat for five seconds and then put it back in its cage. In the high-anxiety condition, participants were instructed to collect a blood sample from the rat, and they were further warned that the rat “might bite through the glove or escape” (p. 361). To their surprise, when the subjects reached into the cage to remove the rat, they discovered that it was just a rubber toy. They were then asked to rate their anxiety and the funniness of the experience. As predicted, participants in the high-anxiety condition reported feeling more anxious prior to discovering the toy rat and found the surprising discovery funnier than those in the lowanxiety condition.

Evaluation The possibility that mirth and laughter can result from the release of pent-up energy (e.g., the sudden relief of anxiety) does not mean that all mirth and laughter involves the release of pent-up energy. As Morreall noted, many laughter situations do not seem to involve emotional energy, either brought into or produced within the situation that requires relief. Also, many instances of spontaneous laughter occur suddenly without a progressive escalation of motor behaviors successively activated to expend lingering excess energy. Finally, Spencer’s theory was based on a justifiably rudimentary understanding of the nervous system and physiology more generally. In the final analysis, Spencer’s relief theory does not provide straightforward predictions about what makes something funny. However, it may be instrumental in understanding the kind of laughter that often follows the relief of anxiety or fear. The legacy of Spencer’s relief theory, then, is not found in its veracity as a comprehensive theory of humor or in the progress it generated through empirical testing. Rather its legacy is in its contribution to existing knowledge in another way; it expanded our understanding of the processes (tension relief) and variables (physiological arousal) that can contribute to the experience of humor. Indeed, other early theories of humor (e.g., Bergson, 1911; Dewey, 1894; Freud, 1905, 1928; Gregory, 1924) incorporated the relief of tension as an explanatory mechanism. Dewey (1894) described laughter as “the sudden relaxation of strain, so far as occurring through the medium of breathing and the vocal THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

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apparatus” (cited in Morreall, 1987, p. 24). Gregory (1924) similarly stated that, “no discussion of laughter that ignores relief or makes it of little account can hope to prosper” (p. 40). In addition, Spencer’s theory called attention to the role of physiological arousal in the experience of mirth and laughter, thus providing a critical building block construct for contemporary theories, perhaps most notably Daniel Berlyne’s (1972) optimal arousal theory. Berlyne (1972) proposed an inverted-U relationship between physiological arousal and subjective pleasure (Hebb, 1955). That is, the greatest pleasure is associated with a moderate amount of arousal, whereas too little or too much arousal is unpleasant. Berlyne further postulated that a joke activates two arousal-related mechanisms that produce the mirth and laughter: the arousal boost and arousal jag mechanisms. The setup of a joke first boosts arousal to and then beyond its optimal level of pleasure (arousal boost). The punch line suddenly decreases the heightened arousal back to a pleasurable level (arousal jag). The pleasure associated with both the arousal boost and the arousal jag is experienced as mirth and expressed through laughter. Thus, rather than viewing laughter as a method of releasing excess arousal, Berlyne saw it as an expression of the pleasure resulting from changes in arousal to optimal levels. It is noteworthy that there is little empirical support for the hypothesis that the punch line of a joke reduces arousal, which in turn, creates mirth. Rather, the relationship between mirth and autonomic arousal appears to be linear: the more arousal, the funnier people perceive humor material and the more mirth they experience (Godkewitsch, 1976; McGhee, 1983) (Box 2.2).

Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic view of humor was by far the most influential theory in psychological humor research during the first half of the 20th century, a period when Freud’s general theory of psychology was quite prominent as a whole. Freud proposed

BOX 2.2

SIGMUND FREUD Sigmund Freud (1856 1939) was an Austrian neurologist and founder of the psychoanalytic theory of personality and of psychoanalysis, a method of psychotherapy derived from psychoanalytic theory. Freud described his theory of laughter in his book Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious published first in 1905. Freud proposed three types of laughter-related phenomena: (1) jokes (or wit), (2) humor, and (3) the comic. Each represents a defense mechanism that allows for the release of psychic energy through laughter. Sigmund Freud, pictured smoking a cigar. Photo taken by Max Halberstadt (1922).

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that each of us embodies a seething cauldron of conflicting motives and desires (Freud, 1935). Childish, immature, and largely unconscious sexual and aggressive (libidinal) drives, residing in the “id,” seek instant gratification. The “superego,” which incorporates the demands and dictates of society as embodied in the internalized parents, strongly opposes the impulses of the id. The “ego,” attempts to find some adaptive compromise between the demands of the id, the superego, and the constraints of the external world, employing defense mechanisms to protect itself from the otherwise overwhelming anxiety that arises from these conflicting forces. Early in his career, Freud turned his attention to the role of humor in this psychological drama. Freud’s work on humor is contained in two publications: the book Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (Freud, 1960 [1905]), and a short paper entitled “Humour” (Freud, 1928). According to Freud, there are three different categories of laughter-related phenomena: (1) jokes (or wit), (2) humor, and (3) the comic. Each of these involves the release of psychic energy through laughter. Jokes We enjoy jokes so much because they allow us to experience for a moment the illicit pleasure of releasing primitive sexual and aggressive impulses. Freud referred to the release of libidinal (sexual or aggressive) impulses as the tendentious element of jokes. Freud (1905) stated that, “The pleasure in the case of a tendentious joke arises from a purpose being satisfied whose satisfaction would otherwise not have taken place” (p. 117). In other words, Freud suggested that the pleasure derived from tendentious humor results from the savings of psychological energy spent on the usual inhibition of repressed impulses (p. 119). Importantly, enjoyment of jokes also depends on the clever cognitive trick included in the form of the joke, referred to as “jokework” that distracts the superego from the libidinal impulses released by the joke so that we are often not even aware of the degree to which a joke contains aggressive and sexual themes. Freud referred to the superego-distracting jokework as the nontendentious element of a joke. Consider the following joke (from McGhee, 1979, p. 9): One bachelor asked another, “How did you like your stay at the nudist camp?” “Well,” he answered, “It was okay after a while. The first three days were the hardest.”

The jokework involves the double meaning of the last word, which can refer either to the difficulty of the experience or to the man getting an erection. The initial interpretation of the word implies a negative connotation, but the second one reveals that the experience was actually sexually arousing. According to Freud, this clever play on words diverts our attention from the fact that the joke has allowed us to vicariously enjoy the erotic pleasure of this sexually inexperienced man who finds himself surrounded by naked women. As another example, consider the following joke (also taken from McGhee, 1979, p. 9): Mr. Brown: “This is disgusting. I just found out that the janitor has made love to every woman in the building except one.” Mr. Brown’s wife: “Oh, it must be that stuck-up Mrs. Johnson on the third floor.”

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The jokework involves the inference from the wife’s seemingly off-handed comment that she herself has had a sexual liaison with the janitor. Although the tendentious element in this joke again appears initially to be sexual, a closer examination reveals that it is actually aggression. We take aggressive delight in laughing at the deception of the hapless husband, as well as the stupidity of the wife, who reveals her unfaithfulness in such a naive manner. Again, the cleverness of the logical processes involved in interpreting the joke enables us to distract our attention from the fact that we are deriving pleasure from other people’s pain and stupidity, an activity that would normally cause us to feel guilty. Although Freud believed that most jokes involve the release of sexual or aggressive impulses, he suggested that there could be some nonaggressive and nonsexual (“nontendentious” or “innocent”) jokes in which the enjoyment is derived only from clever cognitive processes (jokework) that enable one to momentarily regress to less logical and rational (i.e., more childish) modes of thinking. However, some authors such as Grotjahn (1966) and Gruner (1978) have pointed out that Freud could not provide any examples of such innocent jokes (a fact which Freud himself acknowledged). These theorists argued that this is because no such jokes actually exist; all jokes are tendentious. Humor Freud’s second category of laughter-related phenomena, humor, was defined in sharp distinction from jokes (wit). Humor referred to a benign and sympathetic amusement with the ironic misfortunes of life. Humor represented the tension-release function of mirth and laughter in coping with stress. According to Freud, humor (in this old-fashioned narrow sense) is a defense mechanism that allows us to face difficult situations without becoming overwhelmed by unpleasant emotion. Indeed, according to Freud, humor is the “highest of the defense mechanisms,” since it enables the individual to avoid unpleasant emotions while still maintaining a realistic view of a situation. The pleasure of humor (in this restricted meaning of the word) arises from the release of energy that would have been associated with a painful emotion. A person exhibits humor when they are able to laugh at their own weaknesses, social blunders or difficult circumstances. For example, the individual who is able to “see the funny side of things” despite having suffered a serious financial loss would be demonstrating humor. As we saw in Chapter 1, Introduction to the Psychology of Humor, since Freud’s time the word “humor” has evolved into a broad umbrella term that encompasses all types of laughter-evoking phenomena, including aggressive teasing, sexual jokes, and slapstick comedy, as well as irony. This difference in terminology can be very confusing, and it has led many researchers and theorists to confuse Freud’s theory of jokes with his theory of humor. As we will see in Chapter 9, The Clinical Psychology of Humor: Humor and Mental Health, Freud’s conception of humor (in this narrow sense) is closely related to contemporary views of humor as a way of coping with stress and regulating emotions. Comic Whereas jokes and humor are verbal, Freud’s third category, the comic, refers to nonverbal sources of mirth, such as circus clowns and the pompous person slipping on the banana peel. In such situations, the observer mobilizes a certain amount of mental energy

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in anticipation of what is expected to happen. When the expected does not occur, this mental energy becomes superfluous and is released in laughter. Freud suggested that the comic involves delighted laughter at childish behavior in oneself or others, which he described as “the regained lost laughter of childhood” (Freud, 1960 [1905], p. 224). Comical situations may also contain some tendentious elements, allowing for the pleasurable release of libidinal energy. The pompous person slipping on the banana peel is a good example. The fact that he is pompous makes the scene amusing because it permits the expression of some aggressive impulses. It would not be nearly as funny if the mishap occurred to a small child or to a person who engenders sympathy. Thus, like jokes, the comic often contains at least a tinge of aggression.

Empirical Investigations As stated above, psychoanalytic theory proposes that we enjoy jokes (wit) because they distract the superego—our psychic censor—and thus afford us the illicit pleasure of releasing latent primitive sexual and aggressive impulses. Researchers tested a number of hypotheses derived from this general proposition. We review empirical research designed to test three interrelated, but distinct, hypotheses that are perhaps the most fundamental and unique to psychoanalytic theory: they directly relate to the critical mechanism presumed to explain humor, the release of tension or drive states. We refer to these central hypotheses as the Humor Preference Hypothesis, the Catharsis Hypothesis, and the Jokework Hypothesis. Researchers conducted experiments and correlational studies to test these hypotheses. In experiments they manipulated impulses or the salience of inhibitions (e.g., induced in participants different degrees of aggressive or sexual impulse) and subsequently measured (1) enjoyment of hostile or sexual humor material or (2) the intensity of aggressive or sexual drive states following humor exposure. In correlational studies they typically examined the degree to which the enjoyment of hostile or sexual humor material is related to individual differences in aggressive or sexual impulses respectively. Humor Preference Hypothesis If enjoyment of tendentious humor results from the release of libidinal impulses, then people should find aggressive or sexual humor funny to the extent that they harbor (repressed) aggressive or sexual impulses.

Empirical tests of the humor preference hypothesis have produced equivocal results. Some studies supported the hypothesis (e.g., Dworkin & Efran, 1967; Prerost & Brewer, 1977; Strickland, 1959). Strickland (1959), for instance, had male participants rate the funniness of cartoons containing sexual, hostile, or neutral (“nonsense”) themes after they had either been insulted and criticized by the experimenter (hostility-aroused group), or shown a series of photographs of nude females (sexually aroused group). A control group of participants rated the cartoons immediately after being brought into the experimental situation. As predicted, hostility-aroused participants rated the hostile cartoons funnier than the sexual or nonsense cartoons, whereas sexually aroused participants rated the sexual cartoons funniest. Dworkin and Efran (1967) similarly found that participants who had

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been angered subsequently rated hostile humor material as funnier compared to those who had not been angered. Angered and nonangered participants rated the nonhostile humor as equally funny. Other studies, however, failed to support the humor preference hypothesis (e.g., Byrne, 1956, 1961; Epstein & Smith, 1969; Grziwok & Scodel, 1956; Holmes, 1969; Lamb, 1968; Landy & Mettee, 1969; McCauley, Woods, Coolidge, & Kulick, 1983; Ruch & Hehl, 1988; Ullmann & Lim, 1962). For instance, in an experiment with a very similar design as Strickland’s (1959) study, Byrne (1961) found that hostility-aroused participants, sexually aroused participants, and participants in a control condition all rated hostile cartoons funniest. In another experiment, Lamb (1968) found that participants exposed to sexually arousing photographs showed greater appreciation for all types of cartoons (hostile and neutral as well as sexual), in comparison with those who were not sexually aroused. Correlational studies too have found, contrary to the humor preference hypothesis, that people who openly express hostility and sexuality enjoy hostile and sexual humor, respectively, more than those who suppress it. Byrne (1956), for instance, presented cartoons depicting hostile themes and cartoons depicting nonhostile themes to male psychiatric patients who had been classified by hospital staff as either overtly hostile, covertly hostile (passive-aggressive), or nonhostile (compliant). Overtly and covertly hostile patients rated the hostile cartoons as funnier than did the nonhostile patients. Thus, individuals who exhibited hostile behavior in their interactions with others were more likely to enjoy cartoons that reflected hostile themes. Byrne argued that these results contradicted psychoanalytic theory and were more consistent with behavioral learning theory. According to learning theory, aggressive behavior is learned through positive reinforcement, and aggressive individuals would therefore be expected to find aggressive humor reinforcing and enjoyable. In addition, Epstein and Smith (1956) and more recently McCauley et al. (1983) emphasized the importance of investigating the relationship between repressed hostility and enjoyment of hostile humor. McCauley et al. (1983) operationally defined repressed hostility by one’s socioeconomic status (SES). Freud (1905) argued that high-SES people repress aggressive impulses more than lower-SES people and thus should enjoy hostile humor more than low-SES people. Contrary to the humor preference hypothesis, however, McCauley et al. found no difference in funniness ratings of hostile cartoons among highversus low-SES participants. In another more contemporary study, Ruch and Hehl (1988) found that both male and female participants rated sexual humor material funnier to the extent they had (1) more positive attitudes toward sexuality, (2) greater sexual experience and enjoyment, (3) higher sexual libido and excitement, and (4) lower prudishness or inhibition (cf. also Prerost, 1983, 1984). Overall, empirical research provided little support for the hypothesis that the enjoyment of aggressive and sexual humor is associated with repression and release of the corresponding drives. Catharsis Hypothesis The release of libidinal impulses through the enjoyment of hostile or sexual humor should reduce the strength of one’s aggressive or sexual drive states, respectively.

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Research also has produced mixed support for the catharsis hypothesis. Consistent with the hypothesis, some research has found that exposure to hostile humor decreases aggressive responses on both nonbehavioral measures (e.g., Leak, 1974; Singer, 1968) and behavioral measures (e.g., Baron, 1978a). Singer (1968) for instance, experimentally induced aggressive motivation in African-American participants by exposing them to an audiotape describing hate crimes and other racially motivated abuses of African-Americans. He then exposed participants to hostile antisegregationist humor, neutral humor, or a benign documentary. Results showed that, for highly aroused and involved participants, hostile humor reduced aggressive impulses, and enjoyment of hostile humor was associated with a reduction in “residual aggressive motivation and tension” (p. 1). Contrary to the catharsis hypothesis, however, other research has shown that hostile humor actually increases expressions of aggression (e.g., Baron, 1978b; Berkowitz, 1970; Byrne, 1961; Mueller & Donnerstein, 1983; Ryan & Kanjorski, 1998). Berkowitz (1970) either angered or did not anger female college student participants. The students then listened to either hostile or nonhostile humorous tape recordings of a comedy routine. Afterwards, the students evaluated a female job applicant on various positive and negative traits. The results indicate that participants in the hostile humor condition ascribed fewer positive traits to the female applicant and gave them more negative overall evaluations. More recently, Ryan and Kanjorski (1998) found that enjoyment of sexist humor was positively correlated with several measures of sexual aggression. One problem with reconciling the conflicting findings is that there is disagreement about whether the process of catharsis should result in less aggressive overt responses (e.g., Berkowitz, 1970; Byrne, 1961) or a weaker impulse to behave aggressively (Singer, 1968). Singer (1968) referred to the impulse to behave aggressively as “motive strength,” and it has been assessed by nonbehavioral measures such as mood checklists (Dworkin & Efran, 1967; Singer, 1968) or attitudes toward an aggressor (Landy & Mettee, 1969). In addition, the lack of a clear definition and direct measurement of catharsis makes ambiguous the role of catharsis as a mediating variable, even in studies that support the hypothesis. Dworkin and Efran (1967), for instance, found that both hostile and neutral humor reduced hostility scores on a mood adjective checklist (see also Baron & Ball, 1974). According to psychoanalytic theory, neutral humor could not have reduced hostility through catharsis. Thus, without a direct measure of catharsis and a test of its mediation (see Box 2.3), it is impossible to know whether the aggressive humor produced a cathartic effect, or whether it reduced hostility through some other psychological mechanism. Also, it is noteworthy that the catharsis hypothesis has received little empirical support more generally in the social psychological literature (Baron & Richardson, 1994). Jokework Hypothesis If the form of the tendentious joke, the jokework does not sufficiently draw attention away from the libidinal impulses that motivated it (aggressive or sexual impulses) one’s inhibitions mobilize, preventing enjoyment and catharsis.

In order for a tendentious joke to release aggressive or sexual impulses, and thus produce enjoyment and catharsis, the form of the joke, the jokework, must effectively draw attention away from the aggressive or sexual content of the joke. Accordingly, Gollob and

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BOX 2.3

I L L U S T R AT I O N O F A M E D I AT I O N M O D E L Psychologists conduct mediation analyses to explore the underlying mechanism or process by which one variable influences another (Cohen, Cohen, West, & Aiken, 2003). The mediator variable represents that underlying mechanism. In the case of the

Exposure to aggressive/ sexual humor

Catharsis Hypothesis, catharsis—the release of libidinal impulses—is the mediator variable that explains why exposure to aggressive/sexual humor should reduce aggressive/sexual impulses.

Catharsis—release of libidinal impulses

Reduced aggressive/ sexual impulses

Levine (1967) hypothesized that if people focus their attention on the content of tendentious humor material, their inhibitions will be mobilized and they will then be relatively unable to enjoy it. They had female participants rate the funniness of cartoons before and after they were instructed to focus their attention on the cartoon content by explaining why the cartoons were funny. Supporting the jokework hypothesis, highly aggressive cartoons were given significantly lower ratings on the posttest than were low-aggressive or nonsense cartoons, presumably because the act of explaining the cartoons drew attention to their aggressiveness and thereby circumvented the distracting effects of the clever jokework. See also Singer, Gollob, and Levine (1967). Also related to the jokework hypothesis, Rosenwald (1964) proposed that people differ in the degree to which they are able to relax inhibitions or defenses, which affects how much they can enjoy a tendentious joke. In support of this hypothesis, Rosenwald found that male high school students with flexible inhibitions against aggression (as measured by the Thematic Apperception Test) enjoyed hostile humor more than those with overly constricted inhibitions. See also Levine and Abelson (1959). Whereas the preceding research investigated the jokework hypothesis by focusing on participants’ appreciation of humorous stimuli, Ofra Nevo and Baruch Nevo (1983) examined humor production. They presented male high school students with drawings depicting one person behaving in a frustrating way toward another, and asked participants to generate verbal responses with which the recipient of the frustrating behavior might respond. Furthermore, they instructed half of the participants to make their responses as humorous

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as possible; they gave no additional instructions to the other half. Experimenter ratings revealed that the humorous responses, compared to the nonhumorous ones, contained significantly more aggressive and sexual themes, as predicted by psychoanalytic theory. The relatively high frequency of sexual content was especially striking in view of the fact that the pictures did not contain obvious sexual themes. In addition, the authors noted that participants included many of the “jokework” techniques described by Freud in their humorous responses. The authors concluded that the “subjects applied Freud as if they had read him!” (p. 192). Avner Ziv and Orit Gadish (1990) reported similar findings in which male and female participants generated either humorous or nonhumorous stories in response to Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) pictures. Once again, the humorous stories contained more aggressive and sexual elements than nonhumorous stories. Although these findings are consistent with the jokework hypothesis, they are vulnerable to the same interpretative ambiguity as those supporting the catharsis hypothesis. Without a direct measure of inhibition and a test of its mediation, it is impossible to know whether attention to the aggressive or sexual content of tendentious jokes reduces enjoyment by preventing a release of aggressive or sexual impulses or by some other psychological mechanism. Indeed, Ford (2000) argued that attending to the disparaging content of sexist jokes reduces enjoyment by inducing people to critically analyze the jokes rather than thinking about them in a light-hearted playful manner.

Evaluation Overall, empirical research provides limited and equivocal support for the fundamental hypotheses uniquely derived from the psychoanalytic theory of humor. Specifically, little consistent support was found for the hypotheses that individuals who habitually repress sexual or aggressive drives show greater enjoyment of humor material containing such themes; or that arousal of sexual and aggressive drives leads to increased enjoyment of drive-related jokes. In addition, little support has been found for the hypothesis that aggressive or sexual jokes have a cathartic effect, decreasing drive arousal. Furthermore, an important problem for psychoanalytic theory is that it did not develop and validate measures of central theoretical constructs such as catharsis and repressed hostility. With regard to the catharsis hypothesis, for instance, research needs to demonstrate that catharsis is the psychological mechanism that leads to the enjoyment of tendentious humor. On the other hand, research has largely supported the jokework hypothesis derived from psychoanalytic theory. People tend to find aggressive jokes less funny when their attention is drawn to the aggressive nature of the humor, and people spontaneously generate aggressive and sexual themes when they create humorous versus nonhumorous stories. Research, however, has not provided direct evidence for the psychological mechanism underlying these effects. Apart from inconsistent findings testing critical hypotheses and the inability to directly measure central theoretical constructs, the “hydraulic model” on which Freud’s (and Spencer’s) theory was built, viewing laughter as a way of “burning off” excess tension, is not consistent with our modern understanding of the nervous system. Thus like Spencer’s relief theory, Freud’s more complex psychoanalytic theory fails to provide a comprehensive theory of humor; it points out that mirth and laughter can involve the release of nervous energy (Morreall, 1983).

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Although psychoanalytic theory does not provide a comprehensive account of humor, it has made important lasting contributions to humor research and theory. First, like Spencer’s theory, it drew attention to critical variables and processes involved in certain experiences of mirth and laughter. In particular, we note the predominance of aggressive and sexual themes in most jokes, the feelings of emotional pleasure and enjoyment that are engendered by humor, and the strong motivation to engage in it. As we will see in later chapters, these elements of the humor experience continue to be of great interest to theorists and researchers today. Second, it is important to note that most of the early research focused only on Freud’s theory of jokes (or wit) and not his theory of humor (in the old-fashioned sense). Part of the reason for this was methodological, since almost all the research made use of jokes and cartoons (which are also essentially a type of joke) as stimuli. Since Freud’s theory of humor does not apply to jokes, these sorts of stimuli could not be used to test hypotheses about humor. As we will see in Chapter 9, The Clinical Psychology of Humor: Humor and Mental Health, more recent evidence for the role of humor in mental health and coping with stress, although not explicitly inspired by Freud, may be viewed as support for some of Freud’s ideas about humor (narrowly defined) as an adaptive defense mechanism. Third, the idea that humor is a mature or healthy defense mechanism (but without the outdated Freudian notions of energy release through laughter) continues to have credibility (Vaillant, 2000). Indeed, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994) that psychiatrists and clinical psychologists use to diagnose psychological disorders contains a section on defense mechanisms that includes humor. Finally, some contemporary theorists and researchers have reconceptualized Freud’s psychoanalytic ideas about intrapsychic functions of humor and applied them to an understanding of its social functions. Sociologist Michael Mulkay (1988), for instance, suggested that the function of jokes might have more to do with the social expression of culturally taboo topics than with the intrapsychic release of drives. He noted that topics like sex and aggression have great personal relevance to most people, but are considered inappropriate for discussion in normal discourse. Humor enables people to communicate sexual information, attitudes, and emotions in a form that is more socially acceptable because it implies that the speaker is “only joking” and is therefore not to be taken seriously. Because the meaning of a humorous communication is inherently ambiguous, people can get away with saying things in a humorous way that they could not express using a more serious mode of communication. Similarly, Eliot Oring (1994) suggested that, in addition to sex and aggression, people use humor to communicate a variety of topics that seem to cause some discomfort. Correspondingly, social psychologists Thomas E. Ford and Mark A. Ferguson (2004) proposed that disparagement humor creates a social norm of tolerance of discrimination that allows people to express or “release” their prejudice without fears of reprisal. In Ford and Ferguson’s model, (disparagement) humor functions to relax social norms that normally prohibit expressions of prejudice.

SUPERIORITY THEORIES The earliest approach to humor was grounded in the view that humor is actually a form of aggression, and that amusement results from a feeling of superiority or triumph THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

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one feels over other people. Theories based on this view have been collectively called “superiority theories.” See the following for further reading on the origins of superiority theories: Keith-Spiegel (1972); Morreall (1983); Zillmann and Cantor (1996 [1976]). The superiority theory tradition dates back to the writings of classical Greek philosophers. Plato (428 348 BC) stated that laughter originates in malice. According to him, we laugh at what is ridiculous in other people, feeling delight instead of pain when we see even our friends suffer misfortune (Plato in Philebus, reprinted in Morreall, 1987) Similarly, Aristotle (348 322 BC) saw comedy as an imitation of people who are worse than the average and viewed it as a “species of the ugly” (in Poetics, reprinted in Morreall, 1987, p. 14). Further, Aristotle suggested that the distinction between comedy and tragedy is that comedy represents people as worse than they actually are, whereas tragedy represents people as better than they actually are (Halliwell, 1998 [1986]). Therefore, both Plato and Aristotle argued that people find humor in the foibles and weaknesses of others, and that laughter is an expression of derision or malice. The writings of the 17th-century British philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588 1679) further reinforced the general acceptance of the superiority view for several centuries. Hobbes explicitly emphasized the importance of self-esteem enhancement that results from observing the misfortunes of others. He suggested that people are amused by derision of the misfortunes of others because they feel good about themselves by comparison. According to Hobbes, “the passion of laughter is nothing else but sudden glory arising from some sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others, or with our own formerly. . . It is no wonder therefore that men take heinously to be laughed at or derided, i.e., triumphed over” (in Human Nature, reprinted in Morreall, 1987, p. 20). Thus, Hobbes’ central proposition that defines the superiority theory approach to humor is that humor results from selfenhancing feelings of superiority derived from the derision of another person or of one’s own past blunders or foolishness. Over the past century, theorists have expanded upon Hobbes’ classic superiority theory by grounding this central tenet in evolutionary processes (e.g., Bergson, 1911; Gruner, 1978, 1997; Leacock, 1935; Ludovici, 1933; Rapp, 1951). Charles Gruner, professor of speech communication at the University of Georgia is the most outspoken contemporary advocate of Hobbes’ superiority theory (Gruner, 1978, 1997). Gruner views humor as “playful aggression.” It is not “real” aggression, in the sense that it does not involve physically attacking and injuring people; rather, it is more like the play fighting of children and young animals. Thus, Gruner emphasized the idea that humor is a form of play. In particular, the type of play he had in mind is a competition, or contest, where there are winners and losers. Gruner suggested that the enjoyment of humor is akin to the jubilant, triumphant feelings one has after suddenly winning a very close game after a long and difficult struggle. Gruner proposed that successful humor must include a sudden perception of winning. He stated that: When we find humor in something, we laugh at the misfortune, stupidity, clumsiness, moral or cultural defect, suddenly revealed in someone else, to whom we instantly and momentarily feel “superior” since we are not, at that moment, unfortunate, stupid, clumsy, morally or culturally defective and so on. To feel superior in this way is “to feel good”; it is to “get what you want.” It is to win! (Gruner, 1997: 6)

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Gruner based his theory on an evolutionary view that the propensity for competitiveness and aggressiveness enabled humans to survive and flourish. Following Rapp’s (1951) phylogenetic theory, Gruner (1978) suggested that laughter originated in the “roar of triumph” following a hard-fought battle. During the course of a physical struggle with another person, much emotional and physical energy is built up, as adrenaline is pumped into the bloodstream. When the fight ends suddenly, the winner must dispel this excess tension, and he does so through laughter: he “bares his teeth, pumps his shoulders, and chops up his breath into grunts and moans, with appropriate grimaces” (p. 43). Thus, laughter serves the physiological function of rapidly restoring homeostasis, as well as the psychological function of signaling victory over the enemy. (The loser, meanwhile, expels his excess energy by weeping.) According to Gruner, “the many generations of men who responded to their sudden victories in violent encounters with roars of triumph, over hundreds of thousands of years, wore a groove, a riverbed, into the collective human unconscious” (p. 52), and this continues to be the basis of laughter to the present day. This early precursor of laughter evolved into our modern-day humor. With the emergence of language in the context of communal living, people were able to begin poking fun at others with words, rather than relying only on physical aggression. Soon people could use language to ridicule anyone who appeared inferior, such as those with a physical or mental defect. Supporting superiority theory, there is abundant evidence that people experience mirth and laughter at the derision or misfortune of others. Anthropologist Colin Turnbull (1972), for instance, described how members of a nomadic mountain tribe in Africa, during a time of starvation and misery, would laugh uproariously at the suffering of individuals that would normally be expected to arouse sympathy. Additionally, as Morreall (1983) noted, we don’t have to look to distant, foreign cultures to discover derisive mirth and laughter. Indeed, we only need to look at children and at ourselves as children, to realize the human proclivity for ridicule and derisive amusement. One of the authors remembers well a regrettable incident from his childhood when an overweight girl in the fourth grade fell to the floor after her chair broke. The ensuing raucous laughter and teasing from the rest of the class continued for several days afterward. According to superiority theory, the children laughed at the incident because they, by comparison to the girl, were not at that moment clumsy or unfortunate; they were superior, they were winners! The children experienced mirth and laughter because they suddenly felt better about themselves. More subtly, a great many of the jokes that are so popular in our culture quite obviously involve the disparagement of others, including members of either sex (but most often women, e.g., the “dumb blonde” joke), various national or ethnic groups, overweight people, or people of low intelligence. Sociologist Christie Davies (1990a) described how people of every country and region make jokes about members of a particular nationality or subculture who are considered to be similar yet different enough from the cultural mainstream to be objects of ridicule. Critics of the superiority theory of humor might point to simple riddles and puns that merely involve play on words and seem to be completely devoid of obvious aggression and hostility. However, according to Gruner, riddles and puns have their origins in ancient “duels of wits” in which people displayed their intellectual superiority over others

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by means of their facility with words. The competitive nature of punning is particularly evident in “punning duels,” in which two people attempt to outdo one another with exchanges of witty word-play. Gruner (1997, p. 136) gave the following example: Bob: The cops arrested a streaker yesterday. Rob: Could they pin anything on him? Bob: Naw. The guy claimed he was hauled in on a bum wrap. Rob: You’d think the case was supported by the bare facts. Bob: We can probably hear more about the case tonight on the TV nudecase. Rob: Tomorrow’s nudespaper might have more details. Puns in everyday conversation may be a way of “defeating” the listener, but canned jokes in which the punch line is based on a pun are seen as a way of enabling the listener to share feelings of mastery and superiority along with the joke-teller. That is, jokes implicitly involve three parties: a joke-teller, an object of the joke (real or hypothetical) and a listener. The joke is intended to give the listener a feeling of superiority and victory over the object of the joke or other hypothetical listeners who might not be able to understand it, perhaps due to their lower intelligence. Thus, according to Gruner, all jokes, no matter how seemingly innocent, represent a form of playful aggression likened to a contest that has a winner, and a loser. Humor material can differ, however, in the degree to which it contains aggressive or hostile content, which can explain why some jokes are funnier than others. Gruner hypothesized that people enjoy humor more to the extent it contains obvious aggressive content. Specifically, Gruner (1997) put it this way: “usually, everything else being equal, the more hostile the humor, the funnier” (p. 110). Gruner (1997) analyzed a large number of different types of jokes, demonstrating how each of them may be viewed as an expression of playful aggression allowing for feelings of superiority over the object of the joke. “To understand a piece of humorous material,” stated Gruner (1978, p. 14), “it is necessary only to find out who is ridiculed, how, and why.” Thus, he finds aggression in jokes about death, destruction, or disaster; “sick” jokes (such as dead baby jokes); slapstick comedy, ethnic and sexist jokes, and even children’s television cartoons. Whereas Freud saw sexuality as a possible joke mechanism that can operate without any aggression, Gruner argued that (playful) aggression is the true source of pleasure underlying the enjoyment of humor and that if we eliminate aggression from humor, we will eliminate humor altogether. All jokes, for instance, follow the formula of a contest, with a winner who triumphs over a loser. Gruner claimed that he has never encountered a joke or other laughter-provoking event that he could not explain by his theory. What about all the “innocent” or “nonsense” jokes and cartoons that were used in much of the psychoanalytically inspired research, reviewed earlier, comparing the effects of hostile versus nonhostile humor? Although he acknowledged that the aggression in humor might sometimes be quite muted and subtle (e.g., Joke 2 in Text Box 2.1), Gruner (1997) argued forcefully that even the most seemingly innocuous jokes contain some element of aggression. Here his analyses sometimes seem a little forced. For example, he described a published cartoon in which “two tipplers coming home from a wild night on the town are gaily staggering up and down walls, as well as back and forth across the sidewalk and street” (p. 162). Although this cartoon seems to be playing in a purely innocent way with incongruity and absurdity, Gruner interpreted it as ridiculing drunkenness:

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drunks are so oblivious to reality that they don’t realize that defying gravity is impossible and don’t stop to think about the dangers involved. In another example, a cartoon shows a plumber plugging the hole in a water pipe with his finger, as water pours out his ear. Again, this seems to be merely an innocent and whimsical exercise in absurdity, but Gruner suggested that the cartoon causes the viewer to laugh at the damage being done to the plumber’s brain cells by the water going through his head. Although many of Gruner’s analyses seem quite convincing about the aggressive basis of humor, some examples such as these seem rather contrived. What about self-deprecating humor? How can laughing at oneself be explained in terms of superiority theory? Like Hobbes, Gruner responds that we can laugh at our own past stupidities and failings, feeling superiority over the person we once were in the past. Furthermore, even in the present, one part of ourselves can laugh at another part. For example, when I am feeling lazy, I can laugh at the part of me that is overly ambitious, and when I am in an ambitious mood I can laugh at my lazy self. We all have multiple roles, mood states, and conflicting personality characteristics, and a sense of humor is what keeps these many varied aspects of ourselves in balance. People with no sense of humor are people who are rigid and one-dimensional, unable to see anything funny about themselves or their beliefs. Thus, the disparagement at the root of humor can be directed at oneself in a healthy manner.

Empirical Investigations In a line of research involving factor analyses Willibald Ruch (e.g., Ruch & Hehl, 1988) has called into question a fundamental assumption of superiority theory that all humor, no matter how seemingly innocent, represents a form of playful aggression. In a series of studies (which will be described in more detail in Chapter 4: The Personality Psychology of Humor), Ruch and his colleagues factor analyzed subjects’ positive and negative responses to a wide range of humor stimuli with participants from different age groups, socioeconomic backgrounds, and nationalities. These researchers consistently found three stable factors, two of which related to structural aspects of the humor (labeled incongruity-resolution and nonsense) and only one content factor (sexual themes). Although they included a number of jokes and cartoons containing hostile and aggressive themes in their studies, these did not form a separate factor, but instead loaded on one or the other of the two structural factors, suggesting that hostility is not a very salient dimension in people’s responses to humor. In defense of superiority theory, Gruner might argue that, since all humor is by definition based on aggression, it is not surprising that there is not a separate factor for aggression. However, these factor-analytic findings do raise questions about the necessity of aggression in humor. Incidentally, these findings also cast some doubt on the validity of the numerous past studies (discussed earlier) that have investigated participants’ responses to jokes and cartoons that were categorized by the researchers themselves into hostile and nonhostile types. Although Ruch’s research calls into question the necessity of aggression in humor, a great deal of research has been devoted to the study of how the amount of aggression in humor relates to perceptions of funniness. Much of this research was inspired by Freud’s

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psychoanalytic theory; however, it is also relevant for Gruner’s hypothesis that people enjoy humor more to the extent it contains aggressive content. Gruner’s superiority theory goes further than merely expressing how the aggressiveness of humor material is related to perceptions of funniness; it explains why. Specifically, people should enjoy aggressive humor material because it more explicitly allows them to feel good about themselves (superior) through a victory or a triumph over the object of the humor. Thus, if empirical research clearly supports the hypothesis that people perceive more aggressive humor material as funnier than less aggressive humor then definitive support for superiority theory requires empirical evidence that more aggressive humor is funnier because it enhances feelings about the self. Research related to the first hypothesis has produced equivocal results. Supporting the hypothesis, some studies have found a positive linear relationship between the aggressiveness of humor and its perceived funniness; i.e., people enjoy humor to the extent that it contains aggressive content. Clark McCauley and associates (1983), for instance, conducted six studies in which they had participants rate the aggressiveness and the funniness of different sets of cartoons. In each study, they found significant positive correlations between aggressiveness ratings and perceived funniness (r 5 0.49 0.90), indicating that the more aggressive a cartoon, the funnier people perceived it. Singer et al. (1967) and Epstein and Smith (1956) also found that people enjoyed hostile cartoons more than nonhostile cartoons. Contrary to Gruner’s hypothesis, other researchers have found a curvilinear inverted-U relationship between aggressiveness and perceived funniness. That is, people find a moderate amount of aggressiveness in humor as funnier than either too little or too much (e.g., Bryant, 1977; Herzog & Anderson, 2000; Herzog & Karafa, 1998; Zillmann & Bryant, 1974). Zillmann and Bryant (1974), for instance, found that research participants perceived humorous “squelches” in response to an aggressor as most funny when they involved a moderate and equitable amount of retaliation rather than too much or too little retaliation. However, other studies have found a negative linear relationship between aggressiveness and perceived funniness: people like humor less to the extent it contains aggressive content (Herzog, Harris, Kropscott, & Fuller, 2006; Zillmann, Bryant, & Cantor, 1974). Zillmann et al. (1974) showed participants political cartoons that disparaged a disliked candidate with a mild, moderate or high degree of hostility. Participants rated mildly disparaging cartoons the funniest. Herzog et al. (2006) showed participants 54 jokes about disabled people varying in hostility or cruelty. They found that, for women, joke cruelty was negatively related to joke appreciation; joke cruelty did not predict joke appreciation for men. It is clear from the empirical research that the relationship between the amount of aggressiveness in humor and humor appreciation is not as simple and straightforward as predicted from Gruner’s formulation of superiority theory. Furthermore, Gruner’s superiority theory makes an unconditional general statement about aggressiveness and perceptions of funniness. Thus, it cannot reconcile these apparently contradictory findings by specifying when or under what conditions people prefer highly, moderately, or mildly aggressive humor.

Evaluation There seems to be little doubt that aggressive elements play a role in many jokes and other forms of humor, and that people have a remarkable proclivity for ridicule and

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derisive amusement. However, there is little evidence supporting Gruner’s view that all humor involves some form of aggression. Unmoved by empirical evidence, Gruner argues that he can identify the aggression in even the most seemingly innocuous examples of humor. By setting himself up as the judge of whether or not a given example of humor fits his theory, Gruner essentially renders his formulation of superiority theory unfalsifiable; it seems highly unlikely that any joke will be judged as completely free of aggression. It appears that Gruner has defined aggression so broadly that his theory seems to account for all human activity and therefore fails to explain the uniqueness of humor. Furthermore, by lumping all humor into the single category of aggression, Gruner ignores the many other ways in which different types of humor might be distinguished from one another, which might be of theoretical and practical importance. Although an extreme view that all humor represents aggression is generally rejected today, most researchers agree that humor can often be used to express aggression. Recent research on teasing exemplifies the continuing interest in aggressive aspects of humor (Keltner, Young, Heerey, Oemig, & Monarch, 1998; Kowalski, Howerton, & McKenzie, 2001). In addition, empirical research provides equivocal support for Gruner’s hypothesis that, “everything else being equal, the more hostile the humor, the funnier.” It appears that aggressiveness in jokes and the perception of pain in others (within a nonserious, playful context) contributes to perceptions of funniness, but not always. Furthermore, Gruner’s theory does not specify the conditions under which it should or should not. Apart from these fundamental problems, Gruner (1978, 1997) based his formulation of superiority theory on an outmoded view of evolutionary theory. The idea that laughter and humor have survived in humans because our ancestors frequently used them does not explain their adaptive value, i.e., the ways in which humor and laughter provide an advantage to individuals in the struggle to survive and produce offspring. Also, comparative animal research does not support Gruner’s view that laughter evolved in the context of aggression. Ethological studies of the silent bared-teeth display and the relaxed openmouth (play-face) display in apes, which are viewed as primate homologues of human smiling and laughter, respectively, reveal that these facial displays occur exclusively in the context of friendly social and play activities, and not in the context of aggression (van Hooff, 1972). We discuss this research in more detail in Chapter 6: The Physiological Psychology of Humor and Laughter. Like the relief theories, Hobbes’ and Gruner’s superiority theories do not provide a comprehensive account of humor. However, also like relief theories, they call attention to a number of questions concerning humor that continue to be the focus of much research and theoretical work such as why so much humor (if not all humor) seems to involve aggression, ridicule, and disparagement; why humor gives us so much pleasure (the feelings of “sudden glory” associated with it) and the functions of humor in social interactions. We will return to these themes repeatedly throughout this book. In addition, the classic superiority theories have drawn attention to processes involved in disparagement or “put-down” humor that have been more fully addressed by contemporary theory and research in social psychology. The two most influential disparagement humor theories are Lawrence La Fave’s vicarious superiority theory (La Fave, 1972; La Fave, Haddad, & Maesen, 1996 [1976]), and Dolf Zillmann and Joanne Cantor’s (1972, 1996 [1976]) disposition theory. Like Hobbes’ (1996 [1651]) original conceptualization, both theories propose that

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amusement with out-group disparagement humor is mediated by self-esteem enhancement resulting from social comparison. However, each theory has expanded upon Hobbes’ initial theory, arguing that the degree to which we experience amusement from the derision of another person depends on who that person is in relation to ourselves (e.g., La Fave et al., 1996 [1976]) and how we feel about that person (e.g., Zillmann & Cantor, 1996[1976]). La Fave’s vicarious superiority theory introduced the concept of positive and negative identification classes (ICs) to explain amusement with disparagement humor. A positive IC represents a group of people with whom one affiliates or has a positive attitude; a negative IC represents a group of people with whom one does not affiliate or has a negative attitude (e.g., La Fave, 1972; La Fave et al., 1996 [1976]). La Fave and colleagues proposed that one experiences self-esteem enhancement vicariously through humor that disparages a negative IC and/or esteems a positive IC. Therefore, humor that disparages a negative IC and/or esteems a positive IC should amuse people more than that which esteems a negative IC or disparages a positive IC. A number of empirical studies have supported this general hypothesis. Several complete reviews of the literature are available elsewhere (e.g., La Fave et al., 1996 [1976]; Zillmann and Cantor 1996 [1976]). La Fave (1972) for instance, found that Christians were more amused by jokes that esteemed Christian groups (a positive IC) and disparaged agnostics (a negative IC) than by jokes that disparaged Christian groups and esteemed agnostics. Similarly, La Fave, McCarthy, and Haddad (1973) predicted amusement with humor disparaging Canadians or Americans based on whether participants had a strong pro-Canadian attitude or a strong pro-American attitude. Participants were Canadian college students who had a positive attitude toward Canadians (pro-Canadian Canadians) and American college students who had a positive attitude toward Americans (proAmerican Americans). As expected, pro-American Americans enjoyed jokes that disparaged Canadians more than jokes that disparaged Americans. Pro-Canadian Canadians enjoyed jokes that disparaged Americans more than jokes that disparaged Canadians. In contrast to vicarious superiority theory, Zillmann and Cantor’s (1996 [1976]) disposition theory deemphasizes the role of affiliation with an esteemed or disparaged group, and explains amusement with disparagement humor based only on attitudes toward the disparaged target. Zillmann and Cantor (1996 [1976]) proposed that, “Humor appreciation varies inversely with the favorableness of the disposition toward the agent or entity being disparaged” (pp. 100 101). A considerable amount of research has supported this hypothesis (e.g., Cantor & Zillman, 1973; La Fave et al., 1973; McGhee & Duffey, 1983; Wicker, Barron, & Willis, 1980). In the context of sexist humor, for instance, there is substantial evidence suggesting that, regardless of sex, people enjoy sexist humor insofar as they have negative (sexist) attitudes toward women (e.g., Ford, 2000; Greenwood & Isbell, 2002; LaFrance & Woodzicka, 1998; Thomas & Esses, 2004). Although the prominence of disposition theory may have eclipsed that of vicarious superiority theory, a simultaneous test of these theories revealed their mutual importance in predicting amusement with disparagement humor. Gallois and Callan (1985) found that both attitudes toward the generic social categories of the source and target of disparagement humor, as well as attitudes toward the specific source and target, are important for predicting amusement (Box 2.4).

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BOX 2.4 In a classic test of disposition theory, Zillmann and Cantor (1972) investigated whether people enjoy disparagement humor directed at a resented target more than the same humor directed at a nonresented target.

Method College students and professionals read cartoons and jokes depicting superior subordinate relationships that they claimed were characterized by mutual resentment (e.g., professor student, parent child). In one condition the cartoons and jokes depicted a superior disparaging (dominating) a subordinate. In the other condition the roles of the superior and subordinate were

reversed. See the figure below for an example of this manipulation. The top cartoon depicts the subordinate student as the protagonist; the bottom depicts the superior professor as the protagonist. Participants rated the funniness of the jokes and cartoons using a scale ranging from 0 (not at all funny) to 100 (extremely funny).

Results Students rated the cartoons and jokes depicting the student protagonist as funnier than those depicting the professor as the protagonist. In contrast, professionals rated the cartoons and jokes depicting the professor as the protagonist funnier.

From “Directionality of transitory dominance as a communication variable affecting humor appreciation,” by D. Zillmann and J.R. Cantor, 1972, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, p. 191. Copyright 2016 by APA. Reprinted with permission.

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BOX 2.4

(cont’d)

Perceived Funniness

50 40 30 Student Protagonist Professor Protagonist

20 10 0 Students

Professionals

From “Directionality of transitory dominance as a communication variable affecting humor appreciation,” by D. Zillmann and J.R. Cantor, 1972, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, p. 191. Copyright 2016 by APA. Reprinted with permission.

INCONGRUITY THEORIES Relief theories and superiority theories both emphasized the fundamental importance of one’s motivation in perceiving something as funny, paying little attention to the cognitive processes involved in perceiving a stimulus or event as funny. However, as psychologists in the 1960s increasingly embraced the “cognitive revolution,” interest in motivational explanations for behavior began to wane in favor of purely cognitive ones (e.g., Fiske & Taylor, 2008; Miller & Ross, 1975). Accordingly, humor theorists began to focus on how people cognitively process a stimulus or event, identifying the structural qualities of a stimulus or an event that are necessary for one to perceive it as funny. As we saw in Chapter 1, Introduction to the Psychology of Humor, philosophers and theorists have most commonly identified perceptions of incongruity in a stimulus or event as minimally necessary for all humor. The 18th-century writer James Beattie stated that “laughter arises from the view of two or more inconsistent, unsuitable, or incongruous parts or circumstances, considered as united in one complex object or assemblage, or as acquiring a sort of mutual relation from the peculiar manner in which the mind takes notice of them” (quoted in Ritchie, 2004, p. 48). Similarly, the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 1860) stated that “the cause of laughter in every case is simply the sudden perception of the incongruity between a concept and the real objects which have been thought through it in some relation, and laughter itself is just the expression of this incongruity” (in The World as Will and Idea, reprinted in Morreall, 1987, p. 52). Thus, we experience mirth and laughter when we notice a mismatch between our sensory perception of reality and our conceptual understanding of

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reality. Similarly, psychologist Hans Eysenck (1942, p. 307) stated that, “laughter results from the sudden, insightful integration of contradictory or incongruous ideas, attitudes, or sentiments which are experienced objectively.” Arthur Koestler (1964) further developed the incongruity approach introducing the concept, “bisociation” to refer to the presence of two contradictory meanings or “frames of reference” for a situation or event. Consider the following joke from Suls (1972, p. 90): O’Riley was on trial for armed robbery. The jury came out and announced, “Not guilty.” “Wonderful,” said O’Riley, “does that mean I can keep the money?”

The setup of the joke creates a frame of reference (O’Riley is not guilty). The punch line brings to bear an unexpected second, incongruous frame of reference (O’Riley actually is guilty). The listener finds mirth by abruptly transferring from the first frame of reference to the second (Keith-Spiegel, 1972). It is this simultaneous activation of two contradictory perceptions that is the essence of humor. Incidentally, it is worth noting that, from the perspective of superiority theory, one would say that we derive amusement from O’Riley’s stupidity as he inadvertently admits his guilt after just being found innocent. Also, the name O’Riley indicates that it is an ethnic joke playing on the stereotype of the Irish as dim-witted. Although some form of incongruity is generally viewed as necessary for humor, most theorists acknowledge that incongruity by itself is not sufficient, since not all incongruity is funny (being hit by a car while walking on the sidewalk is incongruous but not funny). Thus, researchers have refined Koestler’s (1964) theory by adding new assumptions about when perceived incongruity is sufficient to elicit humor. Most notably, researchers have proposed that (1) incongruity must be resolved or “make sense” in some way and (2) incongruity must be perceived in a nonserious “humor mindset.”

Incongruity-Resolution One idea that was popularized by several cognitive theorists in the 1970s was that, for incongruity to be funny, it must also be resolved because the resolution of incongruity in a joke is what makes it possible for us to “get the joke” and perceive it as funny. Thomas Shultz (1972), at McGill University, developed an incongruity-resolution theory in which he proposed that the punch line of a joke creates an incongruity by introducing information that is not compatible with the joke setup. This prompts the listener to go back and search for an ambiguity in the setup that can be reinterpreted in a way that allows the punch line to make sense. The following joke illustrates these points: “The president’s supporters are asking us to give him time. We agree. . .and think 25 to life would be appropriate.” The punch line is initially incongruous because it seems incompatible with the first part of the joke. To understand the joke, we search through the setup for an ambiguity and discover that the phrase, “give him time” is ambiguous. On first hearing the setup, we interpret the phrase as being patient with the president, but after the punch line we realize that there is an alternative meaning referring to a prison sentence. When we recognize that the joke teller understood “give him time” as a prison sentence, we are able to resolve the incongruity and thereby “get” the joke.

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Stage I: detection of incongruity Story or cartoon set-up

Prediction of outcome

Yes

No surprise, no laughter

No

Surprise

Is ending as predicted?

Stage II: resolution of incongruity Find a rule that makes ending follow from preceding material

Is rule found? No Puzzlement

Yes Laughter

FIGURE 2.1

Suls’ (1972) Incongruity Resolution Model. Comprehension of humor is viewed as a process of problem solving. Source: Adapted from Suls (1972).

Jerry Suls (1972, 1983) proposed a similar incongruity resolution model, referred to as the two-stage model of humor appreciation, which also views humor comprehension as a sort of problem-solving task (see Fig. 2.1). According to the model, a joke setup causes the listener to make a prediction about the likely outcome. When the punch line does not conform to the prediction, the listener is surprised and looks for a cognitive rule that will make the punch line follow from the material in the joke setup. When this cognitive rule is found, the incongruity is resolved, and the joke is perceived as funny. If a cognitive rule is not found, however, the incongruity remains, eliciting puzzlement rather than amusement. Thus, in this view, mirth results from the resolution of an unexpected or surprising incongruity, rather than from the ongoing presence of an incongruity. The two-stage model may be illustrated with the following joke (from Raskin, 1985, p. 106): An English bishop received the following note from the vicar of a village in his diocese: “Milord, I regret to inform you of my wife’s death. Can you possibly send me a substitute for the weekend?”

In the joke setup we learn that a vicar (local priest) has sent a note to the bishop following the death of the vicar’s wife. This leads us to predict a possible outcome, perhaps having to do with the vicar seeking the sympathy of the bishop in some way. In the punch line, the vicar’s request for a substitute seems surprising (incongruous), as he seems to be asking the bishop to send him a replacement for his dead wife for the coming weekend. The puzzlement created by this surprising ending causes the listener to go back over the joke setup and search for a “cognitive rule” that will make the surprising ending fit with the setup. When the listener realizes that the vicar is actually asking for another clergyman to officiate at the church service in his place while the vicar is mourning the death of his wife, the joke makes sense (the incongruity is resolved), and we find it amusing. Thus, in this model, joke comprehension and appreciation is essentially a sort of cognitive problem-solving task.

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As this explanation illustrates, incongruity theorists largely ignore the “tendentious” (sexual and aggressive) content of humor material that psychoanalytic and superiority theories emphasize. Indeed, Freud would likely see this joke as providing a release of sexual impulses. Our initial interpretation of the punch line implies that the vicar, seeking another woman so soon after his wife died is particularly interested in sex. In contrast, Suls (1977) argued that aggressive and sexual themes merely provide information to resolve incongruity (Goldstein, Suls, & Anthony, 1972). Suls used the following joke to illustrate (p. 42): Question: If your son flunks out of school and is illiterate and antisocial, what can he be when he grows up? Answer: An Italian policeman. From the perspective of superiority theories, the disparaging content is directly responsible for amusement derived from this joke. People find it amusing because it makes them feel superior to the object of the joke, Italians. Further, according to both vicarious superiority theory and disposition theory, people should derive amusement insofar as they dislike Italians. According to Suls’ incongruity-resolution theory, however, the disparaging content, itself, is not directly responsible for amusement. It merely provides a way of resolving incongruity between the setup and the punch line; being uneducated, illiterate, and antisocial seems inconsistent with being a policeman. We resolve the incongruity, however, through the stereotype that Italians are stupid. Furthermore, Suls (1977) proposed that the unexpected disparagement of Italians makes more sense among people who dislike them, thereby more fully resolving the incongruity.

The “Humor Mindset” People interpret a communication differently that is presented in a humorous rather than a nonhumorous manner (Mulkay, 1988). Humorous communication is accompanied by cues (e.g., identification of the communication as a joke) that activate a conversational rule of levity—to switch from the usual serious mindset to a playful or nonserious humor mindset to interpret it (e.g., Attardo, 1993; Berlyne, 1972; Kane et al., 1977; Mannell, 1977; McGhee, 1972; Mulkay, 1988; Sev’er & Ungar, 1997; Suls, 1983; Ziv & Gadish, 1990). According to Berlyne, for instance, Humor is accompanied by discriminative cues, which indicate that what is happening, or is going to happen, should be taken as a joke. The ways in which we might react to the same events in the absence of these cues become inappropriate and must be withheld. (p. 56)

Similarly, Mulkay (1988) suggested that when people shift to the humor mindset they loosen the rules of logic and expectations of common sense; they do not apply the information-processing strategies typically required by serious communication. They abandon the usual serious ways of thinking. Victor Raskin (1985) referred to the serious and humorous modes as “bona-fide” and “nonbona-fide” modes, respectively. Apter (1982, 1991) referred to the humor mindset as a paratelic state of mind (contrasted with the serious telic state of mind) and characterized it as a nongoal-oriented playful state of mind. Paul

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McGhee (1972) characterized the serious mindset as “reality assimilation” and the humor mindset as “fantasy assimilation.” Reality assimilation refers to the adjustment of cognitive schemas to account for unexpected or incongruent events. Reality assimilation is the default process that occurs upon encountering discrepancies between our cognitive schemas (expectations) and actual events. In contrast, when in the fantasy assimilation mode, people do not require a realistic resolution of incongruous events. Therefore, they do not attempt to adjust their cognitive schemas to fit unexpected events. They simply disregard the requirement of literal congruity that characterizes reality assimilation. If an expectancy violation is processed in the reality assimilation mode then the normal rules of logic apply and the individual struggles to fit the incongruity into their notions of how the world works. If the expectancy violation is processed in the fantasy assimilation mode, then the incongruity does not present a puzzle to be solved, but rather a game to be played. The resolution of incongruity is thought to be amusing if it is accompanied by nonverbal cues (e.g., smiling, laughter) or verbal cues (e.g., “hey, have you heard the one about. . .”) suggesting that it is to be interpreted through a nonserious humor mindset (e.g., Mannell, 1977; McGhee, 1972; Morreall, 1987; Suls, 1972; Zillmann, 1983, 2000). Mary Rothbart (1976) proposed that the larger context provides a cue for how one should interpret incongruity. Specifically, Rothbart stated: . . . incongruities should not be interpreted as (serious) problems to be solved. Instead they should be represented as something outside the problem-solving sphere: something for entertainment, play or fun. The joking, playful or humorous context also allows adults to take pleasure in unresolved incongruities. . .

In the case of disparagement and aggression, humor cues essentially communicate that the perceived incongruity is nonthreatening, thus making a playful interpretation seem appropriate (Gollob & Levine, 1967; Rothbart, 1976). As Zillmann and Cantor (1976/1996) suggested, the “club over the head” is funny when the protagonists are clowns in cartoons but not when they are police officers responding to a riot (p. 105).

Empirical Investigations Researchers have devoted considerable attention to testing three hypotheses derived from incongruity resolution theory: the Incongruity-Resolution Hypothesis, the Humor Mindset Hypothesis, and the Surprise Hypothesis. We briefly review the empirical research testing each hypothesis. Incongruity-Resolution Hypothesis The experience of humor involves two separate cognitive processes: the perception of incongruity and the resolution of incongruity.

To test this hypothesis, Shultz (1974b) presented undergraduate students with a series of verbal jokes or visual cartoons and asked them to identify the order in which they noticed various elements. Participants reported that they did not notice hidden or double meanings of ambiguous elements in the setups of the jokes or cartoons until the incongruity of the punch lines caused them to search for a resolution. That is, participants noticed

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incongruous elements in the jokes and cartoons before they noticed the details that resolved the incongruity. These studies support the hypothesis, suggesting that when presented with humor material that contains incongruity, people engage in the two-step sequential process described by the Shultz’ and Suls’ models of perceiving incongruity and then searching for a resolution. Shultz and Horibe (1974) also examined whether amusement with humor material depends on both the perception of incongruity and the resolution of incongruity. They altered jokes to remove either incongruity or resolution, and presented the original jokes, the incongruity-removed jokes or the resolution-removed jokes to children in grades 1, 3, 5, and 7. Shultz and Horibe reasoned that if both incongruity and resolution are essential to humor, then removal of either of them should decrease amusement. The manipulation of the jokes is illustrated in the following example from their study. ORIGINAL JOKE

Mother: “Doctor, come at once! Our baby swallowed a fountain pen!” Doctor: “I’ll be right over. What are you doing in the meantime?” Mother: “Using a pencil.” In the original joke, the incongruous reply of the mother in the punch line creates puzzlement causing the reader to go back over the joke setup to find a cognitive rule that will make the surprising ending fit with the setup. The incongruity is resolved by recognizing the ambiguity in the doctor’s question, which could mean either “What are you doing in the meantime to treat the baby?” or “What are you using as a substitute for a fountain pen?” INCONGRUITY-REMOVED JOKE

Mother: “Doctor, come at once! Our baby swallowed a fountain pen!” Doctor: “I’ll be right over. What are you doing in the meantime?” Mother: “We don’t know what to do.” Changing the punch line to: “We don’t know what to do” removes the incongruity between the punch line and the setup. There is no longer a puzzle to solve. The joke no longer presents anything surprising or unexpected and thus should not be amusing. RESOLUTION-REMOVED JOKE

Mother: “Doctor, come at once! Our baby swallowed a rubber band!” Doctor: “I’ll be right over. What are you doing in the meantime?” Mother: “Using a pencil.” In the setup, the mother said that the baby had swallowed a rubber band instead of a fountain pen. Now the punch line (“Using a pencil”) is incongruous and puzzling, but there is no resolution, since there is no logical connection between the baby swallowing a rubber band and the parents using a pencil.

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TABLE 2.2 Mean Mirth Response Scores as a Function of Grade and Joke Form Joke Form Grade

Original

Resolution Removed

Incongruity Removed

1

0.60

5

0.62

.

0.37

3

1.00

.

0.74

.

0.40

5

1.26

.

0.63

.

0.30

7

1.22

.

0.54

.

0.26

Statistically significant differences (p , 0.05) between adjacent means are indicated by the . symbol, while nonsignificant differences are indicated by the 5 symbol. Adapted from Shultz and Hoible (1974).

The experimenter measured children’s appreciation for each joke (mirth appreciation) by recording their spontaneous mirth response (0 5 no response/blank face, 1 5 inhibited or slight smile, 2 5 full smile, and 3 5 laugh). The findings for mirth appreciation are presented in Table 2.2. As you can see by the results in Table 2.2, by grade 3 children found the original versions of the jokes funnier than the resolution-removed versions, which in turn were funnier than the incongruity-removed versions. Thus, incongruity without resolution is funnier than no incongruity, but incongruity 1 resolution is funniest. Similar results were found using original, incongruity-removed, and resolution-removed versions of cartoons (Shultz, 1972) and riddles (Shultz, 1974a). Interestingly, children in grade 1 showed no difference between the original and resolution-removed jokes, but both were funnier than the versions without incongruity. Shultz and Hoibe suggested that, at an early stage of development (prior to the development of concrete operational thought) incongruity alone is sufficient to elicit mirth, whereas both incongruity and resolution are required at later stages. However, Pien and Rothbart (1976) found that younger children also appreciate joke resolutions if the humor is easy to understand. Some researchers (e.g., Nerhardt, 1977; Pien & Rothbart, 1977) raised a potential problem with Shultz’s manipulation of jokes and cartoons, noting that by removing the resolution from jokes and cartoons Shultz might have also eliminated some of the incongruity. That means it is difficult to know whether preference for the original jokes was due to differences in incongruity or resolution. Recent neuroimaging studies using event-related fMRIs, however, seem to provide rather definitive support for the incongruity-resolution hypothesis showing that the detection and resolution of incongruity involve different processes with separate physiological underpinnings in the brain (e.g., Bekinschtein, Davis, Rodd, & Owen, 2011; Chan, Chou, Chen, & Liang, 2012; Chan et al., 2013; Samson et al., 2008). See Chapter 6, The Physiological Psychology of Humor and Laughter, for a more complete discussion of this research. Also, using a dot-probe task to assess attentional bias, Kerri D. Hildebrand and Stephen D. Smith (2014) provided further support for the incongruity-resolution hypothesis. Hildebrand and Smith seated participants in front of a computer screen with a finger resting on the “5” key and on the “2” key. They asked participants to stare at a fixation point on the center of the screen. Then, two images appeared on the screen either above or

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below the fixation point for a fixed duration of 300, 400, or 500 milliseconds (ms). A black dot, or probe, immediately replaced one of the images. Participants were instructed to press the “5” key if the probe replaced the image that was above the fixation point and the “2” key if it replaced the image that was below. Participants were instructed to respond as quickly and accurately as possible. Hildebrand and Smith measured how long it took participants to locate the probe. The probe replaced either an experimental image or a control image on each trial. Experimental images consisted of humorous images, novel images consisting of nonhumorous incongruity, and neutral images. Each experimental image was paired with a control image (see Fig. 2.2). Hildebrand and Smith found that both the humorous and novel images created an “attentional disengagement bias.” That is, when each type of image was presented on the screen with its corresponding control image, participants were slower to detect the location of the probe when the images disappeared compared to when the neutral images appeared on the screen. The incongruity of both the humorous and the novel images elicited more extensive cognitive processing and slowed participants’ ability to switch to detecting the location of the probe after the images had disappeared. Furthermore, they found this effect to occur when the images appeared on the screen for only 300 ms, suggesting that the perception of incongruity occurs very rapidly. In addition, Hildebrand and Smith calculated reaction times for the dot-probe trials containing experimental stimuli that participants had rated as either high or low in funniness. They found a significant difference in disengagement bias based on reaction times to detect the probe between high versus low humor images when the images appeared on

FIGURE 2.2 Examples of (A) a humorous image (top) and corresponding control image (bottom), (B) a novel image (top) and corresponding control image (bottom), and (C) neutral image paired with itself. Source: From “Attentional biases towards humor: Separate effects of incongruity detection and resolution,” by K. D. Hildebrand and S. D. Smith, 2013, Motivation and Emotion, 38, p. 287 296. Copyright 2013 by Springer Science 1 Business. Reprinted with permission.

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the screen for 500 ms. However, they did not detect a significant difference when they appeared on the screen for 400 or 300 ms. Thus, it appears that participants experience mirth after they detect incongruity. Collectively, Shultz’ research along with more contemporary neuroimaging and cognitive studies support the incongruity-resolution model. It appears that when people are presented with humor material that contains resolvable incongruity, they engage in two distinct cognitive processes of incongruity detection, which occurs rapidly (within 300 ms) followed by incongruity resolution occurring by 500 ms. Not all empirical research, however, has supported the incongruity-resolution hypothesis. For instance, Go¨ran Nerhardt, at the University of Stockholm was dissatisfied with the use of jokes and cartoons as stimuli in experiments on cognitive processes in humor. Since jokes incorporate many unmeasured and uncontrolled linguistic elements and emotional themes, he argued that it would be difficult to know which dimensions are responsible for research participants’ funniness ratings. Also, when participants are asked to rate the funniness of jokes, their own implicit theories of humor may influence their responses. To avoid these problems, Nerhardt (1970) developed a clever methodology called the weight judgment paradigm as a way of experimentally manipulating incongruity, which he defined as divergence from expectation. In this paradigm, participants believed they were in a “psychophysical study,” with the task of comparing a series of identical-looking weights to a standard reference weight. They first evaluated a number of similar weights (averaging 500 6 50 g) followed by one that was much lighter (50 g) or heavier (3000 g) than the standard. See Deckers (1993) for a detailed description of the paradigm. Interestingly, when participants lifted the greatly discrepant weight, they frequently smiled, chuckled, or even laughed aloud, and Nerhardt (1970, 1976) found that the more discrepant this weight was from the mean of the other weights, the more participants displayed expressions of mirth. Furthermore, several studies using this paradigm showed sizable correlations between the intensity of participants’ mirth responses and their ratings of the funniness of the experience (Deckers, 1993; Deckers, Jenkins, & Gladfelter, 1977; Deckers, Pell, & Lundahl, 1990), indicating that the smiling and laughter was a reflection of humorous amusement and not just embarrassment or nervousness. The weight judgment paradigm, then, is a way of operationally defining incongruity without using inherently humorous stimuli such as jokes and cartoons, and it seems to reliably produce an emotional mirth response expressed by smiling and laughter. Nerhardt (1976) and Deckers (1993) argued that the weight judgment findings demonstrate that incongruity without resolution is capable of eliciting humor, contradicting the hypothesis derived from incongruity-resolution theories that humor involves both the perception of incongruity and the resolution of incongruity. Interestingly, Nerhardt (1976) was initially unsuccessful in his early experiments with the weight judgment paradigm, which he carried out in the guise of a consumer survey in a railroad station. There he found that train passengers did not respond with expressions of mirth to unexpectedly heavy or light weights. This was apparently because they were inclined to take the experiment too seriously, were perhaps in a hurry to get somewhere, and were not easily put into the playful frame of mind that also seems to be necessary for a humor response to occur (cf. Apter, 1982). When the experimental paradigm was moved into a laboratory, using undergraduate participants who were more familiar with

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psychological research, and an effort was made to put the subjects at ease, smiling and laughter began to be elicited by the discrepant weight. Thus, although resolution of incongruity may not be necessary for humor, these findings speak to the importance of adopting a playful frame of mind, a humor mindset, to experience humor. Humor Mindset Hypothesis The interpretation of humor material in a nonserious (playful) “humor mindset” is necessary to experience humor.

The humor mindset hypothesis is similar to Freud’s jokework hypothesis: each proposes that to be amused one must shift from the usual serious, critical mindset to interpret an event or a stimulus. According to psychoanalytic theory, this shift bypasses the inhibitions of the superego. For incongruity theories, the shift relaxes the rules of logic and expectations of common sense and literal interpretation. A number of studies on amusement with disparagement humor and aggressive humor have supported the humor mindset hypothesis, demonstrating that aggression and disparagement must be accompanied by cues that signal to the perceiver that the joke is meant to be interpreted through a humor mindset. Mannell (1977) found that participants reported greater enjoyment (acceptance) of violent behavior when it was depicted in a humorous form (cartoons featuring animals acting like people) rather than in a nonhumorous form (realistic depictions of people). In addition, Zillmann and Bryant (1980) found that, consistent with disposition theory, participants who resented a confederate were more amused when she spilled hot tea all over herself than participants who did not resent her. However, participants were significantly more amused by the confederate’s blunder when it was accompanied by humor cues (i.e., a jack-in-the-box suddenly opening and causing the confederate to mishandle her cup of tea) prompting them to interpret the blunder through a playful, nonserious humor mindset. As participants switched to a nonserious humor mindset to interpret the blunder, they suspended the usual serious (critical) ways of responding to it. Participants approved of the conversational rule to make light of the blunder. As mentioned earlier, Gollob and Levine (1967) found that participants rated aggressive cartoons less funny when they explicitly focused on the aggressive content in order to explain why they were funny. The psychoanalytic interpretation was that the focus of attention prevented the clever jokework from distracting the superego from the aggressive content. Consistent with the humor mindset hypothesis, an alternative explanation is that the instructions to analyze the jokes activated a serious, critical mindset that circumvented participants’ normal shift to a playful humor mindset. To more directly test this possibility, Ford (2000, Exp. 2) explicitly manipulated the judgmental mindset in which participants interpreted sexist or neutral jokes by either giving them (1) instructions to focus on the content or underlying message of the jokes (serious mindset condition) or (2) no instructions as they read the jokes (control condition). Participants perceived both types of jokes as funnier in the control condition than in the serious mindset condition. In a followup study, Ford (2000, Exp. 3) found that participants perceived sexist jokes delivered by men as a covert expression of prejudice against women rather than merely a benign attempt to entertain. Thus, they interpreted the jokes in a more critical manner and found them less funny in comparison to the same jokes delivered by women.

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Surprise Hypothesis Jokes should be funny to the extent they have unpredictable or surprising punch lines.

Empirical research has largely failed to support the “surprise hypothesis.” Kenny (1955), for instance, asked one group of participants to rate the extent to which the punch lines of a number of jokes matched their expectations. He divided jokes into three categories of surprise: low, medium, and high. A separate group of participants then rated the funniness of the jokes. Contrary to the surprise hypothesis, Kenny found that participants rated the low surprise jokes funniest followed by the medium surprise and then the high surprise jokes. Jokes with the least surprising, most predictable punch lines were rated as the funniest. A potential problem with Kenny’s study was that participants rated the predictability of the punch lines after they had already read them. Therefore, it might have been difficult for them to judge accurately the degree to which they had been expecting the punch lines ahead of time. To correct this problem, Pollio and Mers (1974) had participants listen to a number of tape recordings of comedy routines by Bill Cosby and Phyllis Diller. They stopped the recordings immediately before the punch lines of the jokes were delivered, and asked subjects to write out what they thought the punch lines would be. Pollio and Mers subsequently rated the degree to which the predicted punch lines conformed to the actual punch lines delivered by the comedians. These similarity ratings positively correlated with funniness ratings, smiling, and laughter among a different set of participants. Again, the least surprising, most predictable jokes were funniest. Contrary to the surprise hypothesis derived from Shultz’s and Suls’ incongruityresolution theories, people seem to find a joke funnier when they “see the punch line coming” than when it is completely unexpected. Pollio and Mers concluded that “laughter is a partial exclamation of achievement rather than an expression of surprise over incongruity” (p. 232). Supporting the surprise hypothesis, however, Ja¨a¨skela¨inen et al. (2016) found that the areas of the brain involved in comprehending and appreciating humor exhibited more activation when participants first viewed a humorous video clip than when they viewed it for a second time. This suggests that the experience of humor diminished with repeated exposure to a humorous stimulus.

Evaluation Incongruity theories have made an important contribution to our understanding of humor. When they were introduced in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they drew researchers’ attention to cognitive-perceptual processes involved in the experience of humor, which had been seen as only having secondary importance in the other classic theories. Incongruity theories stimulated a great deal of research and further theoretical development that has continued to the present day. As we will see in Chapter 3, Contemporary Theories of Humor, theorists and researchers continue to make refinements to the ideas and research methodologies of the earlier incongruity theorists. The research evidence to date generally supports the idea that incongruity of some sort is an essential, fundamental element of humor. Some variation of Koestler’s (1964) idea

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that humor involves the activation of two normally incompatible frames of reference continues to form the basis of most contemporary theories of humor. However, it is important to note that theorists disagree on the function of incongruity (Ritchie, 2004). In both Shultz’s and Suls’ theories, the resolution of incongruity elicits amusement, thus incongruity is no longer present at the point a joke is perceived to be funny. In contrast, Koestler proposed that the perception of incongruity (“bisociation”) itself, and not its resolution, elicits amusement. Ritchie (2004) has also noted subtle differences between Shultz’s and Suls’ theories and suggested that they explain amusement with different types of jokes, and that neither explains amusement with all types of jokes much less all types of humor. Contemporary research supports the incongruity-resolution theories, showing that when people are presented with humor material that contains resolvable incongruity, they engage in two distinct cognitive processes of incongruity detection, which occurs rapidly, followed by incongruity resolution. However, the hypothesis that amusement with all humor requires one to engage in both incongruity detection and resolution has received less support. It might be that both processes of incongruity detection and resolution are involved in deriving amusement from jokes and cartoons that present resolvable incongruity, but that resolution is not required for one to derive amusement from nonsense jokes that do not present resolvable incongruity (Ruch & Hehl, 1988) or other types of humor more generally (Forabosco, 2016; Suls, 1983). Indeed, the processes involved in deriving amusement from jokes may not be the same as those for other forms of humor, such as spontaneous conversational humor (e.g., witticisms, puns, slips of the tongue, spoonerisms) and nonverbal humor (e.g., slapstick comedy). Since jokes and cartoons also play only a minor role in the humor that most people experience in their daily lives (Mannell & McMahon, 1982; R. A. Martin & Kuiper, 1999; Provine, 2000), it is important for researchers to study the cognitive processes involved in other forms of humor besides jokes. Fortunately, as we will see in the Chapter 4, The Personality Psychology of Humor, researchers in recent years have begun to pay more attention to cognitive processes involved in nonjoke-related humor. Another limitation of incongruity theories is that they do not take into account the social context in which humor occurs. The suggestion that listeners are surprised or puzzled by an unexpected punch line assumes they are seeking to understand humor as they would serious forms of communication, where contradictory information is puzzling and unsettling. However, as more recent theorists have noted (e.g., Norrick, 2003; Wyer & Collins, 1992), when jokes are told in normal social situations, they are usually prefaced by cues alerting the listeners to the fact that they are about to hear a joke (“Did you hear the one about. . .”). Even in the research context, when jokes are used as stimuli, subjects are told that they will be presented with jokes, or they are alerted to this fact by instructions to rate their funniness. Since listeners usually know that they are hearing a joke, they are likely more actively involved in anticipating the outcome and are not as surprised by the punch line as incongruity theories suggested. Rather than being surprising or unexpected, incongruity is actually expected in humor, and, indeed, a lack of incongruity would be surprising. When people know that they are hearing a joke, then, they likely anticipate and search for an incongruity, and their ability to predict the incongruity may even enhance the funniness of the joke. This would explain why Pollio and Mers (1974) found that the funniest jokes had

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the most predictable punch lines. Thus, while the perception of some sort of incongruity seems to play a central role in humor, the incongruity may not need to be unanticipated to be enjoyed. This would also account for the fact that jokes and humorous incidents can often continue to be amusing even after repeated retelling (Eysenck, 1942). Although incongruity theories and other cognitive approaches make important contributions to the study of humor, it is important to note that they do not provide a truly comprehensive account for all humor. In particular, these approaches ignore, rather than account for, the impact of motivational and social forces that affect amusement with humor material. As we have seen, though, there is considerable evidence that sexual and aggressive elements can contribute to the enjoyment of humor. Consider the following joke (from Gruner, 1978, p. 35): A woman sideswiped a car driven by a man. The woman climbed out and apologized for the accident. The man demurred: “That’s O.K. lady, it was all my fault. I could see it was a woman driving your car from half a mile away, and I had lots of time to drive off into a field and avoid all this.”

Incongruity theories suggest that the source of the humor is the incongruity of a person taking the blame for an accident that he did not cause and saying he should have avoided it by driving into a field. The perceiver resolves the incongruity by accessing the stereotype that women are inherently such terrible drivers that they cannot do anything about it and therefore should not be held responsible. What appears to be aggressive disparagement of women is merely information that allows one to “get” the joke; it wouldn’t be resolved otherwise. However, this sort of explanation seems to ignore the emotional nature of humor and turn it into a purely intellectual exercise. What is the source of pleasure in this joke? Is it merely the intellectual enjoyment of playing with a puzzling incongruity and then discovering its resolution, or is it the emotional pleasure of taking a playfully aggressive jab at women drivers? It is likely a combination of both. The cognitive processes of incongruity detection and resolution in a humor mindset make the joke funny; aggression otherwise is not funny. However, the aggressive jab at women’s driving ability enhances the amusement. Again, it is important to remember that any aggression in humor is only playful and not necessarily “serious” (Gruner, 1997). Koestler (1964) acknowledged the role of aggression, suggesting that bisociation must be accompanied by at least a tinge of aggression to be funny. It is likely an exaggeration to say that all humor involves aggression, but it does seem accurate to say that it involves an emotional experience that can be intensified by a range of emotion-arousing topics. Other emotion-arousing topics besides aggression seem to work as well, including sex and just plain exuberant fun. As Suls (1983) rather tentatively acknowledged, incongruity theories appear to explain humor comprehension but not fully humor appreciation.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION Each of the three classic theories of humor attempted to provide a comprehensive explanation for the entirety of humor. However, they incorporated concepts that were too

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vaguely or broadly defined. As a result, none of the three provided a complete or comprehensive account of humor. Each theory, however, explains something about the humor experience and calls attention to important variables and processes involved in certain humor experiences, thus providing the conceptual foundation for contemporary theory and research. Spencer’s relief theory and arousal theories that emerged from it (e.g., Berlyne, 1972) underscore the view that humor represents a complex mind body interaction of cognition and emotion that is rooted in the biological substrates of our brain and nervous system. Psychoanalytic theory calls our attention to the predominance of aggressive and sexual themes in jokes, suggesting that strong intrapersonal needs that lie outside conscious awareness motivate our enjoyment of such humor. Psychoanalytic theory also raised the possibility that humor can function as a protective defense mechanism against the challenges and stresses of life. Superiority theories emphasize the interpersonal motives that humor shares in the context of interpersonal and broader intergroup relationships. They laid the theoretical groundwork for contemporary theories of why we enjoy and engage in disparagement (put down) humor. Finally, incongruity theories shed light on the cognitive-perceptual processes involved in humor, identifying incongruity as minimally necessary for all humor.

KEY CONCEPTS • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Relief theory Relief of tension Arousal theory Arousal boost Arousal jag Psychoanalytic theory Tendentious Jokework Joke (wit), humor (in the Freudian sense), and comic Catharsis Superiority theory Disparagement humor Vicarious superiority theory Identification classes Disposition theory Incongruity theory Incongruity Incongruity resolution Humor mindset Two-stage model of humor appreciation Weight judgment paradigm

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CRITICAL THINKING 1. Consider the following joke: A mother and her young son returned from the grocery store and began putting groceries away. He opened a box of animal crackers and spread them out on the table. “What are you doing?” his mother asked. “The box says you can’t eat them if the seal is broken. I’m looking for the seal.” Explain why one might find (or fail to find) this joke funny from the framework of each classic humor theory (relief, superiority, incongruity). 2. We have argued that none of the three classic humor theories provides a complete, comprehensive explanation of humor. Discuss the strengths and shortcomings of each theory in explaining the experience of humor. 3. Design an experiment to test a hypothesis discussed in this chapter. Include the procedures you would follow to test the hypothesis along with a discussion of expected results derived from the hypothesis. What would be the implications for understanding humor if the results support your hypothesis?

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C H A P T E R

3 Contemporary Theories of Humor

In Chapter 2, Classic Theories of Humor, we examined the “big three” classic psychological theories of humor, noting that each identified critical psychological mechanisms that contribute to our understanding of humor. However, they each fell short of providing

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a comprehensive explanation of humor by “stretching” a particular cognitive or motivational mechanism (e.g., incongruity resolution, relief of tension) beyond its explanatory capacity in an effort to explain the whole experience. Contemporary psychology has moved away from the conceptually vague, broad sweeping theories that were popular in the 1930s and 1940s (Kruglanski, 2001) in favor of more specific research theories (Buss & Schmitt, 2011) or middle-range theories (Merton, 1957) that define concepts and processes in terms that are specific enough to permit empirical testing. Thus, in humor research, as in other areas of contemporary psychology, we have seen a movement away from vague, broadly defined grand theories toward the development of testable research theories often addressing narrower questions related to the humor experience (e.g., What are the mental processes involved in getting a joke? Under what conditions do we find ridicule or disparaging humor funny?). However, as we will see in this chapter, contemporary psychologists still pursue the “holy grail” of humor research: a comprehensive theory explaining what makes something funny. In this chapter, we discuss in some depth three contemporary theories of humor that have received considerable attention: (1) Reversal Theory, (2) Comprehension-Elaboration Theory, and (3) Benign Violation Theory. Each of these contemporary theories expanded upon the classic formulations to offer more complete explanations of the multifaceted experience of humor. Specifically, they integrated multiple explanatory mechanisms that involve cognitive and motivational processes. Second, they explained many different types of humor experiences and, finally, they more explicitly specified the conditions that are necessary and sufficient for the occurrence of mirth and laughter (Wyer & Collins, 1992). Each of the theories in this chapter contends that humor emerges from an individual’s subjective perceptions or interpretations of an event, and thus recognizes that humor itself is inherently subjective. Essentially, what people find funny differs greatly from one person to the next. From this perspective, a comprehensive theory of humor must delineate the necessary and sufficient psychological processes that result in humor, rather than delineate the properties of a stimulus that result in humor. Thus, regardless of what people find funny, a good theory must show that they all experience humor through the same underlying psychological processes.

REVERSAL THEORY Michael Apter’s (1982) “reversal theory” is a general theory of personality and motivation that provided a comprehensive framework for explaining humor. Apter proposed that in order to experience humor (perceive something as humorous) a person must be in a particular motivational state reflected by a humor mindset, experience heightened arousal in that motivational state, and engage in cognitive processes described as cognitive synergy and diminishment.

Motivational States and Arousal A central assumption of Apter’s theory of humor is that people fluctuate or switch back and forth between two motivational states (referred to as “metamotivational” states): the telic state and the paratelic state. When people are in a telic state of mind they are serious

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and sensible; they are focused on the future and on behaving in ways that are instrumental to achieving important goals. When people adopt a paratelic state of mind they are spontaneous and playful. They focus their attention on the present, seek excitement, and engage in activities just for fun (Apter, 1982, 1989, 1991). In contrast to Berlyne’s (1972) optimal arousal theory, Apter proposed that arousal is experienced differently depending on whether one is in the telic or the paratelic state. In the telic state, people prefer to feel a low level of arousal, which is experienced as being relaxed or calm. High arousal, in this state, is unpleasant and experienced as anxiety. When people are in the telic state, then, they try to avoid experiencing high levels of arousal. In contrast, people in the paratelic state of mind prefer to feel a high level of arousal, experienced as excitement or fun; low arousal is unpleasant and experienced as boredom. In the paratelic state, then, people typically seek out activities that will increase their level of arousal. Fig. 3.1 depicts the relationship between one’s level of arousal and the degree to which that arousal feels pleasant or unpleasant (referred to in reversal theory terms as hedonic tone). Apter (1992) described many ways that people seek to increase their level of arousal in the paratelic state: engaging in exciting activities such as riding roller coasters, hang gliding, and taking other kinds of risks. Even normally negative emotions can be experienced as exciting and enjoyable when one is in the paratelic state, as demonstrated by the popularity of horror movies. He further described humor as one such paratelic activity. That is, humor events contain cues within the events themselves (Berlyne, 1972) or in the broader social context (e.g., Gray & Ford, 2013) that (1) prompt the person to adopt a paratelic state of mind and (2) increase arousal that the person feels in that paratelic state. The humor event essentially “pushes” people into the top right quadrant of the graph in Fig. 3.1 (Svebak & Apter, 1987). Accordingly, reversal theory derives the following hypotheses about the necessary conditions to experience humor (perceive something as humorous): Hypothesis 1. A person must be in a playful, paratelic motivational state. Hypothesis 2. The humor event must produce an increase in arousal experienced in the paratelic state as fun or excitement.

Pleasant

Relaxed

Excited

Te li

cs

Hedonic tone

ta

te

e

at

c eli

st

t ra Pa Bored

Anxious

Unpleasant Low

Arousal level

High

FIGURE 3.1 Relationship between arousal and how pleasant arousal feels in the telic and paratelic states of mind.

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As a paratelic activity, humor involves the enjoyment of arousal. Thus, emotionally arousing elements that are often present in humor, such as sexual and aggressive themes, function to enhance the pleasurable feelings of arousal and thus make the humor event seem funnier. Similarly, people can enjoy humor on topics that normally arouse feelings of horror, revulsion, or disgust (such as parodies of horror movies, “sick” jokes, etc.) because of the way these normally negative emotions add to the pleasurable arousal when one is in a playful paratelic state of mind. Thus, reversal theory accounts for “tendentious” themes of humor in terms of their arousal-boosting effects. It is also consistent with research findings discussed in Chapter 2 indicating that greater levels of physiological arousal are associated with greater enjoyment of humor, and that residual arousal from exposure to either positive or negative emotional material increases subsequent enjoyment of humor (Zillmann & Bryant, 1980).

Cognitive Synergy and Diminishment Like incongruity theories, reversal theory contends that humor depends on cognitive processes involved in the initial interpretation of an event or stimulus followed by a reinterpretation of the stimulus or event. According to reversal theory, the process of revising one’s initial interpretation of something must involve cognitive synergy. Apter (2013) described cognitive synergy as the activation of two contradictory interpretations of a stimulus or event in one’s mind at the same time (e.g., important/trivial, intelligent/stupid, sacred/profane). That is, a stimulus or event embodies two contradictory characteristics and thus can be interpreted as X and Not-X at the same time (Apter, 2013). For instance, one might initially perceive a transvestite as a woman and then as a man. Cognitive synergy is similar to Koestler’s (1964) concept of “bisociation,” discussed in Chapter 2, Classic Theories of Humor. Also, both reversal theory and Suls’ and Shultz’s incongruity-resolution models contend that humor requires the recognition of incongruity, contradictory interpretations of a stimulus or event. Unlike incongruity-resolution models, however, reversal theory contends that the reinterpretation of a stimulus or event does not remove or resolve the incongruity; rather it creates cognitive synergy. Thus the reality of the man dressed as a nun for Halloween does not negate his appearance as a woman. Similarly, the punch line of a joke creates cognitive synergy rather than resolving incongruity. Apter proposed that cognitive synergies occur in artistic creativity and aesthetic enjoyment, as well as in humor. He suggested that the difference between the two is that, in humor, the second interpretation involves a diminishment of the stimulus or event from the first interpretation. Thus, the incongruity occurring in humor makes us see a stimulus or event as less important, dignified, serious, valuable, worthy of respect, etc., than it first appeared. Without diminishment, an incongruity or synergy is not funny. Reversal theory, then, includes a third necessary condition to experience humor (perceive something as humorous): Hypothesis 3. A person must experience a cognitive synergy in which the second interpretation of a stimulus or event involves diminishment from the first interpretation

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Apter’s diminishment proposition explains the appeal of disparagement humor typically addressed by variants of superiority theories (e.g., La Fave & Mannell, 1976; Zillmann & Cantor, 1976). Unlike classic superiority theorists, however, Apter does not propose that all humor involves aggression or disparagement. Indeed, diminishment does not need to be aggressive; it can simply be a perception of something as more mundane or trivial than it first appeared. The following joke illustrates how synergy and diminishment work together to produce humor. A businessman has just completed registering at a hotel desk and as he turns to leave he says to the clerk, “Oh, and I thought I should mention that I prefer that the porn channel on the room television be disabled.” The clerk replies, “We only have regular porn, . . . you sick bastard!”

The punch line creates two synergies or incompatible interpretations. The first relates to the meaning of the word, “disabled.” The setup leads us to believe that the businessman wants the hotel clerk to disable (disconnect) the porn channel on the television set in his room. The clerk’s reply, however, introduces a second interpretation, namely that the businessman would like the porn channel to feature disabled people. Importantly, reversal theory contends that the perceiver holds both interpretations in mind simultaneously. That is, the clerk’s apparent understanding of what the businessman meant by “disabled” does not negate the interpretation the businessman presumably intended. The second synergy involves diminishment of the businessman. In the joke set-up the businessman is presumably respectable and important. The punch line diminishes or debases him to a profane sexual pervert, or as the clerk said, a “sick bastard.” This joke also includes arousalenhancing elements of surprise, sex, taboo topics, and disgust. Each of these elements should thus contribute to the enjoyment of the joke provided the perceiver is in a paratelic state. Finally, the multiple interconnected synergies contained in the joke also should contribute enjoyment. Indeed, people perceive humor events as funnier to the extent that multiple interrelated synergies occur within a short period of time, as they play off each other to produce further comic effects (A. S. Coulson, 2001). From the framework of Apter’s reversal theory, it easy to see why people rated Joke 1 from Box 2.1 as funnier than Joke 2. Joke 1. A woman gets on a bus with her baby. The bus driver says: “Ugh, that’s the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen!” The woman walks to the rear of the bus and sits down, fuming. She says to a man next to her: “The driver just insulted me!” The man says: “You go up there and tell him off. Go on, I’ll hold your monkey for you.” Joke 2. Why didn’t the dinosaur cross the road? Because there weren’t even any roads during the Jurassic Period! The punch line of Joke 1 creates two interconnected synergies. The first relates to the interpretation of the bus driver’s insult. In the set-up the bus driver has insulted the woman by calling her baby “ugly.” The man sitting next to the woman on the bus tells her, “You go up there and tell him off. Go on, I’ll hold your monkey for you.” The man’s

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statement introduces a second interpretation of the bus driver’s insult; he was right about the woman’s baby. It is ugly. The second synergy diminishes the baby. In the joke set-up the baby is presumably cute and precious, particularly to the woman. The punch line diminishes the baby by likening it to a monkey. Joke 1 also includes arousal-enhancing elements of surprise and aggression, which thus contribute to enjoyment of the joke. Now consider Joke 2. The setup leads us to believe that a road exists and that the dinosaur did not cross it for some reason. The punch line introduces a second interpretation that the road did not in fact exist when dinosaurs lived on the earth. Also, the synergy created by the punch line diminishes the joke setup from a serious and profound question to a trivial one. Although the punch line successfully creates a cognitive synergy, it does not include multiple interconnected synergies that play off each other. Second, the synergy and diminishment created by the punch line lacks surprise and other arousal-enhancing elements. As a result, people find Joke 2 less funny than Joke 1.

The Role of Context Apter’s reversal theory recognizes that a humor event (e.g., Joke 1 above) occurs in a broader social context (e.g., a friend tells the joke at a party) and that the social context can affect the degree to which people perceive such an event as funny. Gray and Ford (2013), for instance, found that men found sexist jokes funny if they imagined hearing it delivered by a comedian at a comedy club but not if they imagined hearing it delivered by a coworker in the workplace. The disparaging content and incongruity of the joke remained constant across the two contexts; thus superiority and incongruity theories cannot easily account for these findings. Reversal theory, however, recognizes that the broader social context in which a humor event occurs can present cues to adopt a paratelic humor mindset for interpreting the event, thus allowing one to experience humor. Thus, according to reversal theory, the comedian in a comedy club signaled to participants to think playfully and nonseriously about the jokes. In contrast, the coworker in the workplace prompted participants to interpret the sexist jokes in a telic state and focus on the inappropriateness of the jokes in that context. In addition, reversal theory uniquely accounts for humor events such as shaggy dog stories, nonsense humor, and slapstick humor that do not derive humor from the reinterpretation of specific humor content, but rather from the reinterpretation of the humor context as mundane or trivial (Wyer & Collins, 1992). Shaggy dog stories, for instance, are long, rambling, embellished stories that create an expectation of a significant or remarkable conclusion only to end with a deflating punch line in which someone remarks, “That dog’s not so shaggy.” The punch line renders the whole story frivolous or trivial. In his book, Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters, Ted Cohen (1999) presented a typical Shaggy Dog Story: A boy owned a dog that was uncommonly shaggy. Many people remarked upon its considerable shagginess. When the boy learned that there are contests for shaggy dogs, he entered his dog. The dog won first prize for shagginess in both the local and the regional competitions. The boy entered the dog in ever-larger contests, until finally he entered it in the world championship for shaggy dogs. When the judges had inspected all of the competing dogs, they remarked about the boy’s dog: “He’s not that shaggy.”

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Empirical Investigations Consistent with Hypothesis 1, there is considerable evidence (described in Chapter 2: Classic Theories of Humor) that one must adopt a paratelic motivational state, or a humor mindset in order to perceive an event as humorous. Also, a number of studies that directly set out to test the hypothesis have provided empirical support. For instance, in a study of individual differences in motivational states, Martin (1984) found a negative correlation between the Telic Dominance Scale and several measures of sense of humor, indicating that people who are more likely to be in the paratelic state at any given time also tend to laugh and smile more frequently, to perceive humor in the environment, to enjoy humor, and to use humor in coping with stress. See also Ruch (1994). Svebak and Apter (1987) conducted an experiment that supports both Hypotheses 1 and 2. They found that the presentation of humorous material induced the paratelic state even among individuals who normally tend to remain in the telic state. Consistent with Hypothesis 1 the experience of humor occurred when participants adopted a playful, paratelic state of mind. Consistent with Hypothesis 2, laughter in a paratelic state in response to humor material positively correlated with felt arousal. The more the humor material induced paratelic arousal, the funnier participants perceived the material. Further supporting Hypothesis 2, research has shown that a positive linear (rather than curvilinear) relationship exists between physiological arousal and enjoyment of humor (e.g., Godkewitsch, 1976). A study by Mio and Graesser (1991) supported Hypothesis 3, that a person must experience a cognitive synergy in which the second interpretation of a stimulus or event involves diminishment from the first interpretation. Participants rated the funniness of a number of metaphor pairs. One metaphor in each pair disparaged the topic of a sentence, whereas the other one uplifted the topic. Consistent with the diminishment hypothesis, participants perceived the disparaging metaphors as more humorous than their uplifting counterparts. Wyer and Collins (1992) described an unpublished study by Collins and Wyer (1990) designed to test Hypotheses 1 and 3. Participants read stories that could be interpreted in two different ways, one less obvious than the other. In each case, the less obvious interpretation was more mundane, and therefore involved a diminishment of importance. One story, for example, appeared to be about two people planning a murder, but it could also be interpreted as a discussion about the difficulties of opening a pickle jar. Another story appeared to be the comments of a man making love to a woman, but could also be interpreted as comments about washing a dog. In different versions of the story, cues were inserted to make the subordinate theme more or less obvious. Collins and Wyer instructed participants either to read the stories for understanding (as they would read a magazine article) or to read them with the goal of evaluating their humor. All participants then rated the funniness of the story. Consistent with Hypothesis 3, the participants rated the stories as more amusing when they included statements activating the diminishing subordinate theme. Supporting Hypothesis 1, this difference was more pronounced in the story comprehension condition than in the humor evaluation condition. The latter finding, which seems counterintuitive, is explained by reversal theory on the basis of the motivational state of the subjects. Participants who were instructed to read the stories with a goal in mind were more likely

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to adopt a serious, telic motivational state of mind, even though their goal involved making a humor judgment. Consequently, they found the stories less amusing compared to participants who read them without a specific goal, which was more compatible with the playful, paratelic state. In a second experiment, Collins and Wyer (1990) investigated a fundamental assumption of reversal theory that a humor event creates cognitive synergy, the activation of two contradictory interpretations of a stimulus or event in one’s mind at the same time, in which the second interpretation does not negate or replace the first. They presented participants with different versions of the following joke: A young Catholic priest is walking through town when he is accosted by a prostitute. “How about a quickie for twenty dollars?” she asks. The priest, puzzled, shakes her off and continues on his way, only to be stopped by another prostitute. “Twenty dollars for a quickie,” she offers. Again, he breaks free and goes up the street. Later, as he is nearing his home in the country, he meets a nun. “Pardon me, sister,” he asks, “but what’s a quickie?” “Twenty dollars,” she says, “The same as it is in town.”

The synergy in this joke involves the sudden shift in interpretation brought about by the punch line. The joke setup leads us to believe that the priest’s question, “What’s a quickie?” should be interpreted as “What does ‘a quickie’ mean?” However, the nun’s reply introduces a different interpretation, namely, “How much does a quickie cost?” There is also a second shift in interpretation from our perception of the woman as a nun to a prostitute. In each of these contradictory perceptions, both interpretations are held simultaneously. The second synergy involves diminishment, as the chaste and holy woman turns out to be a prostitute on the side. Collins and Wyer manipulated the identity of the woman in the joke so that in one version the identity of the woman as a prostitute replaced her initial identity as a nun (as in incongruity-resolution theory). That is, it became clear that the woman was a prostitute simply dressed up as a nun in a Halloween costume. In the other version, the woman was indeed a nun, but also a prostitute on the side. Both contradictory identities continued to apply simultaneously. From the framework of reversal theory, Collins and Wyer predicted that people would find the joke funnier when it retained both of the woman’s identities as a nun and prostitute than when the prostitute identity replaced the nun identity. Contrary to this prediction, however, Collins and Wyer found that funniness ratings of the jokes did not differ significantly across these conditions. Collins and Wyer conclude that jokes elicited mirth when the punch line created an unexpected incongruity independent of whether the reinterpretation of the woman’s identity was held in mind simultaneously with the first interpretation or whether it negated and replaced the first interpretation. In our view, Collins and Wyer’s (1990) null finding does not disprove the assumption about cognitive synergy that the second interpretation of a stimulus or event is held simultaneously with the first. Collins and Wyer appear to assume that in the identity replacement condition where the woman turns out to be a prostitute and not a nun, participants actually replaced their initial impression of the woman as a nun with the reality that she is a prostitute. They might not have. Instead, upon learning the woman’s true identity, they

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might have modified their understanding of their initial impression to be “a woman who appeared to be a nun.” In fact, consistent with reversal theory’s assumption about cognitive synergy, participants might have derived humor from the punch line because of the juxtaposition of the two incompatible interpretations of the woman’s identity (prostitute vs prostitute appearing to be a nun) held in mind simultaneously. Although we do not view Collins and Wyer’s (1990) study as definitive, we do believe that further research is needed to more fully test this assumption. Finally, reversal theory accounts for a number of research findings discussed in Chapter 2, Classic Theories of Humor, that were designed to test other humor theories. For instance, the study by Shurcliff (1968) in which subjects who expected to remove a rat from a cage found a rubber toy instead, is consistent with reversal theory. The discovery of the rubber toy led participants to reinterpret the situation in a way that diminished its seriousness and importance as a scientific experiment, inducing a shift to the paratelic state of mind. The anxiety-related arousal generated by the initial understanding of the situation, which involved handling an ornery rat, contributed to amusement when reinterpreted in the paratelic state of mind. Similarly, reversal theory offers a unique explanation of Nerhardt’s (1976) weight judgment studies. Nerhardt’s weight judgment task did not elicit amusement for participants in the railway station because they were in a telic state of mind, engaging in the goaloriented activity of traveling from one place to another, and were unable to shift to the paratelic state, which is necessary to experience humor. In contrast, the college students who completed the experiment could more easily shift to the paratelic state. The discrepant weights participants encountered surprised them, inducing paratelic arousal and creating a cognitive synergy that diminished the experiment from the original interpretation as a serious study on weight judgment to a less important trick intended to amuse (Wyer & Collins, 1992).

Evaluation The account of humor provided by reversal theory integrates many of the ideas from the classic theories we discussed in Chapter 2, Classic Theories of Humor. Like psychoanalytic and superiority theories, it provides an explanation for aggressive, sexual, and other emotional elements in humor. These components are seen as functioning to increase arousal, which is experienced as enjoyable and exciting when one is in the playful frame of mind associated with humor. Also, this theory explains the enjoyment of humor and people’s strong motivation for engaging in it in terms of the enjoyment of play. The theory appears to be more consistent with research findings on the role of arousal in humor appreciation than are optimal arousal theories such as Berlyne’s. It also provides a framework for understanding cognitive processes in many different forms of everyday humor and not just jokes. Unlike most of the other theories that we have discussed, this theory also focuses more explicitly on the social context in which humor occurs. Thus, it opens the door to examinations of humor as a form of interpersonal communication from the perspective of social psychology (which we will explore in Chapter 8: The Social Psychology of Humor).

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Reversal theory also provides an account of the role of humor in coping with stress (Svebak & Martin, 1997), a topic that we will discuss in Chapter 9, The Clinical Psychology of Humor. The capacity of humorous synergies to induce the paratelic state might make it possible for stressful situations to be experienced as challenges to be approached in a playful way rather than as serious threats (R. A. Martin, Kuiper, Olinger, & Dobbin, 1987). In addition, the diminishment aspect of humorous synergies means that humor may be used to reframe anxiety-arousing events or problems as less threatening than they first appear (Kuiper et al., 1993). Clearly, reversal theory offers a number of hypotheses that are deserving of further investigation. More generally, the view of humor as play reminds us that humor is a nonserious, playful activity that differs from more serious modes of thinking. This view of humor suggests that jokes represent a way for a joke teller and a listener to play with incongruous elements of a narrative in ways that produce unexpected interpretations. In more spontaneous forms of humor, people play with language and ideas or use humor to playfully tease one another. However, although humor is playful and nonserious, this does not mean that it does not have serious functions and social consequences. For example, humorous teasing may be a way of expressing disapproval or criticism to another person in a way that would be difficult to do using a serious mode of discourse. Although reversal theory does provide a useful framework for understanding humor, it does have limitations (Wyer & Collins, 1992). Specifically, as Wyer and Collins (1992) pointed out, it does not account for the effect of difficulty of comprehending an event on humor elicitation. Second, it does not fully delineate the cognitive processes underlying humor.

COMPREHENSION-ELABORATION THEORY Cognitive humor theories—those that emphasize cognitive-perceptual processes to explain humor (e.g., Apter, 1982; Shultz, 1972; Suls, 1972)—share a common assumption that humor emerges through the processes involved in how people perceive and interpret an event and then revise their interpretations in light of new information. Psychologists Robert Wyer and James Collins (1992, see also Wyer, 2004) have developed a “comprehension-elaboration theory” of humor that extends previous cognitive theories, most notably Suls’ (1972) incongruity-resolution theory and Apter’s (1982) reversal theory in two important ways. First, they more formally articulate the cognitive mechanisms involved in the interpretation and subsequent reinterpretation of stimulus information, the processes they refer to collectively as comprehension. Second, they emphasize the importance of an additional cognitive process that occurs after comprehension: elaboration.

Comprehension: Interpretation, Incongruity, and Reinterpretation Wyer and Collins describe comprehension as the initial encoding or interpretation of an event. They articulated cognitive processes involved in comprehending information encountered in a social context based on theory and research in cognitive psychology and social cognition. Specifically, theorists in both cognitive psychology and social cognition have proposed that people interpret and make sense of new information in terms of

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preexisting knowledge structures called schemas (e.g., Fiske & Taylor, 1991; Higgins, 1981; Mandler, 1979; Rumelhart & Ortony, 1977; Taylor & Crocker, 1981; Wyer & Srull, 1986). The term schema, originating in the early work of Gestalt psychology (e.g., Bartlett, 1932), refers to a dynamic mental representation of some class of stimuli (this could include objects, events, people, social roles, how to behave in a certain situation, etc.) that people use to organize knowledge and expectations about that class of stimuli (Taylor & Crocker, 1981). Mandler (1979) stated that a schema “is formed on the basis of past experience with objects, scenes, or events and consists of a set of (usually unconscious) expectations about what things look like and/or the order in which they occur” (p. 263). Our schema for birds, for example, contains all our general knowledge of birds based on various “bird characteristics,” perhaps related to wings, feet, beaks, bodies, etc., that are central for defining an animal as a bird. Some birds, such as pigeons and robins are more typical of the general schema (i.e., they share a larger number of attributes with the other members of the bird schema) compared to others such as penguins or ostriches. When someone simply mentions having seen a bird without describing it in detail, we “fill in” missing details in our minds with prototypical “bird characteristics” from our “bird schema” and bring to mind an image of a typical bird; i.e., we might initially interpret the bird in the story as a pigeon or a robin but probably not a penguin or an ostrich. Frames (Minsky, 1977) and scripts (Abelson, 1981; Schank & Abelson, 1977) are types of schemas that relate to knowledge about the physical environment and routine activities, respectively. Like all schemas, they provide a framework for interpreting or encoding information in a way that makes sense. Accordingly, we use them to “fill in” missing details and to form general expectations about other kinds of things that could happen in a given context. For instance, we would understand a description of a woman crying in church very differently if it occurred at a funeral (i.e., interpreted using our funeral script) versus at a wedding (interpreted using our wedding script). Furthermore, we would form different expectations about other things that might also occur in that context depending on which script had been activated. Schank and Abelson (1977) described the restaurant script, which organizes information about the normal sequence of events involved in going to a restaurant (sitting at a table, ordering from a menu, being served, eating, paying the bill, leaving the restaurant, etc.). When we hear a narrative about someone going to a restaurant, the “restaurant script” is activated and provides a framework for interpreting or encoding information in a way that makes sense at a restaurant. Using our restaurant script, we fill in missing details from the narrative and form general expectations about things that could happen in a restaurant. As a framework for interpreting information in a sensible way, the script tells us what details of the narrative are relevant and consistent with “things that could happen at a restaurant,” and thus how to evaluate people’s actions as congruous or incongruous with actions that typically occur in that setting. Suppose for instance, as Wyer (2004, p. 199) noted, that the narrative included a man who went to the restaurant and proceeded to take off his clothes and play a guitar. The man’s actions would not fit the general expectations derived from our restaurant script; they would be incongruous with our general knowledge about restaurants. Wyer and Collins (1992) define incongruity as an event that requires concepts or knowledge not contained in the activated schema used to interpret previous information about

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the event. The perception of incongruity (e.g., hearing about a naked man playing a guitar in a restaurant) prompts us to identify and activate new schemas from which the event can be reinterpreted in a sensible way. For example, we might surmise that the restaurant was in a nudist colony and the man was an entertainer rather than a patron of the restaurant. We can see the interpretation, incongruity, and reinterpretation processes of comprehension in the “businessman joke.” In the set up the businessman makes a request, “Oh, and I thought I should mention that I prefer that the porn channel on the room television be disabled.” The initial interpretation from the typical script of such interactions is that the businessman wants the clerk to disable the pornography channel. The clerk’s reply, “We only have regular porn. . .,” is incongruous with that interpretation, leading one to reinterpret the meaning of the request using a different schema (e.g., sexual pervert schema) to mean that the businessman wants to watch pornography featuring disabled people.

Humor Elicitation: Diminishment, Comprehension Difficulty, and Elaboration Wyer and Collins (1992) propose that the amount of humor one experiences as a result of these basic comprehension processes depends on (1) the degree to which reinterpretation of an event diminishes the importance or value of the event, (2) the type and amount of cognitive elaboration that one generates in response to the reinterpretation, and (3) the degree to which the humor event is difficult to comprehend. Like Apter (1982), Wyer and Collins (1992) propose that the reinterpretation of an event using new schemas must diminish the event from the first interpretation. Also like Apter, Wyer and Collins propose that the critical feature of diminishment is not disparagement, but rather trivialization. For instance, they pointed out that the reinterpretation of a meek, socially inept person as a serial killer would be disparaging, but not diminishing, and therefore not funny. In contrast, the reinterpretation of a serial killer, as a person who is cowardly and intimidated by his intended victims would be humorous because the reinterpretation makes the character seem more mundane or trivial. Also, like Apter, Wyer and Collins’s theory accounts for a wide variety of humor events that involve diminishment of the situation itself (e.g., shaggy dog stories, slapstick humor). The funniness of a diminishing reinterpretation of an event also depends on the type and amount of elaboration one performs in response to the reinterpretation of an event. Elaboration refers to the degree to which people use activated schemas to generate further thoughts, images, and inferences related to the reinterpretation of an event that are not necessary for comprehension. When a person’s processing goal is simply to comprehend and enjoy the humor event (i.e., to use Apter’s terms, when they are in a paratelic motivational state), they typically generate humor-relevant elaborations consisting of thoughts about the implications of the reinterpretation that add to the perceived funniness of the event. For instance, when listening to or reading the businessman joke one might generate visual imagery about the scene at the hotel desk, as well as inferences about the businessman’s and the clerk’s appearance and the businessman’s expression of surprise and disbelief in

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response to the clerk’s reply. However, when motivated by a different, more “telic” processing goal (e.g., to consider the morality of pornography), the person might generate humor-irrelevant elaborations that have nothing to do with the humor-eliciting implications of the event, but rather that relate to this more serious objective. Wyer and Collins (1992) note that elaborations can be either self-generated or prompted by others in the humor context. For instance, comedians often call attention to humorous implications of their reinterpretations of otherwise mundane events. Also, in a movie or television show, once a character has been reinterpreted in a humorous manner, subsequent behaviors represent new elaborations on that reinterpretation. For instance, in the hit comedy Big Bang Theory, the character Sheldon is initially presented as a genius theoretical physicist, but then turns out to be socially inept and naı¨ve, as well as obsessivecompulsive. Once this reinterpretation of Sheldon has been established, his repeated expressions of these idiosyncrasies are essentially new elaborations on the humorous reinterpretation. Wyer and Collins (1992) suggest that such externally prompted elaborations elicit humor in the same way as self-generated elaborations (p. 676). The proposition that elaborations in response to a reinterpretation of an event elicit humor has important implications. First, as Wyer and Collins pointed out, it explains why many events that occur in everyday life elicit amusement even in the absence of surprising incongruity that requires reinterpretation at the moment the event occurs: the events, themselves, are elaborations on a past reinterpretation. Amusing family stories illustrate this point. One of the authors has a relative (described here as “granddad”) who is well known among the family for his intense, albeit benign, verbal expressions and other reactions to “mild” irritants while driving. Indeed, granddad may be the only person other than a New York City cab driver who has actually worn out several horns on his car for overuse. It is a running family joke that our kind, generally levelheaded “granddad” seems to undergo a Jekyll and Hyde-like transformation when he gets behind the wheel. Stories of each new display of granddad’s car-related vocabulary and microaggressions elicit humor among family members because they function as elaborations on a past reinterpretation of “granddad in the car.” Second, the role of elaborations explains why some jokes elicit humor even after many repetitions when there is no surprising incongruity or new reinterpretations. Jokes differ in their elaboration potential. Jokes that have high elaboration potential are those for which people can readily generate many humor-relevant thoughts and rich imagery about the characters in the joke, their relationship to one another, and the setting in which it occurs. However, a joke with low elaboration potential elicits few humor-relevant thoughts beyond the punch line. For instance, a joke or pun that elicits humor through merely a “play on words” (shift in meaning of a word) does not prompt much elaboration beyond the reinterpretation itself. Wyer and Collins suggest that people perceive jokes that have high elaboration potential as funny even after many repetitions because they prompt new humor-relevant elaborations with each repetition. In contrast, jokes with low elaboration potential should elicit less amusement with repetition, and probably little amusement when encountered for the first time. Wyer and Collins argue that funniness of a diminishing reinterpretation of an event also depends on how difficult the event is to comprehend; i.e., how difficult it is to identify alternative schemas to reinterpret the event in a sensible way. Specifically, they proposed

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that we perceive the most funniness in events that are moderately difficult to understand, suggesting a curvilinear (inverted-U) relationship between comprehension difficulty and funniness. Events that are moderately difficult to comprehend elicit the most amusement for a couple of reasons. First, as comprehension difficulty increases up to a point, people feel more challenged, making the “successful” reinterpretation rewarding. However, further increases in difficulty could result in an unsuccessful reinterpretation, which precludes the experience of humor. Second, humor events that are too easy or too difficult to comprehend tend to have less potential to elicit humor-relevant elaborations. Jokes that are very easy to understand, like puns and nonsense jokes that elicit humor through merely a play on words, provide very little contextual information with which to generate humor-relevant elaborations. On the other hand, people cannot elaborate on the implications of an event they cannot understand. Using Wyer and Collins’ theory, we can explain why Joke 1 from Text Box 2.1 is funnier than Joke 2 by comparing their complexity and elaboration potential. Joke 1 describes a setting with multiple people in different interactions that have very high elaboration potential. Upon hearing the set-up, one would likely generate an image of a public bus. When the bus driver remarks, “Ugh, that’s the ugliest baby I’ve ever seen,” one might imagine the appearances of the bus driver, the woman, and the baby as well as the bus driver’s facial expression upon seeing the baby and the woman’s upon being insulted. As the woman takes her seat we could easily picture her indignation as she tells the man next to her that she had been insulted. We can also imagine her look of horror when he tells her, “You go up there and tell him off. Go on, I’ll hold your monkey for you.” One could generate many more humor-relevant elaborations in response to the joke. As a result, people are likely to find Joke 1 very amusing even after several repetitions. In contrast, Joke 2 is a nonsense joke that sets up a serious and profound question that is reinterpreted in light of the punch line as trivial and silly. Like other nonsense jokes, this one is extremely easy to understand and contains little elaboration potential. Thus, people don’t find it very amusing and perhaps it even becomes annoying after a few repetitions.

Empirical Investigations Comprehension and Elaboration Yu-Chen Chan at the National Taiwan Normal University, Taiwan, has collaborated with a number of colleagues (Chan et al., 2012, 2013) to investigate whether the processes thought to underlie the comprehension and elaboration of verbal jokes are truly distinct, i.e., whether they involve different neural circuits in different regions of the brain. Chan et al. (2012) placed participants in an fMRI scanner and presented them with 60 verbal stimuli. The setup was shown for 20 seconds and the punch line (ending) for 9 seconds. Participants pressed a button on a keypad to indicate that the joke/statement was funny or not funny. The three types of verbal stimuli were: funny jokes, unfunny statements, or garden path statements. Garden path statements are nonhumorous statements that contain an incongruity, a conclusion that does not make sense. Upon encountering the incongruity, the reader must reread the sentence to construct a new sensible reinterpretation. Accordingly, garden

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path statements involve the same incongruity-resolution processing associated with humor comprehension, but not the processing required for appreciating humor associated with the elaboration stage (p. 901). Chan et al. provided the following example of a funny joke and its conversion to an unfunny statement and to a garden path statement. Funny Joke: Setup: One day after work, a mother buys some donuts from a store close to her office. When she gets home, she says to her eldest son, “Peter, Mom brought some sweets home. You can take one donut to share with your little brother. Don’t eat it all yourself!” So, Peter takes the donut, thanks his mom, goes to his little brother and says, Punch line: “Hey, we have a donut to share! I’ll take the circle, and you can have the hole!” Unfunny Statement: The punch line was replaced with, “Hey, we have a donut to share! I’ll eat half and you can have the other half!” Garden Statement: The punch line was replaced with, “I don’t eat chocolate, donuts are more to my taste.” A comparison of brain images for participants in the unfunny statement and garden path statement conditions indicates the brain regions associated with the comprehension stage. This revealed that the left and right inferior frontal gyri (bilateral IFG) and the left superior frontal gyrus were associated with humor comprehension. By comparing the brain images for participants in the funny joke condition versus those in the garden path statement condition, Chan et al. identified the brain regions associated with the elaboration stage. They found that the ventromedial prefrontal gyrus (left vmPFC) in the cortical regions and bilateral amygdalae and bilateral parahippocampal gyri in the subcortical regions were uniquely associated with the processes involved in elaboration that result in the feeling of amusement. Chan et al. (2013) further distinguished between the comprehension processes of incongruity detection and reinterpretation/incongruity resolution. Fig. 3.2 illustrates the three stages of neural circuitry underlying comprehension and elaboration. Chan et al.’s (2012, 2013) findings support Wyer and Collins’ (1992) model that comprehension and elaboration represent two distinct sets of cognitive processes underlying the amusement with verbal jokes. Comprehension Difficulty Wyer and Collins (1992) describe studies that support their comprehension difficulty hypothesis. McGhee (1976), for instance, presented participants with jokes that required knowledge of Piaget’s principles of weight and mass conservation (e.g., “Johnny’s mother walked into a restaurant and ordered a whole cake to eat. When the waitress asked if she wanted it cut into four or eight pieces, she said: “Just cut it in four pieces; I’m trying to lose weight.”). McGhee recruited participants from four different age groups that reflected different degrees of conservation principle mastery: first graders (half of whom had knowledge of conservation), second graders (most of whom had knowledge of conservation), fifth graders (all of whom had mastered conservation principles) and adult graduate students. Consistent with the comprehension difficulty hypothesis, McGhee found that fifth graders, second graders, and first graders who had at least partial mastery of

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FIGURE 3.2 Three stages of the neural circuit underlying comprehension and elaboration: incongruity detection and incongruity resolution during comprehension, and inducement of the feeling of amusement during elaboration. MTG, middle temporal gyrus; MFG, medial frontal gyrus; IFG, inferior frontal gyrus; SFG, superior frontal gyrus; IPL, inferior parietal lobule; vmPFC, ventromedial prefrontal gyrus; PHG, parahippocampal gyrus; Amg, amygdala. Source: From “Towards a neural circuit model of verbal humor processing: An fMRI study of the neural substrates of incongruity detection and resolution,” by Chan et al., 2013, NeuroImage, 66, p. 169 176. Copyright 2013 by Elsevier. Reprinted with permission.

conservation rated the joke as most funny. Participants who had not yet developed an understanding of conservation and graduate students who had the greatest understanding of conservation did not find the joke to be funny. As discussed earlier, Collins and Wyer (1990) presented participants with stories that could be interpreted in two different ways, one less obvious than the other (e.g., one story appeared to be the comments of a man making love to a woman, but could also be interpreted less obviously as comments about washing a dog). Collins and Wyer manipulated the salience of the less obvious interpretation by including or not including a subtle statement near the end of the story that implied the less obvious “dog washing” theme, and by presenting a title of the story that conveyed either the dominant theme (“Mary’s Bath”) or the less obvious theme (“Spot’s Bath”). Consistent with the comprehension difficulty hypothesis, participants rated the story funnier when it included the suggestive statement, but not title (moderate comprehension difficulty), than when it did not include the statement or title (high comprehension difficulty), or when it included both the suggestive statement and title (low comprehension difficulty). Other research, however, has failed to support Wyer and Collins’ comprehension difficulty hypothesis. Peter Derks and his colleagues, for instance, found a strong negative linear (rather than the predicted curvilinear inverted-U) relationship between participants’ ratings of comprehension difficulty and funniness of a series of jokes. The easier a joke was to understand, the funnier it was rated to be (Derks, Staley, & Haselton, 1998). Similarly, two more recent studies reported by William Cunningham and Peter Derks (2005) showed that the more quickly participants could identify paragraphs as being jokes, the funnier they found them to be. Cunningham and Derks suggested that humor comprehension should be viewed as an automatic, expert skill that involves implicit and sophisticated knowledge of language and multiple meanings. Consequently, the more automatically accessible a humorous message is (due to its personal relevance and the expertise of the listener), the more amusing and enjoyable it will be.

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Evaluation Wyer and Collins (1992) derived their comprehension-elaboration theory of humor from theories and empirical research on the general processes involved in social information processing. Thus, they more fully describe the cognitive processes underlying the experience of humor compared to earlier cognitive theories of humor. Also, like Apter’s (1982) reversal theory, Wyer and Collins’ (1992) comprehension-elaboration theory explains humor elicited from many different types of stimuli and events beyond verbal jokes. Unlike prior cognitive theories, Wyer and Collins describe a cognitive process they call elaboration to fully account for humor. Elaboration allows the theory to derive unique hypotheses about the relationship between joke repetition and amusement. Further, it provides a unique explanation for why some jokes are funnier than others and why a given joke might elicit greater amusement in one context than in another. The comprehension-elaboration theory also derives a unique hypothesis that comprehension difficulty has a curvilinear relationship with amusement. Empirical research, however, has not unequivocally supported this hypothesis; thus more research is needed to more fully delineate how comprehension difficulty relates to amusement. Overall, comprehension-elaboration theory offers a promising comprehensive theory of humor.

BENIGN VIOLATION THEORY Like Apter (1982) and Wyer and Collins (1992), A. Peter McGraw and Caleb Warren (2010; McGraw, Warren, Williams, & Leonard, 2012; Warren & McGraw, 2015) refined and expanded upon incongruity theories. Their benign violation theory provides a new way of thinking about incongruity as a “violation,” rather than as a juxtaposition of two contradictory meanings or “frames of reference” for an event (e.g., Koestler, 1964) or as a surprising (unexpected) inconsistency between concepts or events (e.g., Deckers & Kizer, 1975; De Mey, 2005; Shultz, 1972; Suls, 1972). Warren and McGraw (2015) propose that their theory, based on the perception of a violation that is also considered benign or harmless, makes important advancements over theories based on incongruity defined as surprise or juxtaposition. First, unlike incongruity theories, benign violation theory explains amusement derived from disparate humor phenomena other than jokes containing resolvable incongruity. Thus, it provides a more general account of humor. Second, because the concept of violation is narrower than previous definitions of incongruity, benign violation theory better differentiates between things that are funny from things that are not. Indeed, Warren and McGraw (2015) contend that incongruity theories overestimate the occurrence of humor because incongruity (as surprise, juxtaposition) characterizes many nonhumorous experiences.

The Benign Violation Hypothesis Benign violation theory proposes that humor begins with the perception of a violation. Following Veatch (1998), Warren and McGraw (2015) define a violation as “any stimulus

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that seems threatening, wrong or negative” (p. 3). McGraw and Warren (2010) suggested that a violation could be something that threatens one’s personal safety (e.g., a fight) or one’s personal dignity (e.g., humiliating comments, degrading images). Moreover, a violation could be something that threatens one’s view of what is right per social norms (e.g., public flatulence), moral norms (e.g., indecent behaviors, mistreatment of others), or linguistic norms (e.g., strange accents, malapropisms). Essentially, a violation is anything that threatens in some way a person’s view of how things should be (Warren & McGraw, 2015). Although all violations threaten a person’s view of how things should be, they can differ in severity with many representing only a mild threat. For instance, malapropisms, puns, and sarcastic remarks violate conversational norms in ways that have little consequence. Nevertheless, the definition of a violation as a threat distinguishes it from the concept of incongruity defined as something that is unexpected. An unexpected call from an old friend, for instance, would be a pleasant surprise, but not a violation. The perception of a violation, in and of itself, does not elicit humor; indeed, as Warren and McGraw point out, many violations produce negative emotions such as fear, disgust, and confusion. The central proposition of benign violation theory is that to experience humor, one must (1) interpret a stimulus or event as a violation, (2) interpret the event as benign or harmless, and (3) hold these two interpretations simultaneously. Thus, a person must perceive something as a threat while also perceiving it as harmless at the same time (see Fig. 3.3). McGraw et al. (2012) pointed out that previous humor theories have proposed that humor is predicated on the interpretation of something negative such as forbidden libidinal impulses (Freud, 1905), disparagement (Gruner, 1997), or diminishment (Wyer & Collins, 1992). Also, the hypothesis that humor requires a benign interpretation is consistent with previous accounts that humor requires a playful (paratelic) humor mindset. Finally, both Apter’s (1982) reversal theory and Koestler’s (1964) bisociation theory propose that humor requires one to simultaneously hold two contradictory interpretations of an event. While other theories consider each of these necessary humor conditions in isolation, benign violation theory proposes they are collectively necessary and sufficient humor conditions.

Unimportant

Bad

Harmless Acceptable Correct

Illogical

Physical Threat

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Humor

FIGURE 3.3 Depiction of the different ways that something can be a violation and the different reasons that it can be benign. Source: Adapted from “Benign violations: Making immoral behavior funny,” by C. Warren and A. McGraw, 2015, Mays Business School Research Paper, p. 11.

Violation

Sensible Good

Normal

Incorrect Wrong

Inconsequential Identity Threat

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Humor: Perceiving Violations as Benign McGraw and Warren (2010) and Warren and McGraw (2015) describe several ways that a person might perceive a violation as benign, and thus humorous. For instance, physical threats in the form of play fighting or a personal dignity threat in the form of teasing among friends (e.g., the dozens) might also seem inconsequential or “not real.” A person might perceive a social and moral norm violation as benign (1) if circumstance, other norms, or collective values simultaneously justify it as acceptable; (2) if they do not care much about the violated norm; or (3) if they perceive the violation as psychologically distant from the self (i.e., bearing little or no relevant consequences for the self). For instance, a person wearing shabby clothes and bare feet to church would violate a norm of proper etiquette; however, it could be justified and treated as acceptable by the norm that “all people are welcome at our church.” McGraw and Warren (2010) provide the following more colorful example of a benign moral violation that could be justified in multiple ways, and thus considered benign: A man goes to the supermarket once a week and buys a dead chicken. But before cooking the chicken, he has sexual intercourse with it. Then he cooks the chicken and eats it.

McGraw and Warren argue that masturbating with the carcass of a chicken violates widely held moral norms about sexual conduct. As a result, a person reading this scenario may feel disgusted by the man’s act with the dead chicken. However, the reader might also perceive the behavior as harmless and thus acceptable according to a second moral norm based on harm (Haidt et al., 1993); the chicken was already dead after all. Further, the reader might not care much about the violated sexual conduct norms, and finally, the reader might perceive the whole scenario as hypothetical and thus psychologically distant. For any of these reasons, the reader might perceive the man’s sex act with the dead chicken as a moral violation that is also benign and thus amusing (albeit in a sick sort of way). According to benign violation theory, the simultaneous interpretation of something as a violation and as benign constitutes the conditions that are both necessary and sufficient to produce humor. Thus, all humor events from jokes, cartoons, and puns to slapstick performance humor to spontaneous conversational humor can be reduced to the same cognitiveperceptual experience, a benign violation. Thus, benign violation theory differentiates between things that are funny versus not funny by their location in the Venn diagram depicted in Fig. 3.3. Humor requires a violation to be in a “sweet spot” where it is perceived as both threatening and benign at the same time. Violations that are too threatening cannot also be perceived as benign, and violations that are not threatening enough might not be seen as a violation at all. McGraw and Warner (2014) described two different strategies that comedians use to hit that sweet spot of benign violation in their routines. The “Seinfeld Strategy” involves making mundane situations seem like violations. Jerry Seinfeld is known for pointing out mundane (benign) norm violations in everyday interactions (e.g. a “low talker”) and exaggerating their potential “dire” consequences (e.g., Jerry unknowingly agreeing to wear a “puffy” shirt on the Tonight Show) thus turning them into benign violations. The “Sarah Silverman Strategy” does the opposite. Sarah Silverman jokes about serious, grave

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topics like abortion and AIDS (violations) by talking about them in a way that minimizes their gravity, making them benign violations. McGraw quipped that she “gets away with jokes on abortion and AIDS because the way she tells them is so darn cute” (p. 12). From the framework of benign violation theory, the reason Joke 1 from Text Box 2.1 is funnier than Joke 2 is because people more clearly perceived the violation in Joke 1 as simultaneously threatening and benign. In Joke 1 both the bus driver and the man in the back of the bus disrespected and shamed the woman’s baby, thus blatantly violating a widely held norm of decent respectful behavior. However, because the joke was hypothetical, this serious violation was simultaneously rendered benign or not real. In contrast, Joke 2 presumably is based on a violation of the normative pattern of “Why did the chicken cross the road?” jokes, a norm that most people care very little about. Thus, this violation was so benign it did not reach a threshold of also feeling threatening so it missed the sweet spot of a funny benign violation.

Empirical Investigations McGraw and Warren (2010) tested the central hypothesis that people perceive violations as funny only when they also perceive them as benign. Specifically, they investigated whether a violation of a moral norm could seem benign if (1) a second norm justifies it as acceptable, and (2) the person is not committed to (does not care much about) the violated norm. McGraw et al. (2012) examined the role of psychological distance in shaping how one perceives a violation. Finally, Warren and McGraw (2015) tested whether the benign violation hypothesis better differentiates things that are funny from things that are not compared to conceptualizations of incongruity based on surprise and juxtaposition. Perceiving a Benign Violation: Wrong and Not Wrong at the Same Time McGraw and Warren (2010) demonstrated in three different experiments that people express greater amusement at moral violations that can be seen as benign, as compared to behaviors that do not violate a moral norm. In one study for instance, participants read two versions of a given scenario. One version described a person’s behavior that violated a widely held moral norm, but could also be seen as benign because it could be justified by an alternative norm. Thus, one could interpret the behavior simultaneously as wrong and not wrong. The other version described a behavior that did not violate a moral norm. One scenario entitled, “Snorting Remains” contained the following two versions: Violation version: No violation version:

Before he passed away, Keith’s father told his son to cremate his body. Then he told Keith to do whatever he wished with the remains. Keith decided to snort his dead father’s ashes. Before he passed away, Keith’s father told his son to cremate his body. Then he told Keith to do whatever he wished with the remains. Keith decided to bury his dead father’s ashes.

In the violation condition Keith violates a moral norm of respect and reverence for his dead father. However, in snorting his father’s ashes, Keith technically honored his father’s wishes to “do whatever he wished with the remains.” In the no violation version, Keith does not violate a moral norm; he simply buries his father’s ashes.

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After reading each version, participants responded either “yes” or “no” to two questions: “Is the behavior described in this scenario wrong (i.e., immoral)?” and “Did this scenario make you laugh?” As expected, participants were more likely to judge the behavior as wrong in the violation version than in the no violation version (82% vs 6%). Also, supporting the hypothesis that moral violations can be funny, participants were more likely to say that the behavior in the violation version made them laugh (38%) compared to the behavior in the no violation version (5%). In a follow-up study, participants read the violation version and responded “yes” or “no” to two questions: “Can you interpret the behavior in this scenario as wrong (i.e., immoral)?” and “Can you interpret the behavior in this scenario as not wrong (i.e., okay)?” Supporting the benign violation hypothesis, they found that participants who viewed Keith’s behavior as a benign violation (i.e., as both wrong and not wrong), were also more likely to express amusement (44%) than participants who viewed the behavior as strictly wrong or not wrong (13%). Perceiving a Benign Violation: Commitment to the Violated Norm McGraw and Warren proposed that people perceive a moral violation as benign to the extent that they care little about the violated norm; they can recognize the violation, but feel minimally threatened by it. Accordingly, McGraw and Warren hypothesized that people less committed to a violated norm find it more benign and thus more amusing. They presented church-going and nonchurch-going participants with a fake news story about a church raffling off a Hummer SUV as a promotional gimmick (Graham, 2005). McGraw and Warren reasoned that the promotional gimmick violates the sanctity of the church, and that nonchurchgoers would care less about church sanctity and thus find the story more amusing than churchgoers. The results showed that nonchurchgoers were, indeed, more likely to express amusement (92%) than churchgoers (62%). Perceiving a Benign Violation: Psychological Distance From the Violation McGraw et al. (2012) proposed that the psychological distance one is from a violation affects how threatening one perceives it; too little and the violation could seem too threatening and not benign, too much and one might not perceive a violation at all (see Fig. 3.3). McGraw et al. defined psychological distance as the following: Psychological distance is the subjective set of experiences associated with being close or far away from something (Ross & Wilson, 2002; Van Boven, Kane, McGraw, & Dale, 2010). There are four commonly accepted forms of distance (Liberman & Trope, 2008): (a) spatial (e.g., a mile is more distant than a foot), (b) social (e.g., a stranger is more distant than a friend), (c) temporal (e.g., a year is more distant than a day), and (d) hypothetical (e.g., an imagined event is more distant than a real event).

Because humor requires a violation to be in that sweet spot where it is perceived as both threatening and benign at the same time, McGraw et al. hypothesized that psychological distance should increase the funniness of highly threatening events (e.g., tragedies) by making them seem more benign. Conversely, psychological distance should decrease the funniness of a mild mishap, as it would reduce an already low level of perceived threat.

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Judged more humorous (%)

100 80 60 Yesterday 5 years ago

40 20 0 Hit by car

Stub toe

Event FIGURE 3.4 Percentage of participants finding a severe versus mild violation humorous as a function of temporal distance. Source: Adapted from “Too close for comfort, or too far to care? Finding humor in distant tragedies and close mishaps,” by A. P. McGraw et al., 2012, Psychological Science, 23, p. 1215.

McGraw et al. found support for their hypothesis across five studies that examined the effects of each of the four types of psychological distance described above. In one study, McGraw et al. manipulated participants’ temporal distance from a severe violation (i.e., a car accident) and a mild violation (stubbing your toe). Specifically, participants imagined: “Being hit by a car 5 years ago” versus “Being hit by a car yesterday,” and “Stubbing your toe 5 years ago” versus “Stubbing your toe yesterday.” For each pair of events, participated indicated which they would “more likely find humorous.” McGraw et al. found that 99% of participants indicated that being hit by a car would be funnier if it occurred 5 years ago than if it happened yesterday. The opposite pattern emerged for the mild mishap. Most participants (82%) indicated that stubbing a toe would be funnier if it occurred yesterday than if it happened 5 years ago (see Fig. 3.4). In another study, McGraw et al. manipulated participants’ social distance from a severe or mild violation. In the severe violation condition, participants imagined reading the following social media post: Cara: I’ve texted to Haiti 90999 over 200 times. . . over $2000 donated to Haiti relief efforts. Join me! Noah: Your parents might not like your cell phone bill this month. Cara: Wait a second. This doesn’t get added to your cell phone bill, does it? I thought it was just a free thing. . . In the mild violation condition, the post stated: Cara: I’ve texted to Haiti 90999 five times. . . $50 donated to Haiti relief efforts. Join me! Noah: Your parents might not like your cell phone bill this month. Cara: Wait a second. This doesn’t get added to your cell phone bill, does it? I thought it was just a free thing. . .

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Participants read the severe or mild violation twice, once imagining that Cara was a close friend (Socially Close condition) and once imagining that Cara was “someone you don’t know” (Socially Distant condition). They rated the funniness of the two violations using a six-point scale with higher numbers indicating greater funniness. Social distance increased the funniness of the severe violation: participants rated it as funnier if it happened to a stranger versus a friend. However, social distance decreased the funniness of a mild violation: participants rated the mild violation as funnier if it happened to a friend than if it happened to a stranger. Collectively, the findings from McGraw et al.’s (2012) studies demonstrate that psychological distance, conceptualized in a variety of ways, differentially affects the funniness of tragedies and mishaps. McGraw et al. argue that their theory uniquely predicts that mishaps are funnier when psychologically close versus distant. Benign Violations Versus Incongruity As mentioned earlier, Warren and McGraw (2015) contend that their benign violation hypothesis better differentiates between things that are funny and things that are not, compared to theories that conceptualize incongruity as surprise or juxtaposition. Warren and McGraw set out to compare predictions derived from benign violation theory versus conceptualizations of incongruity based on surprise, juxtaposition, or atypical events that do not necessarily involve surprise (Morreall, 2009). In one experiment testing the importance of surprise versus the perception of a benign violation, participants believed they would complete a “language exercise” followed by a “social interaction study” with another study participant. An experimenter seated the participant at a table across from a same-sex confederate (i.e., an actor pretending to be another participant). In one set of experimental conditions, the confederate tossed some Skittles at the participant as he or she began working on the language exercise either without warning (maximizing surprise) or after a brief explanation, “I’m sorry for interrupting, but in a few seconds, I need to toss this candy at you.” The experimenter recorded how amused participants found the confederate’s behavior. If incongruity in the form of surprise is key to experiencing humor, then participants should have expressed greater amusement when the confederate tossed the Skittles without warning. On the other hand, if the perception of a benign violation is critical, then participants should have expressed greater amusement when they received advanced warning. Warren and McGraw reasoned that participants would perceive Skittles being thrown at them as a violation of normative cordial behavior, but also benign given the warning. Results supported the benign violation hypothesis: participants expressed greater amusement when the confederate warned them before tossing the Skittles. In total, Warren and McGraw reported the results of the six studies in which incongruity alone failed to emerge as the critical ingredient for humor. That is, participants experienced incongruity in the form of surprise, juxtaposition, or atypical events without experiencing humor. The simultaneous interpretation of an event as both a violation and as benign, however, differentiated between things that were funny from those that were not.

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Evaluation Benign violation theory provides a parsimonious account of all humor events as ultimately emerging from a single, common psychological experience: the perception of a benign violation. McGraw et al. (2012) and Warren and McGraw (2015) suggest that tickling is difficult for other humor theories to explain and, as a result, many do not even consider tickling a humor experience (e.g., Wyer & Collins, 1992). From the framework of benign violation theory, however, tickling elicits laughter for the same reason and through the same process as a joke does, by creating a benign violation: one simultaneously perceives a physical threat (violation) as playful (benign). A second strength of benign violation theory is that it accounts for the role that the larger social context plays in determining whether something is funny or not. The social context affects how an event is interpreted. For instance, tickling elicits laughter if the tickler is a good friend, sibling, or spouse (benign violation), but not if the tickler is a stranger in a public restroom (not benign). Also, Gray and Ford (2013) demonstrated that sexist and sexual jokes might elicit laughter when delivered by a comedian at a comedy club (benign violation), but not when delivered by men in the workplace (not benign). McGraw et al. (2012) point out that another strength of benign violation theory is that it links the antecedents of humor to the consequences of humor, which researchers typically consider separately and independently. Humor has mental health benefits of helping one cope with stressors and challenges of life. People who use humor regularly in daily life experience less depression and anxiety (e.g., Nezu, Nezu, & Blissett, 1988). Furthermore, humor reduces interpersonal conflict, functioning as a “social lubricant” that eases potentially tense social interactions (e.g., Martineau, 1972). These positive personal and interpersonal consequences are consistent with the idea that humor represents the transformation of violations or threatening experiences into less threatening, benign experiences. Like other cognitive theories, McGraw and Warren contend that humor emerges from an individual’s subjective perceptions or interpretations of an event, rather than from objective properties of the event itself. By defining the terms “benign” and “violation” in terms of an individual’s subjective experience, it becomes impossible to identify a benign violation a priori, i.e., apart from one’s perception of an event. Thus, you could not predict whether an event would be perceived as funny or not by examining only the properties of the event itself. You must know how a given person would perceive the event. For instance, would people find an incidence of audible flatulence in church funny? Is it a benign violation? Well, that depends on each individual’s perceptions. A middle-age woman might be horrified by the transgression, considering it abominable or perhaps even blasphemous, but not benign and certainly not funny. In contrast, all the teenage boys within earshot who care little about social (church) etiquette would likely find the incident hilarious (benign violation). This makes the theory vulnerable to the circular reasoning of posthoc (after-the-fact) explanations: if a person found something funny, they must have perceived a benign violation; if they didn’t, they must not have perceived a benign violation. The violation was obviously too threatening or not threatening enough. Such reasoning precludes a priori testing of a theory and renders it unfalsifiable. Benign violation theory, however, avoids this pitfall (theoretical suicide) by defining benign violation separately from one’s

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perception of humor. A benign violation requires the simultaneous perception that something is wrong and not wrong, unacceptable and acceptable. Further, McGraw and Warren (2010) empirically demonstrated that people find events humorous to the extent they see them as simultaneously wrong and not wrong. Thus, although a middle-age woman and teenage boys might perceive a fart in church differently (as horrifying vs hilarious), they each experience humor through the same psychological processes. Although McGraw and Warren define benign violation apart from the experience of humor, Hurley, Dennett, and Adams (2011) contend that what constitutes a benign violation is still not clearly defined, and questions whether a benign violation always results in humor (that a benign violation is necessary and sufficient to produce humor). Hurley et al. articulate their criticisms by asking, “what violation makes puns funny?” They point out some puns only violate semantic rules by “bending” the meaning of words. However, they question whether bending the meaning of words really constitutes a violation that could underlie humor. They suggest that even the word “bend” in the previous sentence would constitute a semantic violation by implying that words are like physical pliable objects, and that if such a violation is sufficient to create humor, then everyday language would be constantly amusing as similar instances occur very frequently. Hurley et al. further press their point using the following pun: “Two goldfish are in their tank. One says to the other, ’you man the guns, I’ll drive’.” The humor depends simply upon bending the meaning of the word “tank.” Hurley et al. note that if the idea of a goldfish driving a military tank constitutes a (benign) violation, then benign violation theory would predict that any outlandish fictional story would be humorous (e.g., “Johnny, the land crab, crawled up the drainpipe to meet his girlfriend for dinner.”). Not all outlandish fictional stories, however, are funny (Box 3.1).

BOX 3.1

A C O N V E R S AT I O N W I T H B O B M A N K O F F Bob Mankoff has been doing cartoons for various publications, including The New Yorker, which has published over 950 of them. Bob was The Cartoon Editor of The New Yorker for 20 years, where he created The New Yorker Caption Contest, and founded The Cartoon Bank. Since May of 2017, he has been the cartoon and humor editor of Esquire, as well as the unofficial chairman of The Federal Reserve.

Authors: You have made a career in humor as a cartoonist and cartoon editor. And you are also a humor scholar. How has your experience as a professional cartoonist affected how you approach humor scholarship?

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BOX 3.1

(cont’d)

Bob Mankoff: When looking at scholarship I first try to evaluate it as nearly as I can from my background in experimental psychology. So first I think about it as any academic in that field would in terms of sample size, control groups, statistical significance, and so on. And then I compare the results to my own life experience as someone who has created, evaluated, and edited many thousands of cartoons. I don’t necessarily discount experimental evidence if it doesn’t jibe with my experience but I would want to see if it was replicated. Authors: In what ways would you say theory and research on humor has influenced or informed how you have approached the work of creating and editing cartoons? Bob Mankoff: In the creation of cartoons I don’t find any theory or research helpful, at least not in a conscious way. I would never be able to start a cartoon by saying “Yeah let’s bissociate to different domains but connect them in some way that maintains an appropriate incongruity while having a script switch dependent on an ambiguous part of the text that results in some degree of diminishment that causes the observer to simultaneously feel that what was said was in some way ok but in another way, wrong or not how we want the world to be.” Geez, it was hard enough for me just to start that sentence let alone finish it. And, this is pretty much true for editing as well. All these theories are so general and the process of creation and editing becomes so specific. It’s not that the theories are wrong but just that for the task at hand, with cartoon pen in hand as it were, they are too blunt an instrument to be useful—a hammer when you need a scalpel. Authors: As a professional cartoonist and humor scholar, you have a unique perspective for answering the question addressed in this chapter, “what makes something funny?” In your view, is there something scholars are apt to miss or fail to see in developing theory and research on humor that might be more evident to those who are “in the business of producing humor?” Bob Mankoff: Well, I would point out that the mental process in creating a joke is very different than that of recognizing one. The understanding or the getting of a joke occurs in a very small mental space determined by the set up to the punch line. To use magic as an analogy, a rabbit can come out of a hat but not a Chevrolet. And getting a joke because the trap of misdirection can’t lead anywhere, is pretty easy, but creating the joke, deciding which trap to set, well that’s what I spent a lot of my life getting paid for. Authors: Some people argue that, because humor is such a complex phenomenon, it is impossible to devise a single, comprehensive theory about what makes something funny. What is your view about that? Bob Mankoff: I think funny begins with laughter but, unfortunately for theory doesn’t end there. You could have a pretty good theory of laughter showing how all of it was in some sense “relief laughter” and that one of laughter’s functions was the phenomenological reduction of tension either emotional, cognitive, or both. But labeling something funny or something an instance of humor is much more part of a cultural narrative that makes use of terms such as, funny, whimsy, wacky, wry, and of course, the ever popular zany. Once we have these terms we can apply them to pretty much anything. So I ask you, humor scholar, which word is funnier, “chair” or “poultice.” Pretty sure, scholar or not, you said

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(cont’d)

“poultice.” This, by the way is not the answer to the question but I do think it points us to questions we should be asking about how experiments in humor research are dependent on framing contexts. Authors: What do you see as the most fruitful directions for future research in addressing the question of what makes something funny? Bob Mankoff: I’m personally interested because I am personally involved with a project called Botnik to see if humans can collaborate with computers to create forms of humor that neither would be able to create separately. Authors: Do you have a favorite cartoon? Bob Mankoff: Yes:

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION Each of the contemporary theories of humor expanded upon the classic formulations to offer more complete explanations of the multifaceted experience of humor. Each of the theories in this chapter emphasizes that humor emerges from fundamental cognitive processes involved in the perception or interpretation of an event. However, each one integrates both cognitive and motivational processes into a unified, coherent explanation of humor. Furthermore, the contemporary theories more clearly and fully delineate the underlying (cognitive and motivational) processes that ultimately answer the question, “what makes something funny?” Thus, contemporary theories more clearly specify the conditions that are necessary and sufficient for the occurrence of mirth and laughter. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

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Overall, each of the contemporary theories offers improvements in theoretical clarity and scope of applicability than their classic predecessors. However, each has limitations and requires more research to fully test central hypotheses and uncover the boundaries of its explanatory value.

KEY CONCEPTS • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Middle-range theories Reversal theory Comprehension-elaboration theory Benign violation theory Motivational state Heightened arousal Cognitive synergy Cognitive diminishment Telic state Paratelic state Comprehension Elaboration Schema Prototypes Incongruity Humor-relevant elaborations Humor-irrelevant elaborations Elaboration potential Violation Cognitive-evolutionary theory

CRITICAL THINKING 1. Compare the three theories (Reversal, Comprehension-Elaboration, Benign Violation) discussed within this chapter. Discuss the strengths of each, as well as any limitations that you perceive. Which of the three theories, if any, do you feel provides the most comprehensive explanation for the question, “What makes something funny?” Explain your reasoning. 2. Compare the theories discussed in this chapter with those discussed in Chapter 2, Classic Theories of Humor. What aspects of the new theories, if any, are similar or derived from the classic theories? What aspects of the classic theories should be included in the modern theories? Which aspects of the modern theories should be relegated to the classics?

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How would you describe one of your friends to another person? In addition to physical characteristics such as height and hair color, you would likely mention various dispositional qualities or patterns of behavior that make your friend unique. For instance, you might describe your friend as friendly, out-going, competitive, and generous. Chances are you would also mention his or her sense of humor, saying something like “she often makes me laugh,” or “he always sees the funny side of things.” Thus, sense of humor may be viewed as a personality trait (or, more accurately, a set of loosely related traits), referring to consistent tendencies (1) to perceive and appreciate humor, (2) to use or engage in humor in daily life, and (3) the ability to produce humor. The centrality of humor in daily life and the fact that people vary widely in each of these humor-related characteristics makes sense of humor an important variable for shaping interpersonal relations, as well as cognitive processes and emotional wellbeing. It also means that the scientific study of sense of humor is all the more important and interesting. Personality is “an individual’s habitual way of thinking, feeling, perceiving, and reacting to the world” (Magnavita, 2002, p. 16). Some common definitions include: “The characteristics or blend of characteristics that make a person unique” (Weinberg & Gould, 1999) and “a pattern of relatively permanent traits and unique characteristics that give both consistency and individuality to a person’s behavior” (Feist & Feist, 2009). Personality traits, then, are hypothetical constructs that describe the ways people differ from one another and that enable us to make predictions about how they will behave in various situations. Although people’s behavior is partly influenced by situational factors (you are more likely to tell jokes at a party than at a funeral, for instance), individuals also display some degree of consistency across situations (some people are more likely than others to tell jokes in any particular situation). Personality psychologists seek to develop reliable and valid measures of personality traits, to explore the relationships among different traits, and to identify the various traits that account for behavioral, cognitive, and affective differences among people. Among the many traits that they have investigated, sense of humor has long been a topic of interest to personality psychologists. Several of the most influential early personality researchers and theorists, including such disparate thinkers as Hans Eysenck (1942), Cattell and Luborsky (1947), Gordon Allport (1961), and Sigmund Freud (1960 [1905]), investigated humor and found a place for it in their theoretical systems (for a review, see R. A. Martin, 1998). In the past few decades, the study of sense of humor as a personality trait has continued to be one of the most active areas of research in the psychology of humor. Researchers have developed many tests for measuring different aspects or components of this construct, and numerous studies have been conducted to investigate how these humor-related traits correlate with other personality dimensions and predict relevant behavior. In this chapter, we first explore the meaning of sense of humor, noting that this concept seems to comprise several different dimensions. We then address the common ways in which personality psychologists conceptualize and measure sense of humor as it relates to humor appreciation and the use of humor in daily life. We also discuss how sense of humor, when conceptualized in these ways, is related to other personality traits. In subsequent chapters, we consider how sense of humor relates to cognitive processes, interpersonal relations, and psychological wellbeing (mental health). Finally, in this chapter we consider recent research on concepts related to individual differences in people’s disposition toward ridicule.

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WHAT IS SENSE OF HUMOR? As we saw in Chapter 1, Introduction to the Psychology of Humor, the concept of sense of humor developed in the 19th century. In its original meaning, it had an aesthetic connotation, referring to a faculty or capacity for the perception or appreciation of humor, something like a sense of beauty in art or an ear for music. At that time, the concept “humor” also had a narrower meaning than it has today, referring to a sympathetic form of amusement that was linked to pathos, and was distinguished from wit, which was perceived as more aggressive and less socially desirable (Ruch, 1998a; Wickberg, 1998). Sense of humor, as a character trait relating to this positive form of amusement, therefore also took on a very socially desirable connotation, and came to be viewed as one of the most positive traits a person could have. As the American essayist Frank Moore Colby wittily observed, “Men will confess to treason, murder, arson, false teeth, or a wig. How many of them will own up to a lack of humor?” (quoted in Andrews, 1993, p. 431). Given that people view a sense of humor as a positive personality trait, it is perhaps not surprising that we associate a sense of humor with many positive (and even a few negative) attributes, beyond merely the tendency to create or enjoy humor. For instance, Arnie Cann and Lawrence Calhoun (2001) found that research participants rated a person who allegedly had a “well above average sense of humor” as more friendly, pleasant, cooperative, interesting, imaginative, creative, clever, admirable, intelligent, and perceptive, and less complaining, cold, mean, and passive compared to a person who allegedly had a “below average sense of humor.” At the same time, though, participants rated the person with the above average sense of humor as more impulsive, boastful, and restless, and less mature. Similarly, McCrae and John (1992) found that participants perceived people with a good sense of humor to be more emotionally stable, extraverted, open to experience, and agreeable, but less conscientious than their low-humor counterparts. Consequently, when we say that someone has a sense of humor, we may mean many different things that generally have a positive connotation. Indeed, Cann and Calhoun (2001) questioned whether this popular but nebulous concept has any consistent, specific referents at all, or whether it is simply a relatively nonspecific configuration of socially desirable characteristics. As Louise Omwake (1939, p. 95) stated nearly 80 years ago, sense of humor “is so all-inclusive and highly prized that to say of another: ‘He has a grand sense of humor’ is almost synonymous with: ‘He is intelligent, he’s a good sport, and I like him immensely.’” (Box 4.1). Modern humor theorists have broadened the concept “sense of humor” beyond its original 19th century meaning to include a much wider range of humor-related traits. As noted in earlier chapters, humor is a complex phenomenon. It is a type of mental play comprising social, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral-expressive components. It takes many forms and serves a wide variety of psychological functions. People can be producers of humor, amusing others and making them laugh, and they can also respond to the humor created by others. As a personality trait, the concept of sense of humor can relate to any of these different components, forms, and functions of humor. If sense of humor is to be a scientifically useful concept, it must be precisely defined in a way that allows for objective measurement. Accordingly, personality psychologist Hans

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BOX 4.1

S E N S E O F H U M O R A N D T H E FA L S E UNIQUENESS BIAS A striking commonality among people from all ages, backgrounds, and cultures is that they tend to see themselves as unique in positive ways: they exhibit a false uniqueness bias. The false uniqueness bias refers to the tendency for people to underestimate the number of other people who share their desirable attributes, talents, and behaviors (Chambers, 2008). Surveys have shown that people see themselves as happier, more honest, polite, generous, athletic, logical, attractive, socially skilled, and better drivers, managers, friends, lovers, and parents than the average person (see Chambers, 2008 for a review). The false uniqueness bias serves our basic motivation or desire

to maintain a positive view of ourselves: by underestimating the number of other people who have our positive qualities we can feel distinctively positive. People consider sense of humor to be a very positive trait, and they tend to see themselves as having a uniquely positive sense of humor. Gordon Allport (1961) found that 94 percent of research participants rated their sense of humor as either average or above average, whereas only 6 percent acknowledged having a belowaverage sense of humor (statistically, of course, 50 percent of the population are below average). Lefcourt and Martin (1986) replicated this finding 25 years later in a study of university students.

Average/above average Below average

The percentage of people from Allport’s (1961) study that rated their sense of humor as average/above average and below average.

Eysenck (1972) distinguished three different ways of defining sense of humor that are not necessarily correlated with each other. First, sense of humor could mean that a person laughs at the same things that we do (qualitative meaning). Second, it could mean that the person laughs a great deal and is easily amused (quantitative meaning). Third, it could

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mean that the person is the “life and soul of the party,” telling funny stories and amusing other people (productive meaning). Franz-Josef Hehl and Willibald Ruch (1985) expanded on Eysenck’s list, noting that individual differences in sense of humor may relate to variation in: (1) the ability to comprehend jokes and other humorous stimuli (i.e., to “get” the joke); (2) the way in which individuals express humor and mirth, both quantitatively and qualitatively; (3) their ability to create humorous comments or perceptions; (4) their appreciation of various types of jokes, cartoons, and other humorous materials; (5) the degree to which they actively seek out sources that make them laugh, such as comedy movies and television programs; (6) their memory for jokes or funny events in their own lives; and (7) their tendency to use humor as a coping mechanism. Elisha Babad (1974) also distinguished between humor production (the ability to create humor) and reproduction (the tendency to retell jokes that one has heard from others), and showed that they are not correlated. Yet another meaning commonly associated with sense of humor is the idea of not taking oneself too seriously and the ability to laugh at one’s own foibles and weaknesses. In sum, sense of humor does not seem to be a unitary trait. Instead, it is best conceived as a group of traits and abilities having to do with different components, forms, and functions of humor. Some of these tendencies might be closely related to each other, while others are likely to be quite distinct (R. A. Martin, 2003). For example, whereas people with a good ability to create humor likely also tend to enjoy making other people laugh, they do not necessarily also tend to use humor in coping with stress in their daily lives. Researchers who wish to investigate hypotheses concerning sense of humor need to be careful to identify which meaning of the construct is theoretically most relevant to their research questions, and select the measurement approach that is most appropriate.

INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN HUMOR APPRECIATION Does the type of humor that a person finds most amusing tell us something about his or her personality? This idea, which has been popular for centuries, is reflected in the observation of the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that “men show their character in nothing more clearly than by what they think laughable” (quoted by Ruch & Hehl, 1998, p. 109). Based on this idea, some clinicians have proposed that asking psychotherapy patients to tell their favorite jokes might be a useful type of projective test which could be analyzed to diagnose their problems and identify their unresolved needs and conflicts (e.g., Strother, Barnett, & Apostolakos, 1954; Zwerling, 1955). This view also provides the basis for many humor appreciation tests that personality psychologists have developed over the past 50 years to indirectly assess various personality traits (e.g., Cattell & Tollefson, 1966). Indeed, most of the research on individual differences in sense of humor prior to the 1980s was based on assessments of humor appreciation, and it continues to have some popularity today. In this approach, research participants rate humor materials such as jokes or cartoons on dimensions such as funniness and aversiveness. Researchers then cluster the responses to the humor material into various categories that they derive based on theory or factor analysis. They would define sense of humor, then, in terms of the degree to which a person enjoys specific types or categories of humor.

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Theory-Based Approach In many of the early humor appreciation tests, researchers categorized humor stimuli (primarily jokes and cartoons) based on their content. They derived content categories from specific humor theories, and asked participants to rate the funniness or aversiveness of those different humor categories to test the theory and to identify personality traits and other individual difference variables that predict appreciation of those different humor categories. Researchers used this method to test motivational theories of humor (i.e., psychoanalytic theory, superiority theories) because those theories proposed that people enjoy certain types of humor content to fulfill basic needs or motives. For instance, Jacob Levine and his colleagues (1951) developed the Mirth Response Test from Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. The Mirth Response Test categorized 36 cartoons according to sexual and aggressive themes. Levine and colleagues argued that people’s responses to the cartoons reveal their unconscious libidinal needs and unresolved conflicts relating to sex and aggression. Some research using the theory-derived content-based humor appreciation approach has supported Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. For instance, Grziwok and Scodel (1956) found that participants who preferred jokes with sexual and aggressive themes over other types of humor reported more aggressive stories on a thematic apperception test (TAT), lower scores on a measure of intellectual values, less psychological complexity, and higher scores on a measure of extraversion. In subsequent studies, G. D. Wilson and Patterson (1969) found that extraverts and liberals tend to like “libidinal” (e.g., sick and sexual) humor, whereas conservatives prefer “safe” humor (e.g., puns). Also, anxious people appear to enjoy humor material less than their nonanxious counterparts, although it is not clear whether this effect applies to all types of humor (Hammes & Wiggins, 1962), or only to aggressive (J. Doris & Fierman, 1956) or nonsense humor (Spiegel, Brodkin, & Keith-Spiegel, 1969). Finally, O’Neill, Greenberg, and Fisher (1992) found some significant correlations between participants’ funniness ratings of jokes containing anal themes (i.e., jokes about defecation and flatulence) and measures of “anal” personality traits such as obstinacy, negativism, hostility, cleanliness, and thrift (O’Neill et al., 1992). Researchers have also tested superiority theories using humor appreciation tests (see Chapter 2: Classic Theories of Humor). Overall, people tend to enjoy humor that disparages or makes fun of people towards whom they have some antipathy (La Fave et al., 1976; Wicker et al., 1980; Wolff et al., 1934; Zillmann & Cantor, 1972, 1976). In summary, many studies have been conducted over the years with humor appreciation tests containing theoretically derived, content-based categories of humorous stimuli. Most of this research was conducted prior to the 1980s, although some researchers have continued to employ this approach more recently to study subjects’ appreciation for particular types of humor, such as “sick” jokes (Herzog & Bush, 1994; Herzog & Karafa, 1998), sexist humor (Greenwood & Isbell, 2002; Ryan & Kanjorski, 1998), or “perspective-taking” humor (Lefcourt, Davidson, Shepherd, & Phillips, 1997). Although this theory-based approach has revealed some interesting findings, it has proven to be rather limited as a means of learning about the nature of sense of humor (Ruch, 1992). First, researchers typically did not empirically evaluate the reliability and validity of their humor classifications, nor did they test the assumption of homogeneity of participants’ responses to humorous stimuli within a given category. As Eysenck (1972)

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observed, individuals often do not agree about which parts of a joke or cartoon they find salient or why they consider it to be funny or not funny. The dimensions used by a researcher in categorizing humorous stimuli might therefore not be relevant to the way the participants themselves perceive and respond to the jokes. In this regard, an early study by Landis and Ross (1933) found no relation between participants’ and researchers’ classifications of jokes, even when participants were provided with the categories and their definitions. Second, because researchers using this approach selected specific humorous stimuli to fit specific theories, they could not determine whether their classification systems applied to all kinds of humor or merely to a subset. Finally, since many of the humor appreciation tests were used in only one or two studies by individual researchers, it is difficult to compare the results across different studies. Because of these weaknesses, this approach has not led to much accumulation of knowledge about the nature of sense of humor.

Early Factor Analysis Approach Factor analysis is a statistical technique used to discover whether items on a measure reflect common underlying dimensions or abstract variables that are largely independent of one another (Cattell, 1973; Child, 2006; Yong & Pearce, 2013). Thus, rather than categorizing types of humor based on one distinct theory, the factor analysis approach derives categories of humor from empirical analyses of amusement ratings of a wide range of humor stimuli (see Box 4.2). The general strategy is to have a large sample of people rate the funniness of a wide variety of jokes, cartoons, and other humorous stimuli. By factor analyzing participants’ responses, researchers can determine the implicit or underlying types of humor people appreciate or do not appreciate. Two prominent pioneers of personality psychology, Hans Eysenck and Raymond Cattell, conducted the first factor analytic studies of humor appreciation. Noting that most theories of humor were developed by philosophers and based on speculation, Eysenck (1942) attempted to develop a theory of sense of humor based on empirical findings from factor analyses. He administered verbal jokes, cartoons, and incongruous photographs to 16 participants (a very small sample by today’s standards), who ranked them in order of funniness. In a second study, Eysenck (1943) asked 100 adults representing a wide-ranging cross-section of British society to rate the funniness of a broad range of humor stimuli including jokes, cartoons, and limericks. Based on factor analyses, Eysenck proposed that individual differences in sense of humor could be conceptualized in terms of how much people enjoy humor stimuli that contained three sources of amusement: cognitive (relating to the simplicity or complexity of the humor), conative (having to do with motivation or impulse expression), and affective. Eysenck further combined the conative and affective components to form what he called an “orectic” quality of humor, referring to amusement derived from the “joyful consciousness of superior adaptation.” Similarly, Cattell and Luborsky (1947) collected a set of 100 jokes that represented a broad range of humor and were relatively free of cultural bias. A sample of 100 undergraduate students rated the funniness of each joke on two different occasions. Factor analyses revealed 13 clusters of jokes. In a subsequent study Luborsky and Cattell (1947)

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examined the correlations between people’s amusement ratings of the 13 joke clusters and their scores on 10 personality dimensions measured by the Guilford Martin temperament inventory. They found that six of these personality dimensions correlated with funniness ratings of various joke clusters. One cluster of jokes, for instance, correlated with extraversion. Luborsky and Cattell thus proposed that one’s degree of amusement with those jokes could provide an objective measure of extraversion. Extrapolating on these findings, Cattell and Tollefson (1966) developed the IPAT Humor Test of Personality, which assesses amusement with each cluster of humor as a method of indirectly measuring more general personality traits. Despite the effort that went into developing the IPAT humor test, researchers did not widely use it because it had several weaknesses. For instance, the reliabilities of the scales were quite low, and the stability of the factor structure was questionable. Indeed, other researchers factor analyzed the same set of jokes and found an entirely different factor structure (Yarnold & Berkeley, 1954) (Box 4.2).

BOX 4.2

F A C T O R A N A LY S I S Factor analysis is a statistical technique used to discover whether items or questions on a test or survey reflect broader underlying dimensions or abstract variables called factors, which are ideally independent of one another (Cattell, 1973; Child, 2006; Yong & Pearce, 2013). Factor analysis attempts to summarize how people responded to a number of items on an instrument in terms of a minimal number of underlying constructs or “factors.” In conducting a factor analysis, the researcher’s goal is to provide the simplest, most parsimonious explanation possible for differences among people in some phenomenon (e.g., humor appreciation). So, if I can explain differences among people in the things they laugh at using five factors or underlying categories of humor and you can explain their laughter just as well using only three categories of humor, then you would have a simpler (better) explanation than I would. Factor analysis is essentially a two-step process. The first is extraction. A factor analysis puts items from an instrument together

in groups or “clusters” based on similarity, the degree to which items are correlated with one another. These clusters of items form the underlying factors. Within each factor, the degree to which each item reflects the factor is called a factor loading. Some items will load more strongly, and thus represent the underlying factor, better than others. A good item should load on only one factor. If it loads on two or more factors there would be some question about what it actually measures. The second step is rotation: the correlation between the factors is determined and adjusted as necessary so that the resulting model best fits the data. The result should be a model that both accurately and parsimoniously represents the data. There are several different kinds of extraction and rotation procedures, and each is used in a specific case or with specific kinds of data. There are two general approaches to conducting a factor analysis. In a confirmatory approach, the researcher states up front something like “I have reason to believe

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BOX 4.2 that these 25 items measure three underlying constructs.” The researcher then checks to see how well the prediction matches the data. In an exploratory approach, the researcher compares multiple models specifying different underlying factors to see which one fits the data best. For example, the researcher could use the same data to

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(cont’d) generate models that specify two, three, four, or five underlying factors, then choose from those models the one that explains the data in the simplest and most effective way. Courtesy of W. David Scales, Quantitative Psychologist, Western Carolina University

Ruch’s Factor Analysis Approach: The 3 WD Humor Test The early factor analytic studies of humor appreciation were limited by small sample sizes and many methodological weaknesses. In the early 1980s, Willibald Ruch, an Austrian psychologist who is now at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, set out to investigate the factor structure of humor appreciation in a more thorough and systematic way (see Ruch, 1992; Ruch & Hehl, 2007 for reviews). To ensure a comprehensive representation of humor types, he obtained a set of over 600 jokes and cartoons from a wide range of sources such as popular magazines and joke books. Ruch and his colleagues then conducted a series of studies with large samples of people representing a broad range of ages, social classes, occupations, and health status (Hehl & Ruch, 1985; McGhee, Ruch, & Hehl, 1990; Ruch, 1981, 1984, 1988; Ruch, McGhee, & Hehl, 1990). Researchers translated the materials into several languages and administered them to samples in Austria, Germany, England, Turkey, France, Italy, and the United States (Forabosco & Ruch, 1994; Ruch & Forabosco, 1996; Ruch & Hehl, 1998; Ruch, Ott, Accoce, & Bariaud, 1991). Previous factor analysis studies considered only positive affective responses to humor material (i.e., amusement ratings). Ruch (1992), however, asked participants to respond to humor material on specific positive and negative dimensions. He found that responses converged onto two general evaluative factors: (1) a funniness or enjoyment factor, and (2) an aversiveness factor, conceptualized as the degree to which one considers a joke or cartoon inappropriate, offensive, annoying, etc. The funniness and aversiveness factors are only weakly negatively correlated, indicating that people who find a joke to be very funny do not necessarily rate it as low on aversiveness. For example, someone might view a sexist or racist joke as very funny, but also very aversive. Thus, funniness or enjoyment ratings alone do not adequately assess people’s responses to humor; it is also important to evaluate their negative reactions. Factor analyses on the funniness and aversiveness ratings across these studies revealed that three stable and robust factors emerged across different humorous stimuli and in all populations studied, indicating that people reported consistent enjoyment and dislike of three categories of humor material. Interestingly, the first two factors relate to the structure of humor material rather than the underlying content. The first factor, labeled incongruity-

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resolution humor (INC-RES), is made up of jokes and cartoons in which the punch line introduces incongruity that can be resolved by reconsidering information in the set-up. In these jokes and cartoons, people have the sense of “getting the joke” upon resolving the incongruity. This type of humor is consistent with the two-stage incongruity-resolution models of humor discussed in Chapter 2, Classic Theories of Humor (e.g., Suls, 1972). The second factor, labeled nonsense humor (NON), consists of jokes and cartoons for which the punch line creates an unexpected incongruity. However, “the punch line may (1) provide no resolution at all; (2) provide a partial resolution (leaving an essential part of the incongruity unresolved), (3) or actually create new incongruities” (McGhee et al., 1990, p. 124). This type of humor might be described as bizarre, fanciful, off-the-wall, or zany. In this humor, there is not a sense of “getting” the joke, but rather a sense of enjoying a fanciful incongruity for its own sake. Many of Gary Larsen’s Far Side cartoons, as well as the zany humor of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, fit into this category (Ruch, 1992, 1999). The third factor, labeled sexual humor (SEX) describes jokes and cartoons that have obvious sexual content. It is noteworthy that other factor analysis studies have also revealed a separate factor for humor material based on sexual content (e.g., Eysenck, 1942; Herzog & Larwin, 1988). It is also noteworthy that most instances of sexual humor in Ruch’s studies also loaded on one of the first two factors. An example of a SEX joke with a secondary INC-RES loading is the following: “So how was Scotland?” the father asked his daughter, who had just returned from a vacation. “Is it true they all have bagpipes?” “Oh, that’s just one of those silly stereotypes,” replied the daughter. “All the ones I met had quite a normal one.”

The incongruity of the daughter’s reply is resolved when we recognize that she misunderstood her father’s question about bagpipes to be referring to the appearance of Scottish men’s genitals. In contrast, a cartoon that loaded on the SEX factor with a secondary NON-loading shows a hen lying on her back with her legs in the air, saying to a rooster who is facing her, “Just once. . . for a change.” A hen desiring sex in the “missionary position” is incongruous, and this incongruity cannot be resolved by finding some additional information that enables one to “get the joke.” Although many past researchers have classified humor stimuli into various content categories derived from specific humor theories (e.g., aggressive, hostile, sexist, scatological, anal, or sick), Ruch’s investigations did not reveal any such content factors, even though he included examples of all these kinds of humor among his stimuli. Instead, humor containing these sorts of themes always loaded on one of the two structural factors. Thus, apart from sexual themes, people do not appear to respond in any consistent way to jokes or cartoons based on the topic of the humor. Instead, the degree to which people enjoy humor seems to be primarily influenced by whether or not the incongruity is resolved, or “makes sense” in some way. Based on his factor analytic studies, Ruch (1983) constructed the 3 WD (Witzdimensionen) humor test to assess individuals’ ratings of funniness and aversiveness of jokes and cartoons on the three different types of humor. The 3 WD consists of two parallel

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versions, each containing 35 jokes and cartoons: 10 for each humor category and five jokes and cartoons that served as “warm up” material. Participants rate the funniness and aversiveness of each using two 7-point scales ranging from 0 (not at all funny/aversive) to 6 (very funny/aversive). Each form of the 3 WD provides six scores, relating to the funniness and aversiveness of each of the three types of humor. Funniness and aversiveness ratings for each type of humor combine to form a general appreciation score. Furthermore, a structure preference index can be obtained by subtracting INC-RES from NON to represent one’s preference for one structural type of humor over the other. Tests of psychometric properties of the 3 WD have shown that each of the scales has high internal consistency and test retest reliability (see Platt & Ruch, 2015). Finally, scores on the three factors are moderately positively intercorrelated, indicating that, to some degree, individuals who enjoy (or dislike) one type of humor also tend to enjoy (or dislike) the others.

Personality Correlates of the 3 WD Dimensions What kinds of people like the three different types of humor? Numerous studies have examined correlations between scores on the three factors of the 3 WD humor test and a variety of personality traits (see Ruch, 1992; Ruch & Hehl, 1998 for reviews), with much research focusing on traits relating to extraversion, conservatism, and sensation seeking. Extraversion is a personality trait dimension characterized by the extent to which a person engages with the external world and derives energy from interacting with others. People high in extraversion are outgoing in the sense that they derive energy from interacting with other people and tend to be more engaged with the external world than those low in extraversion (e.g., Laney, 2002). The total humor appreciation rating across the three factors of the 3 WD weakly correlates with extraversion, indicating that extraverts generally enjoy jokes and cartoons of all types more than introverts do. In addition, the total aversiveness rating across the three factors weakly correlates with neuroticism, indicating that people who generally experience more negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, or guilt tend to dislike jokes and cartoons in general. This is particularly true for neurotic individuals who are also introverted and who are high on tender-mindedness, a construct relating to empathy, concern for others, tolerance, and democratic values. These findings are consistent with findings that people who are low in extraversion and those who are high in neuroticism show less activation of the reward centers in the limbic system of the brain on exposure to humorous cartoons (Mobbs et al., 2005). According to Wilson (1973), conservatism reflects a generalized fear of uncertainty and a low tolerance for ambiguity. Thus, because the appreciation of nonsense humor requires one to tolerate and even enjoy unresolved incongruity (uncertainty and ambiguity), bizarreness, and absurdity, Ruch hypothesized that people would enjoy nonsense humor insofar as they are less conservative. In contrast, INC-RES humor is simpler, less ambiguous, and often involves the application of stereotypes to resolve the incongruity. Thus, Ruch hypothesized that people would enjoy incongruity-resolution humor to the extent

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they are more conservative, and thereby have a general need for structured, uncomplicated, stable, unambiguous, and safe forms of stimulation. Supporting his hypotheses, Ruch found that more conservative people enjoy incongruity-resolution humor and dislike zany, nonsense humor; they enjoy humor that contains resolvable incongruity (uncertainty and ambiguity resolution) and dislike more bizarre or zany humor that does not seem to “make sense” (Hehl & Ruch, 1990; Ruch, 1984; Ruch, Busse, & Hehl, 1996; Ruch & Hehl, 1986a, 1986b). In addition, Saroglou (2003) found that the total funniness scores across the three dimensions of the 3 WD test negatively correlate with religious fundamentalism and orthodoxy, indicating that people enjoy humor in general less to the extent they endorse conservative religious orientations. Sensation seeking, as a broad personality trait, is characterized by a need for varied, novel, and complex sensations and experiences and willingness to take risks (Zuckerman, 1994). Zuckerman’s (1979) sensation-seeking scale distinguishes between four components or dimensions of sensation seeking: (1) Thrill and Adventure Seeking, representing the desire to engage in “extreme” sports or activities that produce unusual sensations, (2) Experience Seeking, which involves seeking new and stimulating experiences through art, music, travel, food, drugs, and unconventional lifestyle choices, (3) Disinhibition, the need for sensation through drinking, partying, engaging in sexual activities, etc., and (4) Boredom Susceptibility, which refers to an aversive and restless reaction to boredom. Arnett (1994) conceptualized sensation seeking based on two stimulus dimensions: (1) Novelty, reflecting openness to experience and (2) Intensity, referring to the intensity of stimulation to the senses. Ruch conducted a series of studies in multiple European countries and found that sensation seeking as a whole, assessed using Zuckerman’s (1994) scale, correlated positively with an appreciation of nonsense humor and negatively with an appreciation of incongruity-resolution humor (Forabosco & Ruch, 1994; Ruch, 1988). Ruch (1988) explained these correlations by suggesting that nonsense humor offers more stimulation than incongruity-resolution humor. In addition, these studies revealed that of the four components of sensation seeking, Experience Seeking most strongly predicted appreciation of nonsense and incongruity-resolution humor. Related to these findings, Ruch and Hehl (1998) reported that the Openness to Experience dimension of the Five Factor (or “Big Five”) Model also positively correlates with appreciation of nonsense humor. Finally, enjoyment of nonsense humor correlates with preference for more complex and abstract forms of art, whereas enjoyment of incongruity-resolution humor relates to preference for simpler, more representational types of art. Ruch and Hehl (1998) found that when asked to arrange black and white plastic squares into an aesthetically pleasing configuration, participants arranged them into more complex and aesthetically pleasing patterns insofar as they enjoyed nonsense humor. Enjoyment of sexual humor appears to relate most strongly to the social attitude dimension of tough-mindedness. A tough-minded person is characterized as independent, rational, and self-sufficient. In contrast, a tender-minded person is characterized as sentimental, tolerant, empathic, concerned about others, and endorsing democratic values. Regardless of the structure of the joke or cartoon, tough-minded people report that sexual humor is

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funnier and less aversive than their tender-minded counterparts (Ruch & Hehl, 1986b). Moreover, the more strongly a given joke or cartoon loads on the sexual factor of the 3 WD, the more tough-minded people seem to like it and the less tender-minded people seem to like it. Collectively, these findings suggest that enjoyment of sexual humor could be an indicator of tough-minded attitudes (Ruch, 1992). Some additional correlations have been found for sexual humor that has nonsense versus incongruity-resolution structures. Specifically, enjoyment of sexual humor with the incongruity-resolution structure (INC-RES SEX) correlates positively with both conservatism and tough-mindedness, resulting also in positive correlations with variables such as authoritarianism, intolerance of ambiguity, political and economic conservatism, and technical interests, and negative correlations with aesthetic and social interests (Hehl & Ruch, 1990; Ruch & Hehl, 1986b, 1987). Interestingly, since authoritarian individuals tend to have exaggerated concerns about “sexual goings-on,” their enjoyment of sexual humor of the incongruity-resolution type seems to have more to do with rigid sexual preoccupations than with sexual permissiveness or pleasure (Ruch, 1992). On the other hand, enjoyment of sexual humor that is based on the nonsense structure (NON SEX), and is therefore more fanciful and bizarre, is unrelated to conservative attitudes (although still related to tough-mindedness), but positively correlates with sensation seeking (particularly the Disinhibition component of Zuckerman’s (1979) scale), hedonism, interest in sex, sexual libido, permissiveness, pleasure, and experience (Hehl & Ruch, 1990; Ruch & Hehl, 1986b, 1988). Thus, it is only the appreciation of sexual humor of the nonsense structure type that is related to positive sexual attitudes and experience. In summary, Ruch’s research has done much to delineate the nature of individual differences in appreciation of jokes and cartoons. Perhaps most importantly, he and his colleagues found that the structure of jokes and cartoons, not the content, largely determines whether people find them amusing. Sexual themes appear to define the only content domain that consistently affects people’s overall enjoyment of jokes and cartoons. Ruch’s research also indicates that there is truth to the long-held view that the type of jokes a person enjoys tells us something about his or her personality. However, the specific personality traits associated with humor appreciation are not as self-evident as one might expect. It might be surprising to many that people who enjoy the sorts of jokes that are most commonly told in social contexts (i.e., incongruityresolution jokes) tend to be individuals with conservative values and attitudes. When such jokes contain a sexual theme, enjoyment also suggests that one might be toughminded, unsympathetic, intolerant, and possess authoritarian attitudes. On the other hand, the enjoyment of the more bizarre and fanciful nonsense humor (which is more likely to be encountered in cartoons, literature, and films than in canned jokes) indicates greater openness, tolerance for ambiguity, sensation seeking, intelligence, and enjoyment of novelty and complexity. When this sort of nonsense humor contains a sexual theme, enjoyment suggests that one might have more liberal (although still tough-minded) attitudes and greater sexual permissiveness.

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BOX 4.3

A C O N V E R S AT I O N W I T H D R . W I L L I B A L D R U C H Willibald Ruch is a Full Professor of Psychology at the University of Zu¨rich, Switzerland, where he chairs the section of personality and assessment. His research interests are humor and laughter, cheerfulness, and smiling. He developed a taxonomy of jokes and cartoons and its relation to personality. Together with his team in Zurich his research includes humor from the perspective of positive psychology, the effectiveness of humor training programs and clown interventions, the ability to laugh at oneself, the fear of being laughed at (i.e., gelotophobia), and bringing gelotophobe-savvy laughter to avatars. He has developed several humor assessment instruments and published more than 280 research articles or book chapters and five books. He was the president of ISHS in 2002 and in 2012 13. He is coeditor (with Victor Raskin) of the Humor Research book series. In 2001 he founded the annual International Summer School on humor and laughter, which is now in its 17th year. He is the founder and current president of the Swiss Positive Psychology Association, and IPPA (International Positive Psychology Association) fellow (class of 2015) and member of the executive board.

Authors: When did you first become interested in humor as a topic for psychological inquiry? What was it about the psychology of humor that you found appealing as a field of study? Willibald Ruch: Very early in high school I noticed a match between a teachers personality and the type of humor they displayed. I could not really verbalize it but I noted that teachers that I did not like also had a humor I could not connect with. I bought psychology books and somehow the treatment of humor was appealing. When I started with my university education I earned money to finance my study. A summer job as a night watchman gave me plenty of opportunity to read, and reading the first chapter of “Jokes and their relations to the unconscious” by Sigmund Freud convinced me that classifying jokes needs to be the first aim in a study of humor and personality, but the classification needs to be done empirically. So at the next class in experimental psychology I suggested this topic (to replace an experiment on memory) and did my first attempt at using factor analysis on joke ratings and this failed badly, as there was no clear structure to find (no wonder, I had only collected incongruity resolution jokes from a book of jokes published in a mainstream yellow press paper) and there were no correlations with extraversion (which is predictive of humor and laughter but not of joke appreciation). I then did get hold of a three-mode factor analysis program and started to collect data aside from the course activities and this finally prepared me to later develop a two-mode model of humor appreciation and the links to personality. And humor appreciation turned out to be more related to conservatism, sensation seeking, and intolerance of ambiguity (at the time when the Five Factor Model of personality was not yet around).

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(cont’d)

Authors: What would you say have been the most important developments in the study of humor in personality psychology that you have seen over the course of your career? Willibald Ruch: Humor had a good position in early personality research. First surveys around 1920 asked for humor and laughter, and most classic personality psychologists (e.g., Allport, Cattell, Eysenck, Guilford in the empirical camp and Frankl, Maslow, Rogers in the more phenomenological fields) contributed to the study of humor. In the ’60s it was quite common for personality psychologists to study liking of jokes and cartoons (most often based on Freud’s classification into harmless, sexual, and aggressive) in relation to selected personality traits. About the time I started to work on humor and personality the field was more done by humor specialists rather than people trained in personality and assessment. Also, there was a shift from a focus on explaining appreciation and production of humor (i.e., studying people’s reactions to jokes and cartoons) to the use of selfreport instruments describing humor use in daily life. This broadened the perspective and widened the scope of humor studied, therefore allowing for different criteria to be predicted. Another change was one from unidimensional conceptualizations of the sense of humor to the realization that more components need to be distinguished including different forms of humorlessness. Also, new areas are (re-)discovered, such as humor as a virtue, and humor tailored to different domains, such as the workplace. The quality of the instruments measuring humor improved too; however, comparatively less time is spent on solid construction and validation of instruments compared to other fields in personality. Finally, statistical advances in the study of humor and outcomes helped to design better studies (e.g., use of moderation and mediation analysis in proper design; structural equation modeling). Authors: In what ways would you say theory and research on humor in personality psychology has contributed to the study of humor in other areas of psychology? Willibald Ruch: Developing instruments measuring the sense of humor, or styles of humor, have had an impact on the study of humor in many areas, like health, work, relationships, advertisement, school, or wellbeing, etc. All fields have to deal with individual differences and these can be explained (or at least statistically controlled) by personalitybased humor measures. In fact many empirical studies of humor in a given area also utilize a measure of individual differences (e.g., humor styles). Definitions of what a sense of humor is also affected the development of humor training programs and our understanding of the cognitions and emotions associated with the perception of humor and laughter. Knowing about the existence of the fear of being laughed at (i.e., gelotophobia) has an impact on the use of humor in different settings, including training programs. Authors: What do you see as the most significant challenges that personality psychologists studying humor will have to address in future research? Willibald Ruch: Personality research in a field often progressed more quickly once a solid proposal of the structure of the field was accomplished and measurement

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BOX 4.3

(cont’d)

instruments were developed. Then accumulation of research findings is facilitated. This may take time. It took more than 50 years to develop models of intelligence and personality that many researchers could agree with. We will need to work on a valid, probably multidimensional and hierarchical model of humor that can be measured in different data sources (e.g., self-, peer-report, objective tests, observational methods). So far, we have only partial models (for selected subfields) but no comprehensive ones, and often we only have scales without prior work on the concepts or even more elaborate models or theories. There are more challenges, of course, but this seems to be the foremost one to solve, as others depend on it. Next to the structure, the dynamics are important; we will need to develop models on the processes associated with the components of humor that are identified. This also makes it necessary to employ experimental procedures to test causal claims and to investigate the role of humor in our everyday lives. We have research on all the interesting questions already now, but we have not spent enough time on working out a solid basis. Language and culture generally play a big role and this is also the case in humor; we do not have enough research on what is generalizable across culture and what is specific. Authors: What’s your favorite joke? Willibald Ruch: What is the difference between a sparrow? None whatsoever. Both legs are of equal lengths. Especially the left.

Carretero-Dios’ Extension of Ruch’s 3 WD Humor Test Hugo Carretero-Dios, Cristino Pe´rez, and Gualberto Buela-Casal at the University of Granada, Spain extended Ruch’s 3 WD Humor Test (Carretero-Dios, Pe´rez, & Buela-Casal, 2009, 2010) by developing a new humor appreciation measure called EAHU (Escala de Apreciacion del Humor [Humor Appreciation Scale]). The EAHU differentiates between six empirically derived humor categories rather than three. Carretero-Dios et al. (2010) argued that Ruch’s sample of jokes and cartoons did not allow factor analyses to reveal possible humor content factors besides sexual humor. Thus, they initially selected jokes and cartoons to represent additional content dimensions derived from the classic superiority and relief theories for which humor content is the central focus. To represent superiority theory, they selected gender-disparaging jokes and cartoons. They considered both female- and male-disparaging humor because research has highlighted the importance of the distinction between them (Herzog, 1999; Lampert & Ervin-Tripp, 2006). They selected examples of “black humor” because of its empirical tradition (Maxwell, 2003) to represent relief theory. Black humor was defined as humor based on horrible, macabre or cruel events, and tragedies (e.g., death, serious disease, insanity, terrorism, murder, war, etc.).

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Carretero-Dios et al. initially selected a pool of 200 jokes and cartoons, 40 for each type of humor (incongruity-resolution, nonsense, sexual, gender disparagement: 20 femaledisparagement, 20 male-disparagement, and black). Seven independent experts on humor theory then categorized the jokes in accordance with the prescribed six categories. Based on the interjudge agreement criterion that at least five judges had to agree on the categorization of a given joke or cartoon, they reduced the initial pool to 173 jokes and cartoons (see Carretero-Dios et al., 2009). Additional preliminary analyses assessing funniness and aversiveness ratings of the 173 jokes and cartoons resulted in a pool of 87 jokes and cartoons. Through a series of factor analyses, Carretero-Dios and colleagues developed their EAHU scale based on 32 jokes and cartoons that represented the two structural factors that emerged in Ruch’s factor analytic studies, incongruity-resolution and nonsense humor, as well as four content factors: sexual humor, male-disparaging humor, femaledisparaging humor, and black humor. Participants rated both the funniness and aversiveness of the 32 jokes and cartoons using 5-point scales ranging from 0 (not at all funny/aversive) to 4 (very funny/aversive). Using samples from two different countries (Spain and Germany), Carretero-Dios and Ruch (2010) examined the relationship between sensation-seeking and humor appreciation using both Arnett’s (1994) and Zuckerman’s (1979) measures of sensation seeking and the 3 WD and EAHU measures of humor appreciation. They found that Zuckerman’s Experience Seeking and Arnett’s Novelty concepts negatively related to appreciation of incongruity-resolution humor and positively related to nonsense humor as measured by both the 3 WD and the EAHU. In addition, Zuckerman’s Disinhibition concept and Arnett’s Intensity concept correlated positively with appreciation of sexual, black, maledisparaging, and female-disparaging humor. This study provided further support for the relationship between sensation seeking and appreciation of humor structure (incongruity versus nonsense) and extended previous research by showing that sensation seeking (particularly disinhibition and intensity) predicts appreciation of sexual humor as well as gender-disparagement humor and black humor. In sum, Carretero-Dios et al. (2009, 2010) contributed to Ruch’s earlier research by demonstrating that people respond in consistent ways not only to sexual humor, but also to male- and female-disparaging humor and to black (macabre) humor. This research has also begun to delineate the personality correlates of each of those categories of humor (Box 4.3).

INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN THE USE OF HUMOR IN DAILY LIFE Although the humor appreciation approach provided interesting findings about the personalities of people who enjoy different types of humor, it has important limitations. First, it focuses on people’s affective reactions to canned jokes and cartoons, which as discussed in Chapter 1, Introduction to the Psychology of Humor, comprise only a small fraction of the forms of humor that people encounter in their daily lives. Second, it does not address other ways that people might habitually differ from one another in regard to humor, such as their use of humor to cope with challenges of life, and the creation of humor spontaneously and to amuse other people in their everyday lives. Indeed, Elisha Babad (1974)

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found no relationship between people’s scores on humor appreciation tests and either peer- or self-ratings of their tendency to appreciate, produce, or reproduce humor in their daily lives. Accordingly, in the mid-1970s, researchers began to study sense of humor in terms of individual differences in the use of humor in daily life, including its role in interpersonal relationships, coping with stress, and mental and physical health. This emerging research focus required new measures to assess various ways that people use humor in daily life. In this section, we discuss seven of the more widely used measures that are based on people’s self-reports of how they use humor in daily life or in response to hypothetical events (See Ruch, 1998 for a more complete listing).

Sense of Humor Questionnaire Norwegian psychologist Sven Svebak (1974a, 1974b), now retired from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, was one of the first researchers to break with the tradition of focusing on humor appreciation using funniness ratings of jokes and cartoons, and to measure sense of humor using a self-report questionnaire. In one of the earliest articles to specifically present a theory of sense of humor as a personality trait, Svebak (1974b) observed that smooth social functioning requires the construction of a shared, rational “social world.” However, this shared perspective on the world is somewhat arbitrary, and can also be constraining and stifling. Sense of humor, like creativity, is “the ability to imagine . . . irrational social worlds, and to behave according to such fantasies within the existing (real) social frame in such a way that the latter is not brought into a state of collapse” (Svebak, 1974b, p. 99). Thus, “humor may be said to be a defense against the monotony of culture more than against bodily displeasure” (p. 100). Svebak suggested that individual differences in sense of humor involve variations in three separate dimensions: (1) Meta-message Sensitivity (M), relating to the ability to adopt a nonserious, humor mindset, or outlook on life, and an ability to shift from a telic (serious) to a paratelic (playful) view of the world; (2) Liking of humor and the humorous role (L), which involves having a positive rather than defensive attitude toward humor; and (3) Emotional Expressiveness (E), or the tendency to express the positive emotion of mirth through laughter in a wide range of situations. Svebak (1974a) constructed the Sense of Humor Questionnaire (SHQ) to measure individual differences in each of the three dimensions derived from his theory, with seven items for each dimension. Examples of the items in each subscale are as follows: (1) M: “I can usually find something comical, witty, or humorous in most situations”; (2) L: “It is my impression that those who try to be funny really do it to hide their lack of self-confidence” (disagreement with this statement results in higher scores on the scale); and (3) E: “If I find a situation very comical, I find it very hard to keep a straight face even when nobody else seems to think it’s funny.” Using four-point scales, respondents rate the degree to which each item is descriptive of them on the dimensions of: very easy to very difficult, very often to very seldom, very good to very bad, and total agreement to total disagreement. Initial research revealed moderate correlations between the M and L and the M and E dimensions, and no correlation between L and E, indicating that the three dimensions were relatively independent of one another.

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Subsequent research by Martin and Lefcourt (1986) found acceptable psychometric properties (reliability and validity) for the M and L subscales, but not for the E subscale. Thus, when Svebak (1996) developed a short form of the SHQ he focused only on the M and L subscales. His SHQ-6 contained three items each from the original M and L scales. Researchers have used Svebak’s SHQ-6 to assess the stress-buffering effects of sense of humor (e.g., Svebak, Go¨testam, & Jensen, 2004), which we further address in Chapter 9, The Clinical Psychology of Humor: Humor and Mental Health.

Situational Humor Response Questionnaire Herbert Lefcourt and Rod Martin developed the Situational Humor Response Questionnaire (SHRQ) at the University of Waterloo to assess the extent to which people use humor to cope with stress (Martin & Lefcourt, 1984). Indeed, researchers have used the SHRQ extensively in research on sense of humor in relation to mental and physical health, which we discuss in Chapter 9, The Clinical Psychology of Humor: Humor and Mental Health, and Chapter 10, The Health Psychology of Humor: Humor and Physical Health. In developing this scale they focused particularly on the emotional-expressive component of humor, i.e., smiling and laughter. Thus, they operationally defined sense of humor as the frequency with which a person smiles, laughs, and otherwise displays amusement in a wide variety of situations. They adopted this definition based on the assumption that smiling and laughter are outward expressions of mirth or enjoyment of humor in any given situation. The scale consists of 18 items that present participants with brief descriptions of hypothetical situations (e.g., “if you were eating in a restaurant with some friends and the waiter accidentally spilled a drink on you”). These include both pleasant and unpleasant situations, ranging from specific and structured to general and unstructured, and from relatively common to relatively unusual. For each situation, respondents are asked to rate the degree to which they would be likely to laugh, using a scale ranging from 1 (I would not have been particularly amused) to 5 (I would have laughed heartily). In addition to the 18 situational items, the scale contains three self-descriptive items relating to the frequency with which the participant generally laughs and smiles in a wide range of situations. Research has demonstrated that the SHRQ is both reliable, showing high internal consistency and test retest reliability (Lefcourt & Martin, 1986), and valid (Lefcourt & Martin, 1986; Martin, 1996; Martin & Kuiper, 1999). Also, the SHRQ is uncorrelated with measures of social desirability, providing evidence of discriminant validity (Lefcourt & Martin, 1986). Interestingly, Lambert Deckers and Willibald Ruch (1992b) found no significant correlations between the SHRQ and either the total score or the three factor scores on Ruch’s 3WD measure of humor appreciation. Thus, Lefcourt and Martin (1986) hypothesized that tests of humor appreciation of jokes and cartoons represent a qualitatively different and independent construct (way of thinking about sense of humor) from that assessed by selfreport humor measures such as the SHRQ. That is, people might rate a specific type of joke or cartoon on the 3 WD as very humorous without necessarily engaging in much humor in their daily lives. On the other hand, Ruch and Deckers (1993) found the SHRQ to be positively correlated with extraversion, indicating that individuals who tend to laugh readily in a range of THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

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situations (as indicated by high scores on the SHRQ) tend also to be characterized by extraverted traits such as sociable, people-oriented, active, talkative, optimistic, fun-loving, and joyful. In addition, the SHRQ correlates with sensation seeking, which is also associated with extraversion. This finding suggests that individuals who tend to laugh frequently also tend to seek highly arousing thrills, adventure, and varied experiences, and are easily bored (Deckers & Ruch, 1992a). Thorson (1990), however, criticized the SHRQ for defining sense of humor purely in terms of laughter frequency. Indeed, as Martin (1996) has acknowledged, laughter can occur without humor, and there can be humor without laughter. Nonetheless, correlations between the SHRQ and various measures of personality and well-being are comparable to those found with other self-report humor measures such as the Coping Humor Scale (to be discussed next), suggesting that it assesses a more general sense of humor trait than simply the tendency to laugh. Indeed, Lourey and McLachlan (2003) found that the SHRQ relates to perceptions of humor and not merely laughter frequency. Moreover, research showing positive correlations between participants’ scores on the SHRQ and their humor production ability indicates that it taps into humor creation and not just laughter responsiveness. This broader construct validity of the measure may be due to the inclusion of multiple items describing unpleasant or mildly stressful situations. Consequently, more than merely assessing the frequency of laughter per se, the SHRQ appears to address the tendency to maintain a humorous perspective when faced with unpleasant or potentially embarrassing events. A potentially more serious shortcoming of this measure is that the situations described in the items are specific to university students’ experiences (and even more particularly those of Canadian students) and it is therefore less suitable for other populations. Furthermore, the situations described in the items have become somewhat dated over time and may be difficult for many people to relate to today. For these reasons, the SHRQ would likely benefit from a careful revision if it is to be used in further research.

Coping Humor Scale The Coping Humor Scale (CHS) is another measure that Herbert Lefcourt and Rod Martin developed in the context of their research on sense of humor as a stressmoderating personality trait (R. A. Martin & Lefcourt, 1983). Instead of attempting to assess sense of humor in a broad sense, they designed the CHS to focus more specifically on the degree to which people use humor to cope with stress. The CHS contains seven self-descriptive statements such as “I have often found that my problems have been greatly reduced when I tried to find something funny in them” and “I can usually find something to laugh or joke about even in trying situations.” Research with the CHS has demonstrated marginally acceptable internal consistency and acceptable test retest reliability (R. A. Martin, 1996). There is also considerable support for the construct validity of this scale (summarized by Lefcourt & Martin, 1986; R. A. Martin, 1996). For example, scores on the CHS correlated with peer ratings of participants’ tendency to use humor to cope with stress and their ability to not take themselves too seriously. In addition, people’s CHS scores correlated with

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how funny participants rated a humorous monologue they watched during a stressful film, but not during a nonstressful creativity task. In another study, Trice and PriceGreathouse (1986) found that dental patients with higher scores on the CHS engaged in significantly more joking and laughter before undergoing dental surgery. Taken together, these studies indicate that the CHS specifically relates to the production of humor in stressful situations. People’s scores on the CHS generally do not correlate with their scores on measures of social desirability, lending support to its discriminant validity. Furthermore, people’s scores on the CHS positively related to self-esteem, stability of self-concept, realistic cognitive appraisals, optimism, sense of coherence, and extraversion, and negatively related to dysfunctional attitudes and neuroticism (R. A. Martin, 1996). Thus, data from the CHS appear to indicate that extraverted, emotionally stable people are particularly likely to use humor as a way to cope with the stressors of life.

Multidimensional Sense of Humor Scale As mentioned earlier, Thorson (1990) criticized Martin and Lefcourt’s (1984) SHRQ, arguing that it did not assess what humor scholars and lay people alike commonly mean by the term “sense of humor.” Therefore, Thorson and Powell (1991) set out to develop a measure that more fully represented the concepts they felt were central to fully capturing the complexity of sense of humor as an entire concept. Through factor analyses on 124 self-descriptive statements relating to several different themes they felt represented sense of humor, Thorson and Powell (1991) developed their 24-item Multidimensional Sense of Humor Scale (MSHS). Responses to all 24 items combine to provide an overall sense of humor score. Furthermore, the MSHS differentiates between four different dimensions of sense of humor: (1) humor creativity and social uses of humor (e.g., “I can ease a tense situation by saying something funny.”), (2) coping uses of humor (e.g., “Uses of wit or humor help me master difficult situations.”), (3) attitudes toward humorous people (e.g., “People who tell jokes are a pain in the neck.”), and (4) attitude toward humor itself (e.g., “I like a good joke.”). Researchers have shown that the MSHS predicts responses on many clinical measures of mental health as well as measures of other personality traits. For instance, overall scores on the MSHS negatively correlate (although weakly) with measures of depression (Thorson & Powell, 1994). Thorson, Sarmany-Schuller, and Hampes (1997) reported that the MSHS negatively correlated with Levy’s (1985) measure of optimism pessimism, indicating that pessimistic participants reported having a lower sense of humor. Higher MSHS scores also positively correlate with self-esteem, constructive strategies for coping with difficulties, and arousability (people with a better sense of humor appear to be more easily aroused). In addition, Hampes (1994) found that participants scoring higher on the MSHS also scored higher on a measure of intimacy and on Costa and McCrae’s (1992) measure of extraversion. Finally, the MSHS correlates with other self-report measures of sense of humor. Kaufman (1995) found that scores on the MSHS correlated with scores on Martin and Lefcourt’s CHS and their SHRQ. Similarly, Kohler and Ruch (1996) found that scores on the MSHS correlated with their State-Trait Cheerfulness Inventory (STCI).

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Need for Humor Scale Thomas W. Cline, a professor of marketing at St. Vincent College, developed a Need for Humor (NFH) scale to assess individual differences in people that determine how they respond to humor (e.g., Cline, 1997; Cline, Altsech, & Kellaris, 2003; Cline, Machleit, & Kellaris, 1999). Using Thorson and Powell’s (1993) MSHS as a starting point, Cline introduced a 12-item scale to measure need for humor. NFH consists of two dimensions: (1) internal humor—one’s need to create humor, assessed by six items (e.g., “I am good at thinking-up funny jokes or stories.”), and (2) external humor—one’s need to seek out humor created by others (e.g., “I enjoy being around quick-witted people.”). Cline used the NFH scale in applied research on how people respond to humorous advertisements. Cline et al. (2003) found that participants responded more favorably to humorous advertisements to the extent they were high in NFH. That is, participants higher in NFH reported more favorable responses to humorous print advertisements and less favorable responses to nonhumorous advertisements compared to those lower in NFH. Also, Cline and Kellaris (2007) found that NFH moderated people’s recall for the content of humorous advertisements. Advertisements containing a high degree of humor elicited greater recall among participants who were high versus low in NFH. Conversely, advertisements containing less humor elicited roughly equal recall among participants high versus low in NFH. Recently, Picard and Blanc (2013) extended the use of the NFH scale validating its use among French samples of young adults and children. Picard and Blanc replicated patterns of previous research with the NFH scale showing that both French adults and children respond more favorably to humorous advertisements insofar as they are high in NFH.

State-Trait Cheerfulness Inventory Howard Leventhal and Martin Safer (1977) conceptualized sense of humor as an emotional or temperamental quality. Thus, to say that someone has a good sense of humor means that he or she tends to maintain a cheerful mood and a nonserious, playful attitude much of the time, even in situations where others would become distressed. More recently, Willibald Ruch and his colleagues have adopted this perspective in their investigations of trait cheerfulness, which they view as the temperamental basis of sense of humor (for a review, see Ruch & Ko¨hler, 1998). Sense of humor conceptualized as trait cheerfulness reflects individual differences among people in cheerfulness, seriousness, and bad mood. While each of these can be viewed as temporary emotional states, individuals presumably can differ from one another in how consistently they experience these states. Indeed, Ruch, Ko¨hler, and Van Thriel (1996) constructed measures to assess both habitual individual differences in cheerfulness, seriousness, and bad mood (STCI-T) as well as temporary and relatively fleeting fluctuations (STCI-S). As a trait, cheerfulness refers to an affective attribute defined by a prevalence of a cheerful mood and mirth, a generally good-humored interaction style, a tendency to smile and laugh easily, and a composed view of adverse life circumstances. Seriousness, as a trait, refers to a chronic or habitual tendency to perceive even everyday events as important, a tendency to plan and set long-range goals, a preference for activities that have a rational

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purpose, and a sober, straight-forward communication style that avoids exaggeration and irony. In Apter’s (2001) terminology (discussed in Chapter 3: Contemporary Theories of Humor), trait seriousness relates to the degree to which people tend to adopt a telic (serious, goal-oriented) rather than a paratelic (playful, activity-oriented) motivational orientation. People who would typically be described as having a good sense of humor would be those who are low on trait seriousness. Bad mood, as a trait, refers to an affective disposition characterized by a prevalence of sad, despondent, and distressed moods; a generally ill-humored interaction style (sullen, grumpy, grouchy) and a negative response to cheerfulness-evoking situations and people. Again, people with a good sense of humor would be low on this trait dimension. Factor analyses on data obtained in several countries have consistently confirmed the distinction between each of the three dimensions. Cheerfulness weakly and negatively correlates with seriousness and correlates moderately and negatively with bad mood, while seriousness and bad mood are weakly positively correlated (see Ruch, Ko¨hler, & van Thriel, 1997). Research also demonstrated the validity of the three subscales of the STCI-T and that trait cheerfulness represents a habitually cheerful and playful disposition with a low threshold for mirth and laughter and a low prevalence of bad moods (e.g., Ruch, 1997; Ruch & Ko¨hler, 1998, 1999; Ruch et al., 1996). Furthermore, studies have also examined the relationships between the STCI-T scales and more general personality dimensions such as the Five Factor Model, and models of positive and negative affectivity (Ruch & Ko¨hler, 1998). Overall, cheerfulness positively correlates with extraversion/energy, agreeableness/friendliness, emotional stability/low neuroticism, and positive affectivity. Thus, high trait cheerfulness is a characteristic of agreeable, stable, extraverted types. Bad mood, in contrast, showed the opposite pattern of correlations. Thus, bad mood is characteristic of disagreeable, neurotic introverts. Finally, seriousness consistently correlated with low psychoticism, conscientiousness, and introversion. In summary, this temperament-based approach provides an interesting perspective on the meaning of sense of humor. In this view, individuals who are typically described as having a “good sense of humor” tend to be people who are habitually in a cheerful mood, who maintain a playful, nonserious attitude toward life, and who are infrequently in a bad, grouchy mood. Different styles of humor may have to do with different combinations of the three traits. For example, an acerbic, caustic sense of humor might involve low seriousness, moderate cheerfulness, and high bad mood. On the other hand, people who are easily amused at others’ humor, but not very witty themselves, might be high on cheerfulness, low on bad mood, and relatively high on seriousness. Since trait cheerfulness has been shown to be a predictor of robustness of positive mood in experimental studies, this construct also seems to be a potentially useful way of conceptualizing sense of humor as a trait that contributes to coping with stress and enhancing psychological health. As Ruch and Ko¨hler (1998, p. 228) suggested, individuals who are high on trait cheerfulness may “have a better ‘psychological immune system,’ protecting them against the negative impact of the annoyances and mishaps they meet in everyday life and enabling them to maintain good humor under adversity.” This measure would therefore likely be useful in research on physical and mental health benefits of humor, particularly in the context of humor as resilience to psychosocial stress.

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TABLE 4.1 Depiction of Martin et al.’s (2003) Four Humor Styles as a Function of Who Benefits From the Humor and Whether the Humor Is Benign or Derogatory Who Benefits From the Humor?

At whose expense?

Self

Relationships With Others

No one’s expense: Beneficial

Self-enhancing humor

Affiliative humor

Someone’s expense: Detrimental

Others’ expense: Aggressive humor

One’s own expense: Self-defeating humor

Humor Styles Questionnaire Researchers developed many of the self-report measures to study the relationship between sense of humor and mental and physical health, and most have regarded sense of humor as an exclusively adaptive and positive personality characteristic. However, as discussed elsewhere in this book, people do not always use humor in psychologically or socially beneficial ways. For instance, aggressive disparagement humor considered in Chapter 2, Classic Theories of Humor, and Chapter 8, The Social Psychology of Humor, does not seem to be very conducive to healthy interpersonal relationships. Indeed, one could argue that humor is essentially neutral regarding mental health: its implications for health depend on how it is used by the individual in interacting with other people. Since most humor measures do not distinguish between positive and negative uses of humor, however, they are limited in their usefulness for studying potentially detrimental consequences of humor for individual’s psychological wellbeing and the quality of their interpersonal relationships. Accordingly, Rod Martin and his students expanded the concept of sense of humor. They distinguished between four humor styles based on whether humor is used to benefit the self or one’s relationships with others and whether the humor is benign or derogatory (see Table 4.1). Each of the humor styles reflects a different way that people habitually, spontaneously, and perhaps unconsciously, use humor in daily life (Martin, 2015; Martin et al., 2003). According to the humor style model, humor is not unique to certain personalities, but rather people express humor in their daily lives in ways that reflect their broader personalities (Schermer, R. A. Martin, N. G. Martin, Lynskey, & Vernon, 2013). People who have an affiliative humor style use humor to achieve interpersonal rewards, i.e., to enhance social relationships. They tell jokes and engage in witty banter to amuse and entertain others and to reduce interpersonal tensions. Because affiliative humor affirms both the self and others, it is associated with greater intimacy in interpersonal relationships (Martin et al., 2003) and greater conflict resolution in dating couples (Campbell, Martin, & Ward, 2008). Those with a self-enhancing humor style use humor to achieve intrapersonal rewards, i.e., to enhance or maintain positive psychological wellbeing and distance themselves from adversity. They maintain a humorous outlook on life, finding amusement in the incongruities and absurdities of life and coping with difficult circumstances by viewing them from

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a humorous perspective. Thus, self-enhancing humor is closely related to a coping sense of humor (Cann, Stilwell, & Taku, 2010; Martin et al., 2003). People also use humor in maladaptive ways that have detrimental consequences. For instance, those with an aggressive humor style use humor, not to make interpersonal relationships more rewarding, but rather as a means of enhancing the self at the expense of others by criticizing or manipulating others. They tease and ridicule others to demonstrate their superiority, without concern for others’ wellbeing. Not surprisingly, the aggressive humor style has been shown to be detrimental to interpersonal relationships (e.g., Cann, Davis, & Zapata, 2011; Kuiper, Kirsh, & Leite, 2010). Finally, people who have a self-defeating humor style engage in excessively selfdisparaging humor, poking fun at their own weaknesses and laughing along when being ridiculed in order to ingratiate themselves to others. They also use humor as a method to avoid confronting problems and dealing with negative feelings (Stieger, Formann, & Burger, 2011). A prominent example of what we consider to be a person who exhibited a self-defeating humor style is Chris Farley, a popular American comedian in the early 1990s who honed his zany comedic skills as an overweight child with a desperate need to be liked by others. Despite the outstanding success that he achieved as a young adult through his hilarious and rather compulsive sense of humor, he seemed to harbor a deep self-loathing, destroying himself at an early age through alcohol, drugs, and overeating. Rather than contributing to effective coping, his humor seemed to be a way of denying the severity of his problems and deflecting the concerns of his friends. Martin et al. developed their Humor Styles Questionnaire (HSQ) to measure individual differences in these four different humor styles. Factor analyses from a series of studies with large samples of participants resulted in a 32-item measure comprising four 8-item subscales, each measuring a different humor style: affiliative (e.g., “I laugh and joke a lot with my friends.”), self-enhancing (e.g., “My humorous outlook on life keeps me from getting overly upset or depressed about things.”), aggressive (e.g., “If I don’t like someone, I often use humor or teasing to put them down.”), and self-defeating (e.g., “I often try to make people like or accept me more by saying something funny about my own weaknesses, blunders, or faults”). Participants indicate the degree to which they agree with each item using a 7-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (totally disagree) to 7 (totally agree). Martin et al. (2003) reported high internal consistencies on the four subscales (Cronbach’s alpha ranging from 0.77 to 0.81). Research examining correlations between the subscales of the HSQ and previous sense of humor scales supports Martin et al.’s view that the HSQ taps distinct dimensions of humor that were not well differentiated by the earlier measures. For example, the CHS, although quite strongly related to self-enhancing (as well as affiliative) humor, also correlates with aggressive humor, suggesting that it may not be as pure a measure of positive humor uses as the self-enhancing humor scale (Martin et al., 2003). Worse still, the MSHS positively correlates with all four HSQ scales, indicating that it taps into potentially unhealthy aggressive and self-defeating humor as well as potentially healthy humor styles. The HSQ has become the most widely used measure of sense of humor (Martin, 2015). Indeed, the HSQ has been translated into at least 30 languages, and studies have replicated the four-factor structure in diverse cultures in different parts of the world including North America (e.g., Kuiper, Grimshaw, Leite & Kirsh, 2004), Western Europe (e.g., Saroglou &

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Scariot, 2002; Vernon, Martin, Schermer, & Mackie, 2008), Asia (Chen & Martin, 2007), and Middle Eastern countries (e.g., Kalliny, Cruthirds, & Minor, 2006; Kazarian & Martin, 2004, 2006; Taher, Kazarian, & Martin, 2008). The consistency of the findings across such diverse cultures establishes cross-cultural equivalence of the HSQ and provides support for the universality of the humor style constructs. Furthermore, the HSQ is the only measure that distinguishes between beneficial and detrimental ways that people use humor in daily life. Interestingly, men and women seem to be similar in their use of affiliative and self-enhancing humor; however, men use both aggressive and self-defeating humor more than women do (e.g., Basak & Can, 2014; Martin et al., 2003). Recent work by Sonja Heintz (e.g., Heintz, 2017; Heintz & Ruch, 2015) has closely examined the validity of the HSQ. First, Heintz and colleagues called into question the discriminant validity among the conceptualizations of affiliative and self-enhancing humor styles. If the two humor styles are conceptually distinct, then their conceptual definitions should be distinguishable and their measures should not be too highly correlated. However, they found that participants did not distinguish between the conceptual definitions of affiliative and self-enhancing humor styles and that the measures of the two were significantly correlated. They further pointed out that other studies have found moderate correlations between scores on the two HSQ subscales (e.g., Cann & Matson, 2014; Galloway, 2010, Martin et al., 2003; Ruch & Heintz, 2013). Heintz and Ruch (2015) also raised questions about the construct validity of the subscales of the HSQ, particularly the self-enhancing humor style. They argued that there was a mismatch between the items on the self-enhancing subscale and the conceptual definition of self-enhancing humor. Finally, Heintz (2017) studied the criterion validity of the HSQ: the extent to which the four HSQ subscales predict the performance of humor behaviors. Using a diary paradigm, Heintz instructed participants to indicate the frequency they performed humor behaviors derived from the items on the HSQ that represented each of the four humor styles on five consecutive days. Heintz found that the correlations on the affiliative and self-enhancing humor subscales of the HSQ correlated strongly with the performance of their corresponding behaviors (0.54, and 0.40, respectively). In contrast, correlations on the aggressive and self-defeating humor subscales correlated only weakly with the performance of their corresponding behaviors (0.25, and 0.07, respectively). Heintz pointed out, however, that the low correlations particularly between scores on the self-defeating subscale of the HSQ and the performance of self-defeating humor behaviors could have been because the self-defeating humor behaviors did not include the nonhumorous elements of the self-defeating humor style (e.g., motives for the use of self-defeating humor). In other words, the self-defeating humor behaviors did not fully capture the concept of self-defeating humor style. Martin (2015) responded to Heintz and Ruch’s (2015) criticisms of construct validity and discriminant validity. Addressing the construct validity criticism, Martin suggested that Heintz and Ruch’s research methods assumed that participants are aware of their humor styles, and that they intentionally select and strategically use humor styles. However, Martin et al. (2003) conceptualized humor styles as being similar to defense mechanisms that people engage in unconsciously: people are largely unaware of their humor style and its consequences. Thus, Martin (2015) argued, participants likely did not completely understand the terminology in the questions about the conceptual definition of

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self-enhancing humor and whether they spontaneously engage in humor for selfenhancing purposes per the definitions Heintz and Ruch provided them. Martin (2015) also addressed Heintz and Ruch’s (2015) criticism of discriminant validity. He suggested that the moderate correlations between affiliative and self-enhancing humor styles mean that the two are related to one another, but conceptually distinct (e.g., people high in affiliative humor likely use humor in a self-enhancing manner as well). He further argued that each of the four subscales shows a distinct pattern of association with other sense of humor measures and personality variables, indicating a considerable degree of discriminant validity. Another line of research relevant to validity of the HSQ investigates the extent to which people’s self-reported humor style using the HSQ matches others’ perceptions of their humor style (Cann et al., 2011; Heintz, 2017; Zeigler-Hill, Besser, & Jett, 2013). Overall, these studies revealed that self- and other-reports show a high level of agreement for affiliative and aggressive humor styles, but not for self-enhancing or self-defeating humor styles. Future research is necessary to determine why these findings occur. Regarding the relationship between the HSQ and other measures of sense of humor, the affiliative and self-enhancing humor subscales positively correlate with other wellvalidated self-report sense of humor measures such as the SHQ, SHRQ, and CHS, whereas the aggressive and self-defeating humor scales generally do not (P. Doris, 2004; Kazarian & Martin, 2004; Kuiper et al., 2004; R. A. Martin et al., 2003; Saroglou & Scariot, 2002). Thorson and Powell’s (1991) MSHS correlates positively with all four HSQ subscales, indicating that it does not distinguish between potentially beneficial and detrimental uses of humor, making it somewhat less useful for investigating the role of humor in mental health (Thorson & Powell, 1993a). Finally, scores on the self-enhancing humor subscale correlate quite strongly with scores on the conceptually similar CHS (Kuiper et al., 2004). Since the self-enhancing humor scale has better reliability than the CHS, this newer measure seems to be a better instrument for use in research on humor as a coping mechanism. As shown in Table 4.2, the four HSQ subscales also differentially correlate with the “Big Five” personality traits of the Five Factor Model of personality (Galloway, 2010; Martin TABLE 4.2 Correlations Between the Four Humor Styles and the “Big Five” Personality Traits of the Five Factor Model of Personality Humor Style

Neuroticism

Affiliative

Self-Enhancing

Aggressive

Self-Defeating

20.04

20.32**

0.22**

0.25**

Extraversion

0.42**

0.40**

0.12**

0.01

Openness to experience

0.34**

0.26*

0.10*

0.08*

Agreeableness

20.09*

0.14*

20.44**

20.10**

Conscientiousness

20.07

0.09*

20.25**

20.20**

*P , .05, **P , .01. Adapted from “A behavioral genetic investigation of humor styles and their correlations with the Big-5 personality dimensions,” by P. A. Vernon et al., 2007, Personality and Individual Differences, 44, p. 1116.

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et al., 2003; Saroglou & Scariot, 2002; Vernon et al., 2008; Veselka, Schermer, Petrides, & Vernon, 2009; Schermer et al., 2013). The affiliative humor style correlates positively with extraversion and openness to experience and negatively (albeit weakly) with agreeableness. The self-enhancing humor style generally correlates positively with extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness and correlates negatively with neuroticism. The aggressive humor style positively correlates with neuroticism and extraversion and weakly with openness to experience; it correlates strongly and negatively with agreeableness and conscientiousness. Finally, the self-defeating humor style relates positively to neuroticism and weakly to openness to experience; it relates negatively with conscientiousness and weaker with agreeableness. Mendiburo-Seguel, Paez, and Martinez-Sanchez (2015) conducted a metaanalysis on 15 studies examining the relationship between humor styles and the Big Five personality traits and found correlations in line with those from individual studies described above. Finally, recent research has demonstrated that the correlations found between humor styles and the Big Five personality traits can be explained largely by genetics; genes that contribute to individual differences in personality also appear to contribute to differences in humor styles (Schermer et al., 2013; Vernon et al., 2008). Collectively, these studies indicate that the four styles of humor are in quite different regions of the personality space represented by the Five Factor Model, suggesting that they represent disparate ways that people with differing personalities express and experience humor in their everyday lives. Regarding the discriminant validity of affiliative and self-enhancing humor styles specifically, it is noteworthy that both affiliative and selfenhancing humor correlated positively with extraversion. This might explain the positive relationship between these humor styles and measures of emotional wellbeing, social support, and relationship satisfaction. In addition, affiliative and self-enhancing humor styles correlate positively with openness to experience, indicating that they are associated with greater flexibility, imagination, and insight, which may also contribute to better coping and problem-solving. In contrast, aggressive and self-defeating humor correlated positively with neuroticism (consistent with previous findings of associations with negative moods such as depression, anxiety, and anger) and correlated negatively with conscientiousness (suggesting lower levels of thoughtfulness and impulse control), which might contribute to inappropriate uses of humor in social situations). Furthermore, only self-enhancing humor correlated negatively with neuroticism and positively with agreeableness. This suggests a distinction between affiliative and selfenhancing humor; self-enhancing humor appears to uniquely represent a perspectivetaking humor style that is particularly relevant to emotional and social wellbeing. Finally, aggressive humor was most strongly negatively correlated with agreeableness, indicating that it is particularly associated with low levels of empathy and concern for others, and potentially contributing to poorer interpersonal relationships. In sum, these findings provide further support for the view that individuals’ humor styles are colored by their broader personality traits. Another line of research has shown that people perceive others differently depending on the humor style they exhibit in social interaction (Cann & Matson, 2014; Kuiper & Leite, 2010; Kuiper, Kazarian, Sine, & Bassil, 2010). Kuiper and Leite (2010), for instance, presented research participants with descriptions of individuals who were either high or low

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on each of the four humor styles. Participants then rated the degree to which each of the individuals possessed six positive personality traits (friendly, pleasant, imaginative, considerate, interesting, and creative) and six negative personality traits (cold, mean, complaining, spiteful, passive, and restless). Participants rated the individual with the affiliative humor style highest on the positive personality traits followed by the one with the self-enhancing humor style, self-defeating humor style, and lastly, the aggressive humor style. They found the opposite pattern on the negative personality traits. Finally, scores on the HSQ subscales differentially relate to indicators of psychological health and wellbeing such as self-esteem, positive emotions, optimism, social support, intimacy, negative mood, depression and anxiety. We discuss that research in Chapter 9, The Clinical Psychology of Humor: Humor and Mental Health.

HOW MANY DIFFERENT SENSES OF HUMOR ARE THERE? As we saw at the beginning of this chapter, most people seem to think of sense of humor as a unitary, positive characteristic, although its meaning in popular usage tends to be quite vague and inconsistently defined. Over the years, personality researchers have more precisely and narrowly defined sense of humor; they have parsed sense of humor into a plethora of apparently distinct trait dimensions, and have developed different measures to assess each one. Willibald Ruch (Ko¨hler & Ruch, 1996; Ruch, 1994) set out to determine the degree to which these distinct dimensions of sense of humor correlate with one another and could thus be summarized by a more parsimonious set of core sense of humor dimensions. Using data from a sample of German adults from the general population, Ruch (1994) conducted a factor analysis of seven scales from four different self-report measures: SHRQ, CHS, SHQ, and Ziv’s (1981) measure of humor appreciation and creativity. He also included the three subscales of the Telic Dominance Scale (TDS; Murgatroyd, Rushton, Apter, & Ray, 1978), which relate to serious mindedness, planfulness, and arousal avoidance (i.e., the inverse of a habitually playful, humorous frame of mind). This analysis yielded only two factors. All the sense of humor scales loaded highly positively on the first factor, labeled cheerfulness. A second factor, labeled restraint versus expressiveness, seemed to represent a playful, nonserious disposition, comprised of the SHRQ, the Emotional Expressiveness subscale of the SHQ, and (in the opposite direction) the subscales of the TDS. Ruch further examined the relations of these two broad, underlying sense of humor dimensions, as well as each of the individual humor scales, with the traits extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism, which Eysenck (1990) described as being the most basic, biologically based temperament dimensions of personality. The broad cheerfulness dimension and all the individual sense of humor scales correlated positively with extraversion. Thus, a sense of humor seems to be a characteristic of extraverts rather than introverts. Somewhat surprisingly, none of the humor scales were strongly loaded on the neuroticism dimension. Thus, contrary to popular opinion, people with a strong sense of humor, as measured by these self-report scales, are not necessarily more emotionally stable and well adjusted. Finally, Gabriele Ko¨hler and Willibald Ruch (1996) further demonstrated that

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measures of humor appreciation (i.e., 3 WD) and ability to produce humor did not relate to the underlying cheerfulness dimension. Collectively, these studies suggest that although the different self-report measures assess different nuanced dimensions of sense of humor, they converge on more general underlying dimensions of (1) humor appreciation, (2) a cheerful temperament that strongly relates to extraversion, and (3) a playful, nonserious disposition. Further research is needed to replicate these findings with other populations and to include newer humor measures, such as the HSQ.

PERSONALITY CHARACTERISTICS OF PROFESSIONAL COMEDIANS Do professional comedians have distinct personality traits that differ from those of other people? One popular belief is that comedians tend to be depressed and hide their dysphoria behind a mask of superficial hilarity. An old story tells of a man going to a doctor to complain of feelings of depression and despondency. The doctor encourages him to attend a performance of a famous comedian who is extremely funny and will be sure to lift his spirits. The patient replies that he is that comedian. In early research on the personality traits of professional comedians, Samuel Janus and colleagues (Janus, 1975; Janus, Bess, & Janus, 1978) measured the intelligence, educational level, family background, and personality structure of 55 male and 14 female comedians. Janus conducted clinical interviews, collected accounts of early memories and dreams, analyzed handwriting analyses and projective tests, and administered the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS). Based on his interpretations of these data, Janus concluded that comedians tend to be intelligent, angry, suspicious, and depressed, supporting the popular view of comedians as generally unhappy people. In addition, Janus concluded that comedians experienced suffering, isolation, and feelings of deprivation early in their lives, and they used humor as a defense against anxiety, converting their feelings of suppressed rage from physical to verbal aggression. Seymour Fisher and Rhoda Fisher (1981) studied the personality characteristics and childhood memories of 43 “comics” (professional comedians and circus clowns). To control for possible noncomedy-related variables involved in being a public performer, they included an age-matched comparison sample of professional actors. They administered a semistructured interview, the Rorschach inkblot test, the TAT, and several standardized personality questionnaires to all participants. Compared to actors, comics exhibited a greater preoccupation with themes of good and evil on the Rorschach inkblot test and more negative views of themselves on the TAT. Fisher and Fisher attributed these findings to harsh family dynamics that future comedians experienced as children. Disputing this explanation, however, Greengross, Martin, and Miller (2012) found that comedians’ parental and peer relationships during childhood did not differ from those of ordinary college students. Although these early studies offer some interesting preliminary insights into the personality of professional comedians, they both relied on an outdated psychoanalytic theoretical framework and controversial research methods that require subjective interpretations. Thus, collectively, these cannot provide conclusive evidence.

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PERSONALITY CHARACTERISTICS OF PROFESSIONAL COMEDIANS

80.00 70.00 60.00 50.00 40.00 30.00

Writers

20.00

Comedians

10.00

Students

ism eu ro tic

bl e ea A

gr e

FIGURE 4.1 Composite scores on measures of the Big Five personality traits for professional comedians, college students and comic writers. Source: Adapted from “The Big Five personality traits of professional comedians compared to amateur comedians, comedy writers, and college students,” by G. Greengross and G. F. Miller, 2009, Personality and Individual Differences, 47, p. 79.

N

ne s

s

sio n ve r Ex tra

Co ns c

ie

O

pe nn es

s nt io us ne ss

0.00

129

Recently, however, Gil Greengross and colleagues (Greengross et al., 2012; Greengross & Miller, 2009) have conducted more rigorous research using valid and reliable measures to investigate the personality traits of professional comedians. Greengross found that professional stand-up comedians appear to have a distinct personality profile compared to the general population and other vocational groups. In one study, Greengross and Miller (2009) administered Costa and McCrae’s (1992) NEO-FFI-R survey of the “Big Five” personality traits (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) to professional comedians, comic writers who created, but did not perform, comedy, and college students who neither created nor performed comedy. Greengross and Miller compared the composite scores on each of the Big Five traits for comedians to comic writers and to college students (see Fig. 4.1). As depicted in Figure 4.1, comedians are more open to experience than the average population represented by college students. Comic writers scored even higher than professional comedians on openness. Greengross and Miller thus suggested that openness is perhaps related to the ability to produce humor and is thus particularly critical for successful comedy writing. Consistent with this idea, Nusbaum, Silvia, and Beaty (2017) found that among the Big Five personality traits, only openness to experience positively related to the ability to produce humor. People higher in openness to experience are better than others at being funny. Perhaps openness to experience relates to a number of other traits and proclivities that function as antecedents to humor ability. For instance, people high in openness to experience tend to have higher crystallized intelligence (e.g., DeYoung, Quilty, Peterson, & Gray, 2014; Ziegler, Danay, Heene, Asendorpf, & Bu¨hner, 2012), and they tend to engage more in creative activities (e.g., Conner & Silvia, 2015; Silvia et al., 2014). Surprisingly, comedians were also found to be more introverted than other people. This seems to run counter to the general perception that comedians are gregarious and outgoing. Perhaps comedians’ stage personas do not reflect their true personalities; they are likely to be less outgoing and gregarious in daily life than they appear on stage.

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Finally, comedians were lower on agreeableness, particularly compared to comic writers. This seems surprising at first glance since other groups, such as actors and politicians, who seek audience approval, score high in agreeableness. Comedians, like actors and politicians, would seem to desire approval from their audience. However, Greengross and Miller pointed out that stand-up comedy is a very competitive business that involves favorably distinguishing oneself from other comedians, which might explain why they tend to be low on agreeableness. Victoria Ando, Gordon Claridge, and Ken Clark (2014) conducted a similar study that further illuminated the unique personality traits of professional comedians. Ando et al. examined the personality profiles of comedians and noncomedic actors using Mason, Linney, and Claridge’s (2005) Oxford Liverpool Inventory of Feelings and Experiences (O-LIFE). The O-LIFE consists of four subscales that measure the following traits associated with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder: • Unusual Experiences: magical or delusional thinking, belief in telepathy and paranormal events, and a tendency to experience perceptual aberrations (hallucinations). • Cognitive Disorganization: distractibility and difficulty focusing thoughts. • Introvertive Anhedonia: Impaired ability to feel social and physical pleasure, and avoidance of intimacy. • Impulsive Nonconformity: a tendency to engage in impulsive, antisocial behavior, often suggesting a lack of mood-related self-control. Ando et al. found that comedians scored above the norms for the general population of adults on all four subscales of the O-LIFE measure, suggesting that comedians exhibit relatively high levels of psychotic personality traits. This finding is consistent with previous research showing that other creative groups of people exhibit higher levels of psychotic personality traits compared to the general population (see Silvia & Kaufman, 2010 for a review). Also, consistent with Greengross and Miller (2009), comedians scored particularly high on Introvertive Anhedonia and Impulsive Nonconformity compared to the control group of actors. Ando et al. described this as an interesting profile because the two scales measure apparently opposite characteristics. High scores on the Introvertive Anhedonia scale represent unsociable, depressive traits whereas high scores on the Impulsive Nonconformity scale reflect more extraverted, manic-like traits. Ando et al. propose that this profile represents “the personality equivalent of bipolar disorder” (p. 344). Finally, Greengross et al. (2012) expanded upon these findings by incorporating individual differences in humor style along with many personality traits and aptitudes among professional comedians and college students. Results showed first that comedians have greater verbal intelligence and humor production ability than their college student counterparts. Regarding humor styles, comedians scored higher on all four HSQ subscales than the college students. Further, both groups reported using affiliative humor most, followed by selfenhancing humor, aggressive humor, and lastly, self-defeating humor. Comedians’ relatively low scores on the negative humor styles stand in stark contrast to their on-stage persona, which often involves aggressive forms of humor (e.g., disparagement, ridicule, teasing, sarcasm). Finally, for college students all four humor styles correlated with various Big Five personality traits suggesting that students’ humor styles reflected their personalities. In contrast,

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for comedians, only affiliative humor correlated with any of the Big Five traits, suggesting that comedians’ personalities are less clearly reflected in their everyday humor styles. In sum, research suggests that professional comedians exhibit a unique personality profile relative to the general population or other creative vocational groups; they have a unique mix of seemingly incompatible personality traits. They tend to be more verbally intelligent and more open to experience, but less conscientious than the average person. Interestingly, they also tend to be more introverted, yet show more manic-like tendencies than noncomedians. Ando et al. (2014) suggest that this unusual combination of personality traits might help to explain the facility for comedic performance.

GELOTOPHOBIA: INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN PERCEPTIONS OF LAUGHTER AS RIDICULE As we have seen so far in this chapter, personality psychologists studying humor traditionally have focused on (1) identifying and understanding variables that underlie people’s appreciation of humor, and (2) the ways people use humor in daily life. In 2008, Willibald Ruch and Rene Proyer (Ruch & Proyer, 2008a) introduced a new and important research focus that, together with Martin’s humor styles model, has dominated the study of humor in personality psychology over the last decade. Ruch and Proyer (along with several graduate students and colleagues from all over the world) investigated people that have a dysfunctional inability to perceive humor and related cues (e.g., smiling) in a positive way. Imagine sitting in a restaurant and overhearing a group of people at another table laughing. Most people would interpret the laughter positively as an expression of joy and affiliation among a group of friends. The people of Ruch and Proyer’s investigations, however, would likely interpret it negatively, as an expression of ridicule; specifically, they would believe that the people were laughing at them. Ruch and Proyer described such people as gelotophobes.

What Is Gelotophobia? German psychotherapist Michael Titze noted that some of his patients exhibited variants of shame-related anxiety that centered on a deep concern or fear of others laughing at them. From his clinical observations, Titze (1995, 1997) coined the term gelotophobia and defined it as the pathological fear of being the object of laughter (see Titze, 2009 for a review). Gelotophobia is a unique condition, distinct from social anxiety (Proyer, Platt, & Ruch, 2010) and other pathological fears such as social phobia and the fear of negative evaluation (Carretero-Dios, Ruch, Agudelo, Platt, & Proyer, 2010). Gelotophobes believe deeply that something fundamental is wrong with them and thus, feel intensely ashamed of themselves. Further, they believe others will view them as ridiculous and enjoy laughing at their shameful inferiorities (Ruch & Proyer, 2008a; Titze, 2009). Gelotophobia seems to peak in adolescence and decline until the age of 30, after which it remains rather stable across the remaining life span (e.g., Platt, Ruch, & Proyer, 2010).

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FIGURE 4.2 Gelotophobes exhibit shame-related anxiety in response to laughter or humorous remarks through a motionless, “wooden appearance” known as the Pinocchio syndrome. Source: Image used under license from wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock.com.

The diagnosis of pathological gelotophobia requires observation of the patient’s demeanor during social interaction: gelotophobes typically exhibit very formal conduct, an awkward posture, bashfulness, and most importantly, a pronounced sensitivity to humorous remarks (Titze, 2009). Indeed, gelotophobes exhibit their shame-related anxiety in response to laughter or humorous remarks through a concealed, inanimate facial expression (Fig. 4.2). Titze (2009) referred to this inanimate puppet-like expression as the “Pinocchio syndrome” and described it as the central feature of gelotophobia. Titze’s clinical observations and empirical research has shown that gelotophobes are particularly predisposed to experience three emotions: shame, anxiety, and unhappiness (e.g., Platt & Ruch, 2009; Ruch, Hofmann, Platt, & Proyer, 2012). Tracey Platt and Willibald Ruch (2009) found that gelotophobes’ most shameful and fearful experiences were more intense and lasted longer compared to those of people that do not fear being laughed at. Also, in a typical week, gelotophobes reported experiencing shame and fear (anxiety) more intensely, and happiness less intensely, than nongelotophobes. Finally, research has shown that gelotophobes report being less cheerful (Ruch, Beermann, & Proyer, 2009) and less happy and less satisfied with their lives (Proyer, Ruch, & Chen, 2012).

Assessment Although gelotophobia originated as a clinical diagnosis, Ruch and Proyer (2008b) developed their GELOPH , 15. to measure variation in gelotophobia in subclinical or “normal” populations (i.e., people that have not been diagnosed with a mental illness). The GELOPH , 15. consists of 15 statements describing the experience of gelotophobes (e.g., “When strangers laugh in my presence I often relate it to me personally.”). Participants respond to each statement using a 4-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). Researchers have used respondents’ average score across the 15 items on the GELOPH , 15. to place them into one of five categories of gelotophobia (see Ruch, 209):

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Categorization

Average Score on the GELOPH , 15 .

1. No gelotophobia

(1.0 2.0)

2. Borderline fearful

(2.0 2.5)

3. Slight expression

(2.5 3.0)

4. Marked expression

(3.0 3.5)

5. Extreme expression

(3.5 4.0)

133

The concept of gelotophobia originated in observations of German patients, and psychologists initially studied subclinical populations in German-speaking countries, raising the possibility that gelotophobia as revealed by the GELOPH , 15. exists only among people with a very limited cultural background (Proyer et al., 2009). Thus, Proyer et al. (2009) conducted a cross-cultural study, administering the GELOPH , 15. to samples of people in 73 different countries in 42 different languages. The GELOPH , 15. revealed the fear of being laughed at in all the countries of the world in a roughly equal degree among men and women.

Research Model: Causes and Consequences of Gelotophobia Based on Titze’s clinical observations, Ruch (2004) and Ruch and Proyer (2008a) developed a model of the presumed causes and effects of gelotophobia as a framework for deriving empirical investigations. Ruch et al. (2014) presented the revised model described in Table 4.3. As shown in Table 4.3, Titze speculated that the seeds of gelotophobia are sown in infancy through the development of “primary shame” and a failure to make interpersonal connections with caretakers. This sets up an inability to develop social competence in childhood (e.g., an inability to anticipate and understand normative expectations of peers) making the emerging gelotophobe frequently the object of traumatic experiences of ridicule and laughter that might continue into adulthood (e.g., workplace teasing, or bullying). In their revision of the initial model, Ruch et al. (2014) proposed that variables intrinsic to a person or internal factors (i.e., genetics, personality traits, emotional dispositions) as well as external conditions (i.e., parental influences, peer group norms, social structure, and cultural norms) make one either more or less vulnerable to developing gelotophobia in response to poor caretaker interactions in infancy and incidents of peer ridicule during childhood. Considering internal factors, it appears that genetics might define the initial conditions that make a person susceptible to becoming gelotophobic, even before and independent of caretaker interactions in infancy. Proyer, Estoppey, and Ruch (2012), for instance, found that parents’ gelotophobia scores correlated with their adult children’s scores, indicating that gelotophobes’ children also tend to be gelotophobes as adults. Although this research suggests that genetics plays a moderating role, further research is needed (e.g., twin studies) to more fully delineate the genetic contribution to the development of gelotophobia (Ruch et al., 2014).

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TABLE 4.3 Description of the Putative Antecedent Causes, Risk Factors, and Consequences of Gelotophobia Risk Factors When Antecedent Causes are Present

Antecedent Causes

Consequences

Infancy: Poor infant caretaker relationship Internal factors: genetics, personality Social withdrawal leading to the development of primary shame traits, emotional dispositions Childhood: Repeated traumatic experiences of not being taken seriously (e.g., being mocked, laughed at, bullied)

External factors: parental influences, peer group norms, social structure, cultural norms

Adulthood: Intense traumatic experiences of being laughed at or ridiculed

Low self-esteem

Psychosomatic disturbances (e.g., blushing, trembling, sleep problems) “Pinocchio syndrome” (inanimate, humorless facial expression) Unhappiness (e.g., lacking joy, liveliness, and spontaneity) Humor/laughter (unpleasant, anxiety-provoking social experiences)

Adapted from “The state-of-the art in gelotophobia research: A review and some theoretical extensions,” by Ruch et al., 2014.

In addition, personality traits and emotional dispositions might affect how well one copes with incidents of ridicule encountered in childhood, and thus one’s vulnerability to developing gelotophobia (Ruch & Proyer, 2009a). Specifically, gelotophobes are more introverted and neurotic than nongelotophobes. Furthermore, they score higher on measures of psychoticism, reflecting a tendency to be paranoid (Ruch & Proyer, 2009a). Also, as noted earlier, gelotophobes seem to have a negative emotional disposition characterized by shame, anxiety, and unhappiness. As Table 4.3 indicates, Ruch et al. (2014) recognized that these “internal factors” might be both antecedents and consequences of gelotophobia related to one another in a circular feedback loop or self-fulfilling prophecy. For instance, one’s genetic, personality, and emotional predispositions likely facilitate the development of fear and awkwardness in social interactions, which in turn invites ridicule and laughter from peers, thus reinforcing fear and social awkwardness along with the view that laughter signals ridicule. Ruch et al.’s (2014) revised model recognizes that external conditions also can moderate (increase or decrease) one’s risk of developing gelotophobia. Proyer et al. (2012) found that punitive and controlling parenting styles increased a child’s risk of developing gelotophobia. Related to peer group interactions and norms, research suggests that being a victim of bullying could increase one’s risk of developing gelotophobia. Platt, Proyer, and Ruch (2009), for instance, found a strong relationship between expressions of gelotophobia and experiences of having been bullied, and that bullying victims react with fear rather than amusement to instances of playful teasing.

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At a broader level, cultural norms about the use of laughter and ridicule in social contexts might affect one’s vulnerability to developing gelotophobia. In their cross-cultural study, Proyer et al. (2009) found that, in general, Asian countries showed higher mean scores on the GELOPH , 15. than Western countries. Also, Lampert, Isaacson, and Lyttle (2010) conducted a cross-cultural study of gelotophobia within the United States and found that groups of people who derive a definition of self based on interdependence within a group (Asian Americans) exhibited higher degrees of gelotophobia and concern over appearing ridiculous, as compared to people who derive more individualistic definitions of self independent of group memberships (European Americans). Together, these findings suggest that culture-specific norms about the use of laughter and ridicule in social contexts might, in part, determine one’s vulnerability to developing gelotophobia. Consistent with this idea, Davies (2009) proposed that gelotophobia should be higher in cultures that have a hierarchical social order and where a prevalent norm of using shame as a form of social control exists. Researchers have investigated to varying degrees the seven consequences of gelotophobia that Ruch (Ruch, 2004; Ruch & Proyer, 2008a; Ruch et al., 2012) listed, based on Titze’s clinical observations (Titze, 2009). As mentioned above, the consequences of gelotophobia might also be antecedents. Social withdrawal can be conceptualized as an outcome of attempting to avoid being ridiculed and laughed at. However, it might also be a component of introversion that predisposes one to develop gelotophobia in the first place. Researchers need to conduct longitudinal research to better understand and refine feedback models of the relationship between such consequences and antecedents. Ruch et al. (2014) suggested that studies have provided considerable support for the consequences “appear cold as ice/humorless” and “lack liveliness and spontaneity.” For instance, Platt, Hofmann, Ruch, and Proyer (2013) found that gelotophobes express less happiness than nongelotophobes. Specifically, when asked to recall times when they experienced enjoyable emotions, gelotophobes smiled less frequently and in a muted or more subdued manner. Also, Ruch et al. (2009) reported that gelotophobes reported having less wit and an inept sense of humor compared to their nongelotophobe counterparts. Furthermore, they described their humor style as socially cold and mean-spirited, they reported using humor as a means of coping less than nongelotophobes, and they showed less appreciation for incongruity and nonsense humor than nongelotophobes. In addition, Papousek et al. (2009) examined participants’ responses to affective states of another person. Gelotophobes were less affected emotionally by another person’s cheerfulness/laughter. Watching others in a happy mood does not “rub off” on gelotophobes like it does other people. In contrast, they showed greater emotional contagion to another person’s negative mood. Finally, as mentioned above, gelotophobes are less happy and cheerful than nongelotophobes. Regarding self-esteem and social competence, Papousek et al. (2009) reported that gelotophobes feel incompetent and others rate them as incompetent at regulating the expression of their emotions in social contexts, suggesting that gelotophobes have poor intrapersonal skills. More research, specifically examining interpersonal social skills, is necessary to fully test the hypothesis that gelotophobes are socially incompetent. Finally, research has supported the hypothesis that “humor/laughter are not relaxing and joyful social experiences” for gelotophobes. Indeed, gelotophobes do not affectively

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discriminate between good-natured laughter and mean-spirited ridicule. Platt (2008), for instance, asked participants to read four social scenarios that depicted playful teasing and four that depicted mean-spirited ridicule. After imagining experiencing each scenario, participants rated the extent that they would experience the following emotions: happy, sad, angry, disgust, surprise, shame, and fear. She found that insofar as participants scored high on the GELOPH , 15., they experienced predominantly negative emotions in response to both the playful teasing and the mean-spirited ridicule scenarios.

Extensions of Gelotophobia: Gelotophilia and Katagelasticism Ruch and Proyer (2009b) introduced two new dispositions toward ridicule and being laughed at: gelotophilia (the joy in being laughed at) and katagelasticism (the joy in laughing at others). Ruch and Proyer (2009) described the development of these concepts from participants’ written responses to “the worst event of being laughed at they could think of or that they could imagine” (p. 184). They noticed that some participants reported experiencing joy and entertainment from extremely embarrassing instances of ridicule. One participant, for instance, recalled with amusement an instance in which he was laughed at (and presumably humiliated) while having sex. Other peculiar participants simply could not imagine being upset by any event of being laughed at. Ruch and Proyer described these people as gelotophiles. Gelotophiles are not ashamed if something embarrassing happens to them; they enjoy making others laugh at them. Indeed, they actively seek out ways to make others laugh at them. Although gelotophiles use self-defeating humor, they do not necessarily have a selfdefeating humor style. That is, they do not use self-defeating humor because they want to ingratiate themselves to others by making themselves inferior, as one with a self-defeating humor style would. Rather, they engage in self-defeating humor because they enjoy the embarrassment of others laughing at them. Ruch and Proyer also noted that other people seem to enjoy laughing at others. They referred to such people as katagelasticists (from the Greek word katagelao meaning “laughing at”). Katagelasticists actively seek out situations where they can make fun of others and laugh at their foibles, mishaps, or defects. Katagelasticists show little concern for the feelings of others whom they put down or laugh at. They believe that since making fun of others involves laughter it is inherently positive, and thus they do not feel responsible for any hurt feelings. Ruch and Proyer (2009b) developed a new scale, the PhoPhiKat-45, to measure each of the three dispositions toward ridicule: gelotophobia, gelotophilia, and katagelasticism. The PhoPhiKat-45 consists of 45 statements, 15 assessing gelotophobia taken from the GELOPH , 15. (e.g., “When they laugh in my presence I get suspicious.”), 15 to assess gelotophilia (e.g., “I enjoy it if other people laugh at me.”), and 15 to assess katagelasticism (e.g., “Since it is only fun, I do not see a problem in compromising others in a funny way.”). Participants respond to each statement using a 4-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). Using the PhoPhiKat-45, Ruch and Proyer (2009b) found a nonsignificant negative correlation between gelotophobia and katagelasticism indicating that at least some

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gelotophobes enjoy laughing at others despite knowing that it can be hurtful. As you might expect, gelotophobia negatively correlated with gelotophilia; gelotophobes do not seek out situations in which others can laugh at them and gelotophiles do not show a fear of being the object of laughter. Interestingly, gelotophilia correlated positively with katagelasticism. Gelotophiles not only enjoy laughter at their own expense, but also enjoy laughing at others. Ruch and Proyer also reported that gelotophobia and gelotophilia were not correlated with demographic variables, whereas katagelasticism was most common among younger males. Regarding correlates with other personality traits, gelotophilia seems to be related to several components of playfulness suggesting that gelotophiles appear to be: spontaneous, expressive, fun, and silly (Proyer, 2012). Also, they are likely to be extraverted and low in neuroticism and conscientiousness (Ruch, Harzer, & Proyer, 2013), katagelasticists, too, seem to be spontaneous, expressive, and silly (Proyer, 2012), but low in agreeableness and conscientiousness. Further, they tend to be cynical and vengeful (Ruch et al., 2013).

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION Most people view sense of humor as a positive, and highly desirable, trait in potential friends and romantic partners (Sprecher & Regan, 2002). But what exactly is a sense of humor? As we have seen, this concept has taken on many positive connotations over the years, while becoming increasingly vague and broadly defined. The research reviewed in this chapter suggests that sense of humor is not a unitary construct. Instead, psychologists and other scholars have conceptualized and measured sense of humor in many ways relating to humor appreciation, and the use of humor in daily life. Furthermore, these different ways of defining it are not necessarily highly correlated with one another, and they relate in quite different ways to other personality traits. Research with a variety of different sense of humor measures is beginning to clarify the nature and correlates of these humor-related traits, showing how they interact with other dimensions of personality and behavior. Regarding the humor appreciation approach, Ruch’s work with the 3 WD has contributed a great deal to our understanding of individual differences in the enjoyment of humor in the form of jokes and cartoons. Interestingly, this research demonstrates that individual differences in humor appreciation have more to do with the structure than the content or topic of the jokes, contrary to the assumptions of many past researchers. These investigations also have uncovered some very interesting correlations between appreciation of different types of humor and more general personality traits, showing that the types of humor that individuals enjoy reflect their levels of conservative versus liberal social attitudes, sensation-seeking, tough-mindedness, and so on. Researchers have developed scales to measure the many ways people use humor in daily life, and empirical studies have provided considerable evidence for the validity and reliability of many of these measures. Interestingly, although self-report scales measure distinct dimensions of sense of humor, they can be summarized by three broader, superordinate sense of humor dimensions: (1) humor appreciation, (2) a cheerful temperament that strongly relates to extraversion, and (3) a playful, nonserious disposition.

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Researchers historically have defined sense of humor as a unitary and positive trait; thus measures typically have been limited in their usefulness for studying potentially detrimental consequences of humor for an individual’s psychological wellbeing and the quality of their interpersonal relationships. Martin et al.’s (2003) humor styles model, however, expanded the concept of sense of humor by considering both positive and negative ways that people habitually use humor in daily life. One view that seems to be emerging from the humor styles model is that different personality traits are reflected in different humor dimensions. In other words, people express their unique personality traits through their humor. Thus, it may be that extraverts express humor in different ways and enjoy different types of humor than do introverts. Similarly, more agreeable people tend to have an affiliative style of humor, while hostile individuals tend to use humor in more aggressive ways. Other styles of humor may be differentially associated with neuroticism versus emotional stability, as well as openness and conscientiousness. Also, as we will see in Chapter 9, The Clinical Psychology of Humor: Humor and Mental Health, researchers have recently begun to explore the implications of negative humor styles for interpersonal relationships and psychological wellbeing. Finally, in 2008 and 2009 Willibald Ruch and Rene Proyer introduced three new and important concepts describing individual differences in dispositions toward ridicule and being laughed at: gelotophobia, gelotophilia, and katagelasticism. Starting with clinical observations of patients that seemed to have a pathological fear of being the objects of laughter, Ruch and Proyer developed a theoretical model describing the causes and consequences of gelotophobia (fear of being laughed at) and an instrument to measure it in subclinical populations. They, along with many colleagues throughout the world, have developed a prolific line of research to test their model using scientific research methods. This program of research has led them to expand on the concept of gelotophobia and consider two other dispositions toward ridicule: gelotophilia (the joy in being laughed at) and katagelasticism (the joy in laughing at others). In summary, personality psychologists have conducted considerable amount of research on various dimensions of sense of humor as a personality trait, providing a growing scientific understanding of this ubiquitous tendency of humans to play with language and ideas. In the following chapters, we discuss research investigating how these various components of sense of humor relate to the cognitive and social underpinnings and functions of humor. Furthermore, we will discuss the development of sense of humor in childhood and how it relates to psychological and physical health.

KEY CONCEPTS • • • • • • •

Sense of humor Personality Personality psychologists Mirth Response Test Incongruity-resolution humor Nonsense humor Sexual humor

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3 WD Humor Test Extraversion Conservatism Sensation seeking Thrill and adventure seeking Experience seeking Disinhibition Boredom susceptibility Novelty Intensity Meta-message sensitivity Liking of Humor Emotional expressiveness Sense of Humor Questionnaire Multidimensional Sense of Humor Scale Need for Humor Scale Internal humor External humor State-Trait Cheerfulness Inventory Trait cheerfulness Trait seriousness Bad mood Humor Styles Questionnaire Affiliative humor style Self-enhancing humor style Aggressive humor style Self-defeating humor style Gelotophobia Pinocchio syndrome Internal factors External conditions Gelotophilia Katagelasticism IPAT Humor Test of Personality

CRITICAL THINKING 1. This chapter addresses the issue of defining and conceptualizing humor within the domain of personality psychology. Do you agree with the definition(s) provided in this chapter? If so, why? If not, then how would you define humor as a personality construct? 2. According to current research, comedians possess a specific set of personality traits that allows them to excel at their trade. However, there has been some dissension in terms of why comedians have these particular traits. Based on the research discussed in this

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chapter, develop a study that would assist in answering this question. Include hypothesis, conditions, measures, participants, and expected results. 3. Of the advances discussed in this chapter (humor dimensions, humor styles, 3 WD, etc.), which do you feel has had the greatest impact on the understanding of humor? Why? What impact has that advancement had on the field? How do you feel it has changed the direction of humor research? 4. How does the research in this chapter relate to and develop theories discussed in previous chapters? What connections can you make between the modern personality theories/research and the classic theories of humor research? Have the modern theories of personality adequately updated the older theories or do they still leave questions unanswered?

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What are the mental processes involved in “getting a joke” or perceiving something as funny? Is sense of humor related to creativity or other cognitive abilities? Does humor affect cognitive processes (e.g., are we likely to remember humorous information better than serious information? Does experiencing humor cause people to think more creatively?). These sorts of questions are relevant to cognitive psychology, which has been defined as “the study of human mental processes and their role in thinking, feeling, and behaving” (Kellogg, 1995, p. 4). Cognitive psychologists use experimental methods to study how the mind works. Although they recognize that the brain does not function exactly like an electronic computer, they often find it useful to employ a computer analogy in conceptualizing mental processes. Thus, they take an information-processing approach to understand how information is taken in through our sensory organs, encoded, stored, and retrieved from memory, and then used in the comprehension and production of language, problem-solving, creativity, decision making, and reasoning. In short, cognitive psychology is concerned with mental representations of meaning and the mental processes that operate on those representations. Cognitive psychology has made an important impact on the psychological study of humor. We saw in Chapter 2, Classic Theories of Humor, that classic and contemporary theories of humor can be roughly categorized as motivational or cognitive, depending on their primary focus and presumed causal mechanisms (see Table 2.1). Furthermore, the most influential humor theories—incongruity theory and its contemporary descendants described in Chapter 3, Contemporary Theories of Humor—are primarily cognitive theories. That is, they borrow concepts and theory from cognitive psychology to describe the mental processes involved in the perception and interpretation of a stimulus event, identifying perceptions of incongruity as a cognitive mechanism that is minimally necessary for all humor. Cognitive psychology is part of a broader interdisciplinary enterprise known as cognitive science, which also includes some branches of linguistics (the scientific study of language), psycholinguistics (the scientific study of cognitive processes involved in language comprehension and production), neuroscience, and computer science (artificial intelligence (AI)). Over the past two decades, linguists (e.g., Attardo, 1994; Raskin, 1985), psycholinguists (e.g., Giora, 1991), and computer scientists (e.g., Ritchie, 2004) have contributed to comprehensive cognitive theories of humor by further investigating and specifying cognitive underpinnings of humor (e.g., Vaid, Hull, Heredia, Gerkens, & Martinez, 2003). These advances will hopefully stimulate further interest among psychologists in the study of cognitive processes in humor. We have divided this chapter into six parts. First, we consider cognitive methods in the study of humor, followed by an application of those methods to the study of the cognitive processes involved in conversational humor, specifically irony and sarcasm. Third, we address linguistic theories of humor that complement and expand upon incongruity theory and its contemporary descendants described in Chapter 3, Contemporary Theories of Humor. Fourth, we discuss computational approaches to the study of humor that attempt to model linguistic theories using AI. Fifth, we consider the effects of humor on cognition, specifically creativity and memory. Finally, we discuss the conceptualization of sense of humor as a cognitive ability.

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COGNITIVE METHODS IN THE STUDY OF HUMOR Semantic Distance Cognitive psychologists have developed techniques to determine the strength of the semantic association between concepts in memory, and thus a way to investigate how people store knowledge or meaning of concepts in their minds. As we will see, some humor researchers have used these techniques as a way to study the concept of incongruity in humor in a rigorous and quantifiable manner. Charles Osgood and his colleagues (Osgood, Suci, & Tannenbaum, 1957; Snider & Osgood, 1969) pioneered an early approach based on a semantic differential rating scale. Participants would rate numerous words or concepts on a series of scales with endpoints represented by polar opposite adjectives (e.g., hot cold, fast slow, good evil). The researcher would then factor analyze these ratings to identify a smaller number of basic dimensions (factors) that capture most of the variance in participants’ ratings. These factors were assumed to represent the fundamental ways people organize information in their minds. Using ratings of many concepts and many different samples of participants, Osgood and his colleagues repeatedly found that people mentally organize the meaning they attach to concepts using three independent dimensions or factors: Activity (active passive), evaluative (good bad), and potency (strong weak). Osgood conceptualized these factors as three different dimensions in cognitive or mental “space” in which people store words and concepts. Researchers can use the factor loadings of a specific word or concept to identify where the concept is stored in this space. Concepts that are similar in meaning are stored closely together in this hypothetical semantic space, since they have similar loadings on the three factors, whereas those that are quite different in meaning have different loadings and are stored at more distant locations. Thus, one can measure the semantic distance between pairs of words or concepts according to the difference in their loadings on the semantic differential factors. By providing a way of measuring the perceived similarity between concepts, researchers can use the semantic differential method to quantify incongruity in the study of humor (the greater the semantic distance between two words or concepts, the greater the incongruity). In an early study in this vein, Michael Godkewitsch (1974), at the University of Toronto, used the semantic distance between words as a means of measuring incongruity. He asked participants to rate the funniness and wittiness of multiple adjective noun combinations (e.g., “happy child”). He also observed the degree to which participants smiled and laughed. He computed the semantic distance between the words in each pair based on their loadings on the semantic differential factors. As predicted by incongruity theory, participants rated adjective noun pairs funnier to the extent they differed from one another in semantic space. For instance, participants rated semantically distant word pairs (e.g., “hot poet,” “wise egg”) as being funnier than semantically close word pairs (“happy child”). None of the word pairs evoked much amusement. However, supporting incongruity theories of humor, amusement varied systematically as a function of the semantic distance between the word pairs, i.e., how similarly the words loaded on the semantic differential factors. Tim Hillson and Rod Martin also used a semantic distance procedure, the domaininteraction approach (e.g., Trick & Katz, 1986), to examine both incongruity and resolution

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of incongruity in simple verbal stimuli (Hillson & Martin, 1994). They hypothesized that word pairs that are quite distant on some dimensions of semantic space (creating incongruity), but also quite close on other dimensions (allowing for resolution of incongruity), are funnier than those that are either distant or close on all dimensions. As humor stimuli, they used simple metaphor-like statements combining two concepts in the form “A is the B of A’s domain” (e.g., “George Bush is the buzzard of world leaders”). The domains used were actors, world leaders, birds, makes of cars, foods, and magazines, and within each domain they used four nouns (e.g., Sylvester Stallone and Woody Allen were two of the actors). Factor analyses of participants’ semantic differential ratings of these nouns and domain names yielded four factors. They identified two of the factors as domain distinguishing (i.e., different nouns within a given domain were found to have very similar factor loadings, whereas nouns from different domains had more distant loadings). They identified the other two factors as domain insensitive (i.e., different nouns within the same domain could have quite different loadings on these two factors). Based on these factor loadings, they computed two types of semantic distance between the nouns: a within-domain distance (using the domain-insensitive factor loadings), and a between-domain distance (using the domain-distinguishing factor loadings). They considered between-domain distance to be a way of operationally defining incongruity (greater distance 5 greater incongruity), and within-domain distance to be a way of operationalizing incongruity resolution (less distance 5 greater resolution). They then created metaphor-like sentences using pairs of nouns from different domains and asked a second group of participants to rate them for funniness. As predicted (and consistent with the findings of Godkewitsch, 1974), the between-domain distance (incongruity) of the noun pairs in each sentence showed a significant positive correlation with the funniness ratings of the sentences. That is, noun pairs with greater between-domain distance were rated as more funny. Also, as predicted, within-domain distance (incongruity resolution) did not correlate with funniness, but did produce a significant interaction with between-domain distance in predicting funniness ratings. Specifically, sentences that were rated as most funny were those that showed both high between-domain distance (incongruity) and low within-domain distance (resolution). To illustrate, a sentence that received a relatively high mean humor rating was “Woody Allen is the quiche of actors.” The between-domain semantic distance between Woody Allen and quiche was large (actors are quite different from foods on some dimensions), but the within-domain distance was small (Woody Allen and quiche are quite similar in some ways within their respective domains). Thus, there is incongruity but also some sort of resolution to the incongruity (i.e., the incongruity “makes sense” in some way). The semantic distance approach did seem to capture some relevant dimensions of humor, as it was capable of systematically predicting funniness ratings of simple verbal material. It could still be a useful method for exploring various additional parameters that may be relevant to some types of humor. However, this technique has several limitations. It provides only a static picture of the organization of semantic meaning, and is therefore not useful for examining the processes whereby cognitive structures (schemas) are activated over time in processing humorous information. It also assumes that cognitive organization is the same in all people and, because mean ratings are averaged across large numbers of participants, it is not amenable to studying individual differences in humor

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comprehension. In addition, it allows only for the study of simple “pseudo-jokes” made up of word pairs, rather than more complex real jokes and other natural forms of humorous material.

Semantic Priming More recently, cognitive psychologists and psycholinguists have developed several more sophisticated techniques to study schema activation in real time. These techniques may also be useful for humor researchers who wish to study the way people mentally process humorous information. As we discussed in Chapter 3, Contemporary Theories of Humor, several contemporary cognitive theories of humor employ the concept of scripts to explain how incongruity occurs in jokes and other forms of humor. One method, developed by David Meyer and Roger Schvaneveldt (1971), called the lexical decision task, measures how quickly people classify a string of letters as a word or nonword. In a lexical decision task, a researcher presents participants with a string of letters on a computer screen; participants indicate as quickly as possible whether the letter string is a real word or a nonword (i.e., a random string of letters) by pressing a key associated with each of the options. The reaction time for making this decision is measured in milliseconds. The reaction time, or response latency, for a real word indicates the degree to which that word was activated in memory; faster reaction times mean greater activation. Researchers often use the lexical decision task to measure the effect of priming. The priming effect occurs when exposure to one concept influences the level of activation of other semantically related concepts. Using a lexical decision task, Meyer and Schvaneveldt (Meyer, Schvaneveldt, & M. G. Ruddy, 1975; Schvaneveldt & Meyer, 1973) found that people recognized a string of letters as a real word faster if they had first been exposed to a semantically related word. For instance, participants recognized NURSE faster if they had first seen DOCTOR than if they had first seen BREAD. Psycholinguists have used this lexical decision task to determine the way various scripts become activated while people are reading narrative texts (e.g., Sharkey & Mitchell, 1985). Recently, psychologists have begun to make use of techniques such as the lexical decision semantic priming task in the study of humor comprehension. For example, Jyotsna Vaid and her colleagues (2003) at Texas A&M University used this technique to study schema activation while people read jokes. Based on incongruity theory, they hypothesized that an initial schema (S1) is activated during the joke setup, and a second, surprising or incongruous schema (S2), is activated later in the joke. They were interested in determining the point at which S2 becomes activated, and whether S2 replaces S1, so that only S2 remains active by the end of the joke (the selective attention view), or whether both S1 and S2 remain activated concurrently right up to the end of the joke (the concurrent activation view). This question is relevant to the competing predictions made by incongruity-resolution theories, such as those of Suls (1972) and Shultz (1976), versus concurrent activation theories such as those of Attardo and Raskin (1991) and Wyer and Collins (1992). Vaid and her colleagues presented participants with a series of jokes printed on a computer screen (see Fig. 5.1). Each joke was divided into three segments, with the punch line

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Baseline

First half of joke setup

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A woman walks into a bar with a duck on a leash.

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Bartender says, “Where’d you get the pig? Woman says, “This is not a pig; it’s a duck.”

Joke punch line

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Bartender says, “I was talking to the duck.”

S1 = “PET” S2 = “SOW”

Presentation of lexical decision probe

Reaction time (milliseconds)

FIGURE 5.1 Vaid et al.’s (2003) sequence of presenting joke segments followed by a lexical decision task. Source: Adapted from “Getting a joke: The time course of meaning activation in verbal humor,” by J. Vaid et al. (2003). 300 250 200 Schema 1

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100 50 0 Setup 1

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Punch line

FIGURE 5.2 Mean reaction times on a lexical decision task for words related to the initial schema (Schema 1) or the surprising schema (Schema 2) following each of three segments of a joke. Source: Results adapted from “Getting a joke: The time course of meaning activation in verbal humor,” by J. Vaid et al. (2003).

forming the third segment. After each segment, participants completed a lexical decision task involving words that were semantically related to either the initial schema (S1) or the second (surprising) schema (S2). If participants exhibited faster reaction times for a given word after a joke segment compared to a baseline test, this indicated that the schema associated with that word had been activated at that point in the processing of the joke. The results revealed that the initial schemas (S1) were activated during the presentation of the first two segments of the jokes, whereas the surprising second schemas (S2) became activated during the second segment. Unexpectedly, however, they found that neither of the schemas showed a pronounced activation in the final lexical decision test occurring immediately after the punch line (see Fig. 5.2). These results were difficult to explain. On the one hand, they seemed to show some support for the concurrent activation view, since S2 was not more strongly activated than S1 by the end of the joke. On the other hand, though, the lack of activation of either schema by that point was inconsistent with either hypothesis. This finding needs to be replicated in further research before firm conclusions can be drawn. Interestingly, the finding that S2 was primed well before the punch line suggests that numerous potential schemas may be activated even before the incongruity is encountered. This finding seems to

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provide additional evidence, consistent with the findings of Kenny (1955) and Pollio and Mers (1974) discussed in Chapter 2, Classic Theories of Humor, that the recipients of a joke have already anticipated the “true” meaning of a joke well before they hear the punch line, rather than it being unexpected (as suggested by incongruity-resolution theories). However, further research is needed to more fully investigate the priming of schemas at multiple time points during and after the presentation of jokes. Other methods that have been developed for psycholinguistic research on schema activation could also be adapted to address research questions relating to humor. For instance, Stewart and Heredia (2002) used the cross-modal lexical priming task to study schema activation during metaphor comprehension. In the cross-modal lexical priming task, researchers expose participants to auditory information (e.g., a joke or funny narrative) via headphones, and present probe words related to various schemas on a computer screen at precise moments during the auditory presentation. Participants read the probe words aloud as quickly as possible; researchers record how quickly participants can read the probe words. Because words that are semantically related to currently activated schemas are spoken more quickly than those unrelated to activated schemas, this is another way of testing the degree of activation of specific schemas in memory. Another method is the word fragment completion test (e.g., Giora & Fein, 1999), in which participants are instructed to complete a fragmented (partially spelt out) word with the first word they can think of. People more frequently complete fragments with words that are semantically related to recently primed concepts than with words that are unrelated to recently primed concepts. As this brief overview shows, these sorts of techniques hold a great deal of promise for cognitive research on humor, enabling researchers to test specific hypotheses about the time course of schema activation during the processing of humorous texts. More studies are needed to replicate the initial findings of Vaid et al. (2003), to clarify the patterns that have been observed, and to broaden the scope of inquiry. These authors listed a number of unanswered research questions, including the precise timing and duration of activation of the schemas, the role of individual differences in joke processing, the effects of manipulating subjects’ expectations about whether or not they will be encountering humorous materials, the degree to which meaning activation in joke processing is subject to strategic versus automatic control, and the processes involved in different types of humorous texts besides jokes, such as humor occurring spontaneously in conversation (e.g., irony, witticisms). Besides greatly enriching our understanding of the cognitive processes involved in humor, the results of these sorts of investigations should help to address longstanding debates among theorists, such as the debate about incongruity versus incongruityresolution as the basis of humor.

COGNITIVE PROCESSES IN CONVERSATIONAL HUMOR: IRONY AND SARCASM Empirical research on the cognitive underpinnings of humor has largely examined people’s responses to “canned” jokes. This is due, in part, to theoretical considerations. For instance, linguistic theories explicitly address the comprehension of verbal humor such as

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jokes. The empirical focus on jokes is also due to methodological considerations. Jokes are self-contained; they do not depend on a specific context for comprehension. Thus, they lend themselves well to empirical research. In contrast, conversational humor depends more on the constantly changing social context and therefore poses greater challenges for theorists and researchers. However, as noted in Chapter 1, Introduction to the Psychology of Humor, most of the humor that we encounter in everyday life is not in the form of canned jokes (R. A. Martin & Kuiper, 1999; Provine, 2000). Indeed, most of the humor we experience through the course of a normal day occurs because of spontaneous interactions with other people in the form of witty retorts, wordplay, banter, teasing, irony, sarcasm, slips of the tongue, practical jokes, and pratfalls (Long & Graesser, 1988; Norrick, 1993, 2003). Accordingly, some theorists have attempted to empirically study spontaneous, conversational forms of humor. For instance, Wyer and Collins (1992) and Wyer (2004) showed how their comprehension-elaboration theory of humor elicitation accounts for many types of witticisms as well as unintentional humor and even nonverbal humor. Norrick (1986) applied his schema conflict theory to a variety of conversational witticisms, including witty retorts, quips, and one-liners. Lippman and Dunn (2000) also conducted a series of experiments on appreciation and memory for puns. Humor scholars in the field of psycholinguistics have particularly studied two types of conversational humor: irony and sarcasm. As mentioned in Chapter 1, Introduction to the Psychology of Humor, irony is a figure of speech that communicates the opposite of what is said (Kreuz, Roberts, Johnson, & Bertus, 1996; Srinarawat, 2005). For example, someone who says “What a beautiful day!” during a bleak and miserable day is actually communicating “what an awful day.” Burgers (2010) defined irony as “an evaluative utterance, the valence of which is implicitly reversed between the literal and intended evaluation” (p. 19). Although irony is not always funny, it can be a source of humor. Sarcasm is a special case or type of irony. Unlike simply communicating the opposite of what is said as in the case of irony, sarcasm conveys a negative evaluation or opinion from a positive statement. Gibbs (1986, p. 3) stated that sarcasm depends for its effect on “bitter, caustic, and other ironic language that is usually directed against an individual.” For example, if someone says, “You’re a fine friend” to someone who has been unkind, this is an ironic statement that is also sarcastic. Much of the research in this area has investigated how people recognize irony and sarcasm in everyday conversation. For example, when we hear someone say something like “You’re a fine friend,” how do we determine whether the statement is meant to be taken literally or as nonliteral irony or sarcasm? Psycholinguist Rachel Giora and her colleagues at Tel Aviv University have proposed a Graded Salience Theory of humor that focuses primarily on irony. Giora (1985, 1995; Giora, Fein, Ganzi, Levi, & Sabah, 2005) suggested that there are implicit rules that people follow while engaging in conversation (“discourse”): (1) all messages should be relevant to the topic of conversation (the relevance requirement); (2) successive messages should be gradually more informative, and not less informative, than preceding ones (the graded informativeness requirement); and (3) any deviation from the first two rules should be “marked” with an explicit semantic connector such as “by the way” or “after all.” When we try to understand the meaning of something another person says during a conversation, we are initially guided by the “graded salience

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principle,” which dictates that salient meanings (i.e., the more conventional, common, familiar, or prototypical meanings) are always activated first. If the salient meaning does not match the context (doesn’t make sense), then less salient meanings are activated. Subsequently, there is a contextual integration phase, in which any meanings that have been activated are either retained, or suppressed as irrelevant or disruptive, or permitted to fade. According to Giora (1995, 1998), an ironic statement in a conversation (e.g., someone saying “What a beautiful day!” when the weather is cold and stormy), conforms to the relevance requirement, since it introduces information about the current topic of conversation (the weather, in this example), but it violates the graded informativeness requirement, since it introduces an improbable message with a salient meaning that is either too informative or not informative enough (the discrepancy between the statement and the actual weather). To understand the ironic statement, the listener first activates its salient (literal) meaning (“the weather is beautiful”), but, since this does not make sense in the context, must then activate an “unmarked” interpretation, called the “implicature” (“the weather is terrible”), and both meanings remain activated for comparison. The incongruity between the two activated meanings (the actual stormy weather and the nice weather implied in the statement) causes the irony to be humorous. In addition to explaining irony, Giora (1991) applied her graded salience theory to the understanding of jokes. Although her theory is similar to Raskin’s (1985) script-based theory (which we will discuss in a later section of this chapter), Giora’s theory takes the social context of humor into account, and therefore is more applicable to nonjoke-related humor. Indeed, Norrick (2003) has applied Giora’s theory to various types of conversational witticisms, including puns and amusing anecdotes. Because irony involves activating two meanings, Giora’s theory predicts that people are slower to comprehend ironic statements as compared to nonironic ones. Further, Giora’s theory predicts that both meanings should remain activated after the “true” meaning of the ironic statement has been understood. In contrast to Giora’s theory, other models (e.g., Clark & Gerrig, 1984; Gibbs, 1994; Sperber, 1984) argue that, given enough contextual information, people process an ironic statement in the same way as a literal one. This is known as the processing equivalence hypothesis. From this perspective, people should not take longer to understand an ironic versus a nonironic statement, and only the ironic meaning will be activated. Although some research findings seem to support the processing equivalence hypothesis (e.g., Gibbs, 1986), Giora (1995) reinterpreted these findings in light of her own theory. In addition, Giora and her colleagues have conducted several experiments that support her graded salience theory rather than the processing equivalence hypothesis. Giora, Fein, and Schwartz (1998), for instance, found that participants took longer to comprehend a written statement in a context that cued an ironic interpretation versus a context that cued a literal interpretation, suggesting that the ironic statement required greater information processing. Using lexical decision tasks and word fragment completion tasks, Giora et al. (1998) showed that a context that cued an ironic interpretation of a sentence activated both ironic and literal meanings; however, a context that cued a literal interpretation activated only the literal meaning. Moreover, Giora et al. (2005) noted that statements vary on an irony continuum depending on the size of the discrepancy between the literal statement

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and the intended meaning. Giora et al. categorized statements in descending degrees of irony as (1) highly ironic (e.g., “He is exceptionally bright.”), (2) negated overstatement (e.g., “He is not exceptionally bright.”), (3) nonoverstatement (“He is not bright.”), to (4) literal (“He is stupid.”). Giora et al. found that people more easily interpret a statement as ironic to the extent that the discrepancy between the literal statement and the intended meaning is large. These findings are consistent with research suggesting that the use of hyperbole or exaggeration strengthens the evaluative meaning of a statement. Van Mulken and Schellens (2012) refer to hyperbolic words as “intensifiers,” as they magnify or intensify the underlying evaluative connotation of a statement. Other research suggests that the conflict between the processing equivalence and graded salience hypotheses may be resolved by taking social context into account. Albert Katz, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Western Ontario, and his colleagues (Katz, Blasko, & Kazmerski, 2004) summarized a body of research investigating the way people process sarcastic statements when they have been provided with information about the interpersonal context, such as the degree of relatedness and shared knowledge of the participants in a conversation, or the gender and occupation of the speaker. Taken together, these studies showed that the speed with which people recognize statements as sarcasm depends on their prior information about the context. For example, some studies found that, when subjects are told that a statement was made by a male, they take no longer to read sarcastic statements than literal statements (supporting the processing equivalence hypothesis), whereas when the statement is made by a female, sarcastic sentences take longer to read than literal ones (supporting the graded salience hypothesis). These findings suggest that, since people tend to associate sarcasm with males more than females, the sarcastic meaning of an utterance by a male is more readily available during the comprehension process. In contrast, when a woman makes a sarcastic comment, the literal meaning tends to be activated initially, before the sarcastic meaning is accessed, resulting in lengthier processing. Similar differences in processing time were found when participants were given information about the occupation of the speaker. People processed a comedian’s or a factory worker’s sarcastic statements more quickly than a priest’s or teacher’s sarcastic statements. Katz and his colleagues (2004) proposed a Constraint-Satisfaction Model to account for these sorts of findings. According to this theory, different sources of information about the social context (i.e., constraints) provide probabilistic support for different possible interpretations of an utterance (e.g., whether it is meant to be literal versus sarcastic). These constraints operate in parallel while one processes a statement. If the constraints all point in the same direction, competition between alternative interpretations is resolved rapidly, whereas settling on an interpretation takes longer if support for different alternatives is nearly equal. Thus, the social context in which ironic or sarcastic statements are made plays an important role in determining how efficiently they are interpreted. If all indicators point towards a humorous interpretation right from the start, the incongruity of humor can be interpreted very quickly. Other psycholinguistic investigations have provided further evidence of the importance of taking the interpersonal context into account in the interpretation of irony and sarcasm. For example, Penny Pexman and Meghan Zvaigzne (2004), at the University of Calgary,

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examined the effect of the closeness of a relationship on participants’ comprehension of sarcastic remarks (ironic insults) and compliments. As mentioned earlier, sarcastic remarks or ironic insults convey criticism or insult in a positive literal statement (e.g., saying “You’re a fine friend” when someone has done something unkind), whereas ironic compliments are negative statements that are intended to be taken positively (e.g., saying “Too bad you can’t play baseball” when someone has just scored a home run). Pexman et al. (2004) presented participants with vignettes describing either a close friend or a casual acquaintance making a positive or a negative statement in a positive or negative social context. Participants rated the statements along multiple dimensions. As expected, participants perceived a statement as ironic when the valence of the statement did not match the valence of the context (e.g., a positive statement in a negative context), regardless of whether the statement took place between close friends or casual acquaintances. However, the closeness of the relationship affected the perceived funniness of these ironic statements: irony occurring between close friends, as compared to casual acquaintances, was rated as more humorous, especially if it was an ironic compliment. Participants also perceived irony between close friends (as compared to acquaintances) as friendly teasing and having no impact on their relationship. Interestingly, participants rated ironic compliments as less polite than literal compliments, whereas they rated ironic insults as more polite than literal insults. Pexman et al. concluded from their findings that humor in the form of irony plays a role in building and maintaining close relationships. Similarly, Gibbs (2007) suggested that people use sarcasm directed at members of social out-groups as a method of affirming solidarity among members of an in-group. In addition, the solidarity or closeness of a relationship acts as a cue for how to interpret irony and sarcasm. Thus, social factors, as well as linguistic factors, are important for understanding irony (Pexman et al., 2004; Pexman & Olineck, 2002). Recently, researchers have begun to take a computational approach to better understand the linguistic characteristics of irony and sarcasm that people use when interacting on social media (e.g., Liebrecht, Kunneman, & van den Bosch, 2013; Reyes, Rosso, & Veale, 2012). For instance, using linguistic classification computer programs trained to detect sarcasm in tweets, Liebrecht et al. (2013) revealed many interesting characteristics of sarcasm on Twitter based on a sample of 3.3 million Dutch tweets. Specifically, most tweets contained a positive literal message about a topic of interest (e.g., school, family) and further contained three types of words to signal sarcasm: explicit markers such as “#sarcasme” (#sarcasm in English), “#ironie (irony)” or “#LOL,” “#NOT,” etc., intensifiers or hyperbolic words, and exclamations (e.g., “wow,” “woehoe, “jippie,” etc.). These findings suggest that explicit markers denoted by a hashtag essentially represent the social media equivalent of linguistic and nonverbal markers (e.g., voice intonations, facial expressions) that people use in conversation to signal sarcasm and irony (e.g., Attardo, Eisterhold, Hay, & Poggi, 2003; Bryant & Fox Tree, 2005; Rockwell, 2007). In summary, psycholinguists have recently debated the cognitive processes involved in the comprehension of irony and sarcasm, and this has stimulated a considerable amount of interesting research (see Creusere, 1999, for a review of earlier research). Moreover, as cognitive psychologists have moved beyond the study of jokes to these more conversational forms of humor, their research has increasingly taken the interpersonal context into

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account, examining the effects of social, as well as linguistic factors, on cognitive processing of humor. Similar research efforts will hopefully be applied to investigate other types of conversational humor besides irony and sarcasm. Cognitive approaches for assessing schema activation and computational approaches are potentially useful tools for further creative research in this area.

LINGUISTIC APPROACHES TO HUMOR Linguistics, which is the study of language, comprises many subfields, including phonology (the study of speech sounds), syntax (grammatical rules that specify the acceptable form of sentences), semantics (language meaning), and pragmatics (rules for appropriate social use and interpretation of language in context). Not surprisingly, linguistic theories of humor address verbal or textual humor, humor that is communicated through language, rather than nonverbal forms like practical jokes or slapstick comedy. Beginning in the mid-1980s, linguists have developed several formal theories of humor (see Attardo, 1994; Kirkmann, 2006 for a review). In this section, we focus on influential linguistic theory and research emerging from the subfield of semantics. Linguists taking a semantic approach to the study of humor examine the way people process narratives or “texts” and interpret them as funny (e.g., Norrick, 1986; Raskin, 1985). The goal of semantic theories is not to delineate and understand the variables that affect how people go about determining whether something is funny or not. Rather, the goal is to develop a model of text analysis that fully and precisely specifies the rules for processing textual information that are necessary and sufficient to produce humor. Thus, linguistic theories complement and contribute to the existing, broader cognitive theories of humor based on incongruity (see Chapter 2, Classic Theories of Humor, and Chapter 3: Contemporary Theories of Humor) not by expanding their scope, but by refining their precision. Because linguists do not examine the actual ways people process information under various conditions, they typically do not conduct experiments on human participants to test their theories. Instead, they use logical reasoning to determine if a theory is internally coherent and whether it accounts for a wide range of text examples (i.e., jokes). Ideally, semantic theories would reach a level of specification that is both precise and broad enough to program a computer to make sense of any humorous text and to distinguish humorous from nonhumorous texts (Hempelmann, Taylor, & Raskin, 2012; Raskin, Hempelmann, & Taylor, 2009). Victor Raskin (1985) introduced a linguistic extension of incongruity theory called the Script-based Semantic Theory of Humor (SSTH). As a semantic theory, SSTH focused on verbal humor, and more specifically jokes that contain a setup and a punch line. SSTH analyzed jokes based on scripts and rules for combining the possible meaning of scripts associated with a given text. Raskin conceptualized the theory’s central concept, script, in a slightly different way from Schank and Abelson (1977). Recall from Chapter 3, Contemporary Theories of Humor, that Schank and Abelson described a script as a special type of schema that relates to knowledge about routine activities (e.g., going to a

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restaurant) used to encode relevant information. In contrast, Raskin (1985) defined a script in terms of concepts associated with words, specifically: [A]n enriched, structured chunk of semantic information, associated with word meaning and evoked by specific words. The script is also a cognitive structure internalized by the native speaker, and it represents the native speaker’s knowledge of a small part of the world. (p. 81)

Accordingly, scripts contain a person’s complete knowledge of concepts and experiences associated with words. Scripts can contain general knowledge, i.e., an understanding of something that is shared by most native speakers (e.g., going to a restaurant). Native speakers will have similar general knowledge scripts for words they have in common. Scripts can also contain specific or personal knowledge known only to a given individual (e.g., a person’s memory of getting his first car; Hempelmann et al., 2012). According to SSTH, the scripts associated with a text provide the basis for humor. Specifically, Raskin described two necessary and sufficient conditions for one to perceive a spoken or written text as humorous: 1. A text must be compatible, fully or partially, with two different, overlapping scripts. That is, one must be able to interpret the text, at least partially, according to two different scripts. 2. The two scripts with which the text is compatible are opposite on some dimension. Thus, when a person attempts to understand a joke, a mental script is activated to make sense of the events described in the joke setup. However, the punch line of the joke introduces elements that are not compatible with that original script, triggering a switch from one script to another. The punch line makes the listener backtrack and realize that a different interpretation (i.e., an alternative script) was possible from the beginning. For the text to be viewed as humorous, this second, overlapping script must be opposite to the first. There are three general ways in which the scripts may be in opposition to one another: actual vs. nonactual, normal vs. abnormal, or possible vs. impossible. At a more concrete level, script oppositions may be manifested in terms of such pairs as good vs. bad, life vs. death, obscene vs. nonobscene, high stature vs. low stature, clean vs. dirty, intelligent vs. unintelligent, and so on (Ruch, Attardo, & Raskin, 1993). Raskin used the following joke to illustrate how the model works: “Is the doctor at home?” the patient asked in his bronchial whisper. “No,” the doctor’s young and pretty wife whispered in reply. “Come right in.”

According to Raskin’s theory, the first part of this joke evokes a standard “doctor” script (which is presumably stored in the listener’s semantic network) in which a patient presents himself at a doctor’s residence to be treated for an illness that causes him to have a hoarse voice, and is told that the doctor is not there. However, the doctor’s wife’s invitation for the patient to enter the house anyway does not fit with the “doctor” script, so the listener must backtrack and reevaluate the text. The information that the doctor’s wife is young and pretty and that she is inviting the patient into her house when her husband is away activates a different (i.e., “lover”) script. Both the “doctor” script and the “lover”

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script are compatible with the text, and these two scripts are opposed to one another on the sex versus no-sex basis. Consequently, the joke fulfills the requirements of the theory and the listener finds it humorous. It is noteworthy that humor requires a connection or “overlap” between competing scripts. Simply presenting two incongruous scripts in a text is insufficient to elicit humor (Triezenberg, 2008). Note also that Raskin’s theory is more consistent with Koestler’s and Apter’s ideas of “bisociation” and “cognitive synergy” than with Shultz’s and Suls’ incongruity-resolution theories because, in Raskin’s theory, both scripts are activated at the same time, rather than one replacing the other. Salvatore Attardo and Victor Raskin revised and extended Raskin’s original SSTH into a broader linguistic theory called the General Theory of Verbal Humor (GTVH; Attardo & Raskin, 1991). GTVH is a semantic theory, but also involves other areas of linguistics such as theory of narrative, discourse analysis, and pragmatics (Attardo, 2001). GTVH represents jokes in terms of six Knowledge Resources (KRs), or hypothetical databases describing the characteristics by which people analyze humorous texts (Attardo, 1994). The six KRs, in order from most concrete to most abstract are: 1. Language (LA): LA describes the actual wording of a joke. 2. Narrative Strategy (NS): NS represents the genre or format of the joke (e.g., riddle or expository text). 3. Target (TA): TA refers to persons or groups ridiculed in a joke. 4. Situation (SI): SI represents the objects, people, places, and other details of the joke text. 5. Logical Mechanism (LM): LM describes the mechanisms or “joke techniques” by which two opposing scripts are brought together in a joke. LMs include such mechanisms as figure-ground reversal, juxtaposition, analogy, parallelism, and faulty reasoning. 6. Script Opposition (SO): SO incorporates the ideas of script overlap and opposition from SSTH and is considered a necessary condition for humor. Attardo (1997) discussed the relationship between the GTVH and incongruity-resolution theories (discussed in Chapter 2: Classic Theories of Humor). He proposed a “three-stage” (setup-incongruity-resolution) rather than a “two-stage” (incongruity-resolution) model of joke comprehension, suggesting that incongruity relates to the SO component, while resolution corresponds to the LM component, and setup refers to the overlap between the two scripts. Also, different from traditional incongruity-resolution theories, Attardo’s formulation suggests that resolution occurs before incongruity; the LM, corresponding to resolution, activates an alternative script, which along with the initial script creates incongruity. Finally, GTVH (like its predecessor, SSTH) assumes that humor arises from the concurrent activation of two incompatible scripts, and is therefore like the views of Koestler (1964), Apter (1982), and Wyer (2004), and different from incongruity-resolution models (e.g., Shultz, 1976; Suls, 1972), which assume that humor emerges from the elimination (resolution) of incongruity. Attardo, Hempelmann, and Di Maio (2002) further developed the concept of LMs, and proposed formulations of the model using graph theory and set theory. Attardo (1998) extended the GTVH to allow for the analysis of humorous texts that are longer than jokes. To do this, he introduced a variety of additional concepts such as jab lines and punch lines, macro- and micronarratives, levels of narratives, strands of lines, stacks of strands, and intertextual jokes (an explanation of these concepts is beyond the scope of the present discussion). Attardo also demonstrated how this more complex model could be applied

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by using it to analyze a segment of a television sitcom. Thus, an attempt has been made to extend the theory so that it can account for spontaneous conversational humor in addition to canned jokes. Finally, Villy Tsakona (2009) demonstrated that one could use GTVH to analyze cartoons that derive humor from their text captions or dialogues. He further suggested that the Language KR accounts for humorous mechanisms such as exaggeration, contradiction, and metaphor in both verbal and strictly visual cartoons, thus expanding the application of GTVH beyond verbal text. Although this brief overview certainly does not do justice to linguistic theories of humor, it should give readers from psychology a sense of the kinds of theories linguists have developed that could serve as a basis for testable hypotheses in psychological research. For example, psychologist Willibald Ruch teamed up with Attardo and Raskin (Ruch et al., 1993) to conduct an empirical study to test propositions of the GTVH. Specifically, they tested the hypothesis that people see pairs of jokes that differ on a more abstract KR dimension as less similar than pairs of jokes that differ on a more concrete or superficial KR dimension. Ruch et al. presented participants with pairs of jokes from three different genres (blonde jokes, chicken jokes, and light bulb jokes) that differed from one another at only one KR level. Thus, two jokes might be identical in every way except that they involved different SOs or different LMs. Participants rated the similarity of the jokes in each pair. In general, the results conformed to the hypothesis. Participants generally perceived greater similarity between jokes that differed at more concrete or superficial KR dimensions. However, similarity ratings of jokes differing in terms of SI and in terms of LM are not in the predicted order, which has prompted much discussion in the literature about the validity of the LM KR (e.g., Davies, 2011; Hempelmann, 2004, 2009; Hempelmann & Attardo, 2011).

COMPUTATIONAL APPROACHES TO HUMOR Is it possible to program a computer to generate and/or understand humor? Although researchers in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) have, for the most part, ignored humor, it can be argued that any attempt to develop a truly intelligent computer system will ultimately need to address the problem of humor. Graeme Ritchie, a Scottish linguist and AI researcher now at the University of Aberdeen, along with his students and colleagues, suggested that AI investigations of humor can not only help to clarify theories of humor, but can also lead to important discoveries about human intelligence, language, problem-solving, and information processing more generally (e.g., Binsted & Ritchie, 1997, 2001; Ritchie, 2001, 2004, 2007). Ritchie (2001, 2004) has advocated an “experimental AI” approach, involving the use of computer programs to test cognitive (and particularly linguistic) theories of humor. In order to adapt a theory to a computer program, the theory needs to be specified in a formal, precise and detailed manner, conforming to the principles of generative linguistics and AI. Thus, AI investigations provide a way of “sniffing out” fuzzy thinking, vague conceptual definitions of central concepts, and faulty logic that might not otherwise be apparent

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in theoretical formulations. Unfortunately, according to Ritchie, most of the existing humor theories are too vague and imprecise for computational application. For example, Ritchie (1999) criticized the traditional incongruity-resolution theories (discussed in Chapter 2: Classic Theories of Humor), pointing out that the ideas of incongruity and resolution have not been defined clearly enough, and that different theories define concepts in different ways. In particular, although they appear to be very similar, Shultz’s (1976) theory (which Ritchie refers to as the “surprise disambiguation model”) is, on close analysis, actually quite different from Suls’ (1972) theory (the “two-stage model”). The two theories have different implications and apply to different classes of jokes (see also Ritchie, 2007). One reason for the vagueness and imprecision of many theories, according to Ritchie, is that they attempt to explain too many different types of humor. Ritchie strongly rejects the quest for a “grand theory of humor” at the present time, arguing instead that we need to identify specific subclasses that can be thoroughly characterized and implemented on a computer. Only after we have done this with multiple subclasses can we build up a comprehensive theory that accounts for all kinds of humor. Accordingly, Ritchie has narrowed his focus to verbal jokes, and even more narrowly to certain types of jokes that share specific verbal mechanisms (e.g., punning riddles). Although one could theoretically attempt to develop a program that is capable of processing verbal texts that are fed into it and determine whether they are funny, Ritchie suggests that the more practical place to begin is with programs that apply a given theory to generate humorous texts. Human judges can then determine whether the output of the program is indeed humorous. By observing the behavior of the program (i.e., the types of jokes it produces), one can obtain useful insights into the weaknesses of the theory underlying it. This can then lead to further refinements of the theory and corresponding “tweaking” of the program. Thus, the goal of this sort of programming enterprise is not so much the program itself, but the refinement of the theoretical ideas underlying it. Ritchie has argued that attempts to implement cognitive and linguistic theories of humor in computer programs are beneficial to psychologists as well as linguists by providing a way of testing theories and alerting theorists to weaknesses in their models. Kim Binsted and Graeme Ritchie (1997) have taken this approach in developing a computer program called JAPE (Joke Analysis and Production Engine) that generates a specific class of jokes known as punning riddles. These are question answer jokes that are based on a pun (e.g., What’s the difference between a hairy dog and a painter? One sheds his coat, the other coats his shed.). Binsted and Ritchie began by developing a formal model of the punning mechanisms underlying these types of riddles, identifying a set of symbolic rules about the meaning combinations and textual forms involved. These rules were then built into a program that also has access to a large natural language lexicon (dictionary) of the kind used in AI research generally. This lexicon contains many words, along with information about their phonetic pronunciation, lexical usage, and syntactic meaning. It is important to note that this lexicon does not contain any information that could be conceived as inherently “funny.” Nonetheless, by searching through the lexicon for suitable word pairs that meet the criteria described by the rules, and applying various basic templates of riddle structure, the program can generate a virtually limitless number of novel riddles.

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The following are some examples of the funnier riddles that were generated by JAPE (from Ritchie, 2004): • What do you call a ferocious nude? A grizzly bare. • What do you get when you cross breakfast food with a murderer? A cereal killer. • What’s the difference between leaves and a car? One you brush and rake, the other you rush and brake. • What’s the difference between a horse and a wagon? One bolts and jumps, the other jolts and bumps. Binsted, Pain, and Ritchie (1997) conducted a study to evaluate the output of JAPE, using a sample of 8- to 11-year-old children as judges. They presented these subjects with a random selection of JAPE-produced riddles, human-produced riddles (taken from published joke books), nonsense nonjokes, and sensible nonjokes. The children were asked to determine whether each text was a joke and, if so, how funny it was and whether they had heard it before. The results showed that the JAPE-produced riddles were identified as jokes just as reliably as the human-produced ones, and both were easily distinguished from the nonjokes. Although the JAPE-produced jokes were rated as less funny, on average, than the human-produced jokes, many of the JAPE riddles were rated as being just as funny as those produced by humans. Further analysis of the less funny riddles produced by JAPE may lead to future refinements of the program and, at the same time, a more precise linguistic theory of this type of humor. In addition to the JAPE program, Binsted and Ritchie (2001) analyzed the structure and formal regularities of another class of joke, which they referred to as “story puns,” and offered some suggestions about a possible computational model for their production. Ritchie (2004) also described other computer programs that have been developed by other researchers using a variety of approaches. As one example, Bruce Katz (1993) took a connectionist approach in developing a neural network model of incongruity in humor that attempted also to incorporate concepts of arousal, sexual and aggressive themes, and hedonic tone (i.e., mirth). Ritchie (2004) has also criticized Raskin and Attardo’s GTVH for being too vague for a computer implementation. However, humor researchers have recently begun to use Ontological Semantic Technology (OST) as a way of implementing GTVH in computer programs designed to recognize or detect humor in texts rather than creating jokes (e.g., Hempelmann et al., 2012; Raskin et al., 2009; Raskin, Taylor, & Hempelmann, 2010; Taylor, 2010; Taylor & Raskin, 2012). OST is built on “repositories” of world and linguistic knowledge comprised of a combination of automatic and human computation. The knowledge of these repositories represents the concepts of words and sentences and relationships between them, and it is used by computer programs to disambiguate the different meanings of words and sentences to represent them comprehensively (Hempelmann et al., 2012; Taylor & Raskin, 2012). Thus, when applied to humor, OST represents the meaning of all components of a joke. A semantic analyzer uses these types of repositories to recognize jokes by means of the ontological knowledge of the world. Raskin and colleagues have used OST to reconsider the six GTVH knowledge resources and to refine their definitions and conditions of use (Hempelmann et al., 2012). See Box 5.1 for a description of ontological semantic approaches to computational humor.

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BOX 5.1

ONTOLOGICAL SEMANTIC APPROACHES TO C O M P U TAT I O N A L H U M O R B Y D R . C H R I S T I A N HEMPELMANN Christian F. “Kiki” Hempelmann is Associate Professor of Computational Linguistics and Director of the Ontological Semantic Technology Lab (www.tamuc.edu/ontology) at Texas A&M University Commerce. He received his doctorate from Purdue University with a dissertation on computational pun generation in 2003. His research focuses on computational semantics, computational humor, punning, and general humor research. Kiki has published widely on these topics over the last 20 years and regularly presents on them at international conferences and as an invited speaker. He has also been a consultant for the Internet search industry since 2005.

Computational algorithms have been designed for the detection, analysis, and generation of humorous texts. One approach to these tasks is approximating them based on observed patterns in large amounts of humorous vs. nonhumorous text collections called corpora. Computers can be trained to detect these patterns, and even reproduce them to some degree by feeding them, e.g., a few thousand jokes marked as such and a similar number of nonjoke texts of similar length. This approach is referred to by the misnomer “machine learning.” Another type of approach uses more-or-less complicated resources, i.e., lexicons and other knowledge bases and rules operating on the knowledge bases for processing humor computationally. Very simple approaches “generate” jokes by picking words from various lists and inserting them into a joke template. Complex meaning-based approaches, like the Ontological Semantic Theory of Humor (OSTH; Raskin, Hempelmann, & Taylor, 2009), aim to actually process the meaning of texts, including the meaning of their humor. They are based on a model of the world, its event types, objects, their properties, and any other relevant context. These models are called ontologies. All the concepts in rich ontologies are connected to each other. For example, forks are known to be instruments of eat, which is an event type done by any living organism, including any human, who is a subclass of living organism. With thousands of such concepts—with tens of thousands of properties and connections among them—the computer can select the intended meanings of sentences by selecting word meanings that describe possible scenarios in the world that the ontology models. Thus, the meaning of “sulfuric acid can eat through most metals” won’t allow for the sense of eat described above and acid as its agent, but will use the concept labeled corrode with acid as the instrument instead. This process of selecting such intended meaning combinations is called disambiguation and is the most important step in computational semantic (meaning) analysis. The specific task of processing humorous meaning, which is under incremental development (Hempelmann et al., 2012; Taylor & Raskin, 2013; Hempelmann & Petrenko, 2015; see

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(cont’d)

also the work by Veale, e.g., 2012), involves a special type of disambiguation. The reason is that humorous texts intentionally carry more than one meaning, and these meanings, usually two of them in a special constellation of opposition, don’t allow for excluding all but one correct one of them. Thus, the words can’t be mapped onto a single set of related concepts. Take the following joke example with multiple puns in it: You can tune a guitar, but you can’t tuna fish. Unless it’s a bass. The first clause conforms with the knowledge of stringed instruments being the theme of “tune” events, but the second clause contains the heterographic (spelled differently) and homophonic (sounding identically) pun-target pair [“tune a”/“tuna”] fish. Humans buy into a relationship between words that are identical or similar in sound, which creates an overlap between tuning fish and the tuna fish subclass of fish. The opposing contrast between stringed instruments and fish should not be disambiguated by a humor-detecting algorithm, but needs to be identified as a potentially humorous contrast. This knowledge needs to be part of the ontological knowledge base. But the joke has another, aligned, pun in it in the homographic (spelled the same) but heterophonic (sounding similar, not identical) puntarget pair “bass” (guitar)/“bass” (fish). The reverse relationship of spelling and pronunciation to the previous pun-target pair is likely to be enhancing the funniness, but clearly beyond what can, or should be, modeled computationally at this stage in the development of the OSTH. Detecting the aligned contrast between another subclass of stringed instrument (bass guitar), and another subclass of fish (bass fish), is already within the purview of ontology-based computational humor. In sum, the type of approach sketched here has lexicons for the languages that it is intended to process, the word meanings of which are defined in terms of ontological concepts. With the help of these resources—lexicons and an ontology—and humor-specific properties like oppositions and script-like groupings in the richly connected ontology, the technology is evolving toward the ability to process various types of natural language humor. This development has taken knowledge-based computational humor from cookiecutter template filling to generating puns to generating jokes with a different mechanism and closer toward the ability of analyzing (in contrast to the more confined task of generating) humor in unrestricted natural language input.

Although computational models such as JAPE and OST appear to be quite promising, Ritchie (2001, 2004) acknowledged that they are still at a very early stage of development. The implementation rules underlying these programs are not tied to any real hypotheses about humor in general, and it is not clear how to generalize from computational models to other forms of humor. In addition, a complete computational model of humor will ultimately require the development of truly intelligent systems with a vast foundation of encyclopedic knowledge coupled with sophisticated reasoning abilities. Nonetheless, Ritchie contends that steps can be taken toward this goal by breaking the problem into

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smaller chunks, identifying specific classes of humor, and developing rigorous formal descriptions that can be implemented using existing technology. “The overall message,” states Ritchie (2001, p. 132), “is that endeavoring to develop computational models of humor is a worthwhile enterprise both for AI and for those interested in humor, but we are starting from a very meager foundation, and the challenges are significant.” To be psychologically relevant, however, it is important that the computer simulations carry out the tasks in the same way that humans are assumed to do. For example, although computer chess programs can outplay most of the best human players, they operate very differently than human chess players, and are therefore not a very good test of cognitive theories of human chess-playing. Similarly, it is not entirely clear that programs like JAPE generate humor in the same way that humans do. Ritchie’s recommendation for more narrowly focused theories applied to discrete types of humor may also be a useful suggestion for psychological humor research, although this arguably depends on the goals of the individual researcher. If the goal is to identify general characteristics of humor that distinguish it from other human activities, then broader, more general theories may be appropriate. On the other hand, if the goal is to describe in detail how people cognitively process specific forms of humor, then greater progress will likely be made with research aimed at testing specific hypotheses derived from narrowly focused theories. However, for the purposes of understanding psychological aspects of humor, it may not be as necessary to make such fine-grained distinctions (e.g., distinguishing between several different classes of puns), and psychologists may find it useful to partition the humor domain (“carve nature at its joints”) in different ways than do AI researchers. In any case, for the psychologist, advances in AI research on humor may be viewed as a rich source of potential hypotheses for further experimental research.

EFFECTS OF HUMOR ON COGNITION In this chapter, thus far, we have examined cognitive processes that are involved in humor comprehension. We now turn to a discussion of the possible effects of humor on other cognitive phenomena, focusing particularly on creativity and memory.

Creativity Many theorists and researchers have noted a close relationship between humor and creativity. Koestler (1964) considered humor, along with scientific discovery and artistic creation, to be forms of creativity, all of which involved the common process of bisociation (see Chapter 2: Classic Theories of Humor). Just as humor theorists see elements like incongruity, surprise, and novelty as necessary elements of humor, creativity theorists see them as defining elements of creativity (e.g., Besemer & Treffinger, 1981). Both humor and creativity involve a switch of perspective, a new way of looking at things (O’Quin & Derks, 1997). Indeed, many creativity researchers consider humor to be essentially a type of creativity. Consequently, some measures of creative ability or creative personality include assessments of humor among their items (e.g., G. A. Davis & Subkoviak, 1975; Torrance,

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1966). O’Quin and Derks (1997), however, suggested that although there are close theoretical links between the two, creativity and humor should be considered as two separate but partially overlapping constructs. In the next section, we consider the role of creativity as an underlying trait that fosters humor production ability. Here, though, we focus on the reverse relationship, addressing the question, “does exposure to humor cause people to be more creative in their thinking?” There are at least two possible mechanisms by which humor may be expected to affect creativity stated here as hypotheses: 1. The Flexible Thought Hypothesis: The flexible thought processes and activation of multiple schemas involved in the processing of incongruities in humor could facilitate the flexible and divergent thinking required for creativity (Belanger, Kirkpatrick, & Derks, 1998). 2. The Positive Emotion Hypothesis: The positive emotion (i.e., mirth) associated with humor could reduce tension and anxiety, encouraging thinking, and enhancing the ability to relate and integrate divergent material (Isen, Daubman, & Nowicki, 1987). Several experiments have provided considerable evidence that exposure to humor increases people’s creative potential. Israeli psychologist Avner Ziv (1976) compared scores of 10th grade students on two tests of verbal creativity after they had either listened to a recording of a popular comedian or engaged in a nonhumorous activity. Compared to the controls, those in the humor condition scored higher in total creativity as well as specific components of creativity: fluency, flexibility, and originality. In the 1980s, psychologist Alice Isen and her colleagues conducted a series of studies demonstrating facilitative effects of positive emotion on creativity (Isen et al., 1987; Isen, Johnson, Mertz, & Robinson, 1985). They assessed creativity using a variety of methods including Mednick and Mednick’s (1959, 1962) Remote Association Test (RAT), in which participants must identify a concept that links two seemingly unrelated words. Although Isen and her colleagues framed their studies in terms of the effect of positive mood on creativity, they often induced positive mood by exposing participants to comedy films. Their findings revealed that exposure to comedy resulted in greater creativity compared to exposure to emotionally neutral or negative stimuli. These findings are consistent with the Positive Emotion Hypothesis because nonhumorous methods of inducing positive emotions also enhanced creativity. Thus, it seems that the creativity-enhancing effects of humor are likely due, at least in part, to effects of mirth (i.e., the emotional component of humor) on cognition rather than to a more cognitive mechanism (e.g., by activating multiple schemas, humor produces more flexible, less constrained thinking). More research, however, is necessary to fully test the mediating role of positive emotions. Recently, researchers have begun to consider the possibility that different humor styles can differentially affect creativity (Chang, Chen, Hsu, Chan, & Chang, 2015; Chen, Su, & Ye, 2011). Chang et al. (2015), for instance, tested two competing hypotheses about the mechanisms by which humor styles might relate to creativity. First, the Positive Emotion Hypothesis described above is predicated on findings that momentary positive affect can enhance creativity (see Baas, De Dreu, & Nijstad, 2008 for a review) and that people high in the two adaptive humor styles (affiliative and self-enhancing) tend to experience greater

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positive affect. Thus, people high in affiliative and self-enhancing humor styles should exhibit greater creativity because they experience more positive affect. Alternatively, the intrapersonal variability hypothesis proposes that people who possess opposing or conflicting traits tend to exhibit more creativity. Consistent with this hypothesis, Kim, Zeppenfeld, and Cohen (2013) found that people high in internal conflict completed a task in a more creative manner than those low in personal conflict. Junior high school students in Taiwan completed Martin et al.’s (203) humor styles questionnaire, a measure of creative attitudes (divergent thinking), and a version of the Chinese Creative Thinking Test in which participants were given 10 minutes to use a Chinese character to complete as many different drawings as possible. Supporting the intrapersonal variability hypothesis, Chang et al. found that people who were high in all four humor styles (“general humor endorsers”) exhibited greater creativity than those who were high in only the positive humor styles (“positive humor endorsers”), those who were high in only negative humor styles (“negative humor endorsers”), or those low in all four humor styles (“humor deniers”). Thus, it seems that diverse humor styles could be more essential for creativity than positive affect or positive traits. Researchers have also examined the relationship between creativity and individual differences in disposition toward ridicule and being laughed at. Chan, Chen, and Lavalee (2013) examined the relationship between gelotophobia, gelotophilia, and katagelasticism, and creativity. They found that gelotophobia, the fear of being laughed at, correlated negatively with individual differences in creativity and, as a result, negatively related to performance on a creativity task (gelotophobes tend to be less creative by nature and thus exhibit less creativity on a given task). Gelotophilia, the joy of being laughed at, in contrast, positively correlated with creative disposition and creative task performance (gelotophilies tend to be more creative by nature and thus exhibit greater creativity on a given task). Lastly, they found no significant relation between katagelasticism (the joy of laughing at others) and creativity. In summary, it seems clear that humor affects creativity. First, momentary exposure to humorous stimuli enhances creative thinking. Second, people who engage in both positive and negative styles of humor to a higher degree in daily life tend to be more creative. The mechanism by which humor affects creativity is less clear, however. Current research suggests that humor might increase creative thinking by inducing positive emotion or affect. However, research has yet to explicitly demonstrate the mediating role of positive affect. In addition, it appears that the positive emotion hypothesis does not account for the relationship between humor styles and creativity. Perhaps different mechanisms underlie the effect of momentary exposure to humorous stimuli on creativity and the way the chronic use of humor in daily life affects creativity. Further research is necessary to more fully investigate these questions.

Memory Does humor enhance memory? More specifically, is humorous material remembered better than nonhumorous material? Many studies have found that humor does indeed

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serve as a memory aid for material presented in educational settings (e.g., Kaplan & Pascoe, 1977; Kintsch & Bates, 1977; Ziv, 1988), for advertisements (e.g., Duncan, Nelson, & Frontzak, 1984; Krishnan & Chakravarti, 2003), and for material presented in experimental research settings (e.g., Chambers & Payne, 2014; Lippman & Dunn, 2000; Schmidt, 1994; Schmidt & Williams, 2001). Not all research, however, has demonstrated a positive “humor effect” (see Weinberger & Gulas, 1992, for a review). Thus, researchers have sought to better understand the underlying mechanisms or psychological processes by which humor affects memory. There are several mechanisms (framed below as hypotheses) by which humor might work on the encoding or initial processing of information to affect memory: 1. Rehearsal Hypothesis: People might engage in more rehearsal of humorous versus nonhumorous information during initial processing (Slamecka & Katsaiti, 1987). 2. Arousal Hypothesis: Humor might induce an emotional response or physiological arousal, which itself positively affects memory (e.g., Burke, Heuer, & Reisberg, 1992). 3. Contextual Surprise Hypothesis: People might be surprised to encounter humorous information in a specific context and thus pay greater attention to it. 4. Incongruity Hypothesis: People might attend more and think more about humorous material because it involves an incongruity whose resolution requires extensive information processing. Empirical studies have systematically tested these underlying mechanisms. Steven Schmidt, a psychologist at Middle Tennessee State University, for instance, conducted a series of six experiments to examine the effects of humor on memory for sentences (Schmidt, 1994). Schmidt constructed humorous and nonhumorous sentences that were equivalent in other important qualities: they were equally bizarre, and thus contextually surprising, equally difficult to understand, and equally meaningful. Schmidt found that when humorous and nonhumorous sentences were presented in separate lists, participants recalled each type of sentence equally well. However, participants recalled humorous sentences better than nonhumorous sentences when the list of sentences contained both humorous and nonhumorous sentences. In fact, when the list contained both humorous and nonhumorous sentences, participants recalled humorous sentences better and nonhumorous sentences worse compared to conditions in which each type of sentence was presented alone. Thus, participants remembered humorous sentences better at the expense of remembering nonhumorous sentences. Schmidt (1994) ruled out the contextual surprise hypothesis to account for the memory advantage for humorous material when presented with nonhumorous material because the degree of surprise potential was held constant between them. Schmidt further suggested that the findings were consistent with the rehearsal hypothesis. Schmidt and Williams (2001) further examined the effects of humor on memory, testing the rehearsal and incongruity hypotheses. Schmidt and Williams presented participants with original cartoons, cartoons with altered captions that removed both incongruity and humor, or “weird” cartoons with altered captions that retained incongruity but not humor. They found that participants recalled the gist of original cartoons better than nonhumorous or weird cartoons. Participants, however, did not differentially recall specific details of the cartoons such as the exact wording of the captions. Further, participants recalled the

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gist of original cartoons better than the weird and nonhumorous cartoons following “intentional learning” instructions to maximize rehearsal and “incidental learning” instructions to minimize intentional rehearsal. These findings rule out the incongruity hypothesis because participants recalled the gist of original cartoons better than weird cartoons that also contained incongruity. Further, they recalled the gist of weird and nonhumorous cartoons about equally. These findings also argue against the rehearsal hypothesis because the effect of humor on memory occurred in conditions of incidental and intentional learning. Based on the findings of Schmidt (1994) and Schmidt and Williams (2001), Schmidt (2002) proposed a new explanation by which encoding and retrieval processes work together to create a memory advantage for humorous material under certain conditions. Schmidt expanded on Waddill and McDaniel’s (1998) spontaneous elaboration hypothesis, that unusual or distinctive information in a specific context requires the activation of more background knowledge in order to interpret and understand it. Thus, unusual information receives more elaborate information processing or encoding. Schmidt (2002) added that to the extent that humorous material is relatively uncommon, it would likely receive greater elaboration during initial encoding. Schmidt referred to this as the “context-dependent elaboration hypothesis.” In addition, McDaniel, DeLosh, and Merritt (2000) suggested that people more easily retrieve distinctive information relative to more common information. Thus, humorous material might be afforded both an encoding and a retrieval advantage that work together to give it a memory advantage when it is distinctive (e.g., presented together with nonhumorous material). Schmidt (2002) replicated previous findings showing that participants remember the gist of humorous cartoons better than nonhumorous or weird cartoons, and that this effect occurred when participants read a list containing each type of cartoon. These effects also occurred when participants did not expect a memory test. These results corroborate previous findings, further ruling out the rehearsal and incongruity hypotheses. Schmidt also measured participants’ heart rates to examine the role of physiological arousal in the humor effect on memory. Contrary to the arousal hypothesis, participants did not show heart rate acceleration upon initially processing humorous cartoons versus the other two types of cartoons. Thus, physiological arousal does not appear to be the critical mechanism responsible for the effect of humor on memory. However, there is some evidence that arousal might enhance memory effects. Peter Derks and his colleagues at the College of William and Mary used experimental procedures like those of Schmidt (1994) to examine potential memory effects of “tendentious” (i.e., sexual and aggressive) humor compared to nontendentious humor (Derks, Gardner, & Agarwal, 1998). They partially replicated Schmidt’s findings of the memory-enhancing effects of humorous material, and found a strong effect for tendentiousness, indicating that emotionally arousing elements such as sex and aggression further enhance the memory advantage for humorous material. Schmidt’s (2002) results did reveal a greater heart rate deceleration in response to the humorous cartoons compared to the others, which Schmidt suggested was associated with ease of discrimination. He suggested that during the encoding process, the humorous cartoons were “marked” as different from the others (p. 136). Overall, then, Schmidt’s (2002)

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findings support his context-dependent elaboration hypothesis. It appears that the combination of encoding processes that differentiated humorous material from other material combined with retrieval processes that favor humorous material provides the most complete explanation for these and previous findings. Carlson (2011) noted that Schmidt’s (2002) context-dependent elaboration hypothesis does not propose that there is something special about the perception of humor that facilitates memory. Rather the perception of distinctiveness is critical, and humorous material is often distinctive. Thus, according to the context-dependent elaboration hypothesis, people should recall nonhumorous material as well as humorous material provided it is equally distinctive in a given context. However, Carlson also found that people recall humorous material better than nonhumorous, distinctive material (i.e., inspirational material), suggesting that there is indeed something special about the perception of humor that facilitates memory. Summerfeldt, Lippman, and Hyman (2010) offered an alternative to Schmidt’s (2002) context-dependent elaboration hypothesis by more explicitly delineating how humor facilitates encoding and retrieval of information. They argued that to recall information such as a line in a poem or song, one must preserve other characteristics such as the rhythm and rhyme scheme (Rubin, 1995). An accurate reconstruction of a line in the poem or in a song is constrained and thus aided by the characteristics of rhythm and rhyme. Humorous material such as jokes could be constrained by restrictions imposed by the punch line, rhyme scheme, set up expectations, joke context, etc., that function together as memory cues to help people reconstruct the joke. So, while humorous material might indeed be distinctive in each setting (Schmidt, 2002), it also might come with unique constraints for accurate reconstruction that serve as effective memory cues. Summerfeldt et al.’s constraint explanation might account for why humor seems to facilitate memory for the gist of humor material but not specific details. It seems likely that constraints of a punch line and humor context would serve as memory cues for the essence or general substance of a joke, cartoon, or statement rather than specific wording or other details. Similarly, the constraint explanation might account for an interesting finding that humor in advertising leads to better recall of an advertisement, but worse recall for a specific product (e.g., Hansen, Strick, van Baaren, Hooghuis, & Wigboldus, 2009). Perhaps humor can act as a constraint that aids the accurate reconstruction of the general essence of an advertisement as a whole, but not the specific product promoted in the advertisement. In summary, empirical research provides convincing evidence that people recall the general essence of humorous information better than nonhumorous information when both are presented in the same context. Researchers have proposed several mechanisms by which humor might affect the initial encoding of information to facilitate memory. However, it appears that humor probably works on both encoding and retrieval processes. Because humorous information is unusual or distinct in many contexts, people elaborate on it more during the initial processing and thus more easily retrieve it than more common information. In addition, humorous material appears to contain its own restrictions or constraints that aid in the memory of the general essence of the material.

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HUMOR AS A COGNITIVE ABILITY As we discussed in Chapter 4, The Personality Psychology of Humor, humor scholars have conceptualized individual differences in humor in terms of humor appreciation and the use of humor in daily life. Relevant to the cognitive psychology of humor, scholars also have considered individual differences in humor production ability: one’s aptitude or skill for saying, doing, or creating things (e.g., making jokes, telling stories) that others find funny (O’Quin & Derks, 1997). People who are gifted with this creative talent are presumably the amateur comedians who keep their friends “in stitches” and are the “life of the party,” while the supremely talented few may become professional comedians and comedy writers. Traditionally, researchers have assessed humor production ability by giving people an opportunity to make up something funny. Perhaps the most common method involves asking people to generate captions for cartoons, often New Yorker cartoons (e.g., Babad, 1974; Brodzinsky & Rubien, 1976; Ziv, 1980). Ko¨hler and Ruch (1993), for instance, developed the Cartoon Production Punchline Test (CPPT) that includes three categories of caption-removed cartoons derived from Ruch’s (1992) 3 WD test of humor appreciation: incongruity-resolution, nonsense, and sexual. Researchers have also asked people to create funny captions for TAT cards (Day & Langevin, 1969), to generate witty word associations (Hauck & Thomas, 1972), and to make up funny presidential campaign slogans (Clabby, 1980). Recently, Howrigan and MacDonald (2008) developed an innovative new humor production task requiring participants to complete a blank resume for an odd or funnylooking person depicted in a photo by generating responses to typical resume categories or prompts (e.g., name, occupation, about me, my typical day, etc.). Nusbaum et al. (2017) also developed a new assessment of humor production ability called the Jokes Stems Task, which requires participants to write something funny to complete the set up of a story. For instance: Imagine that one of your classes this semester is incredibly boring, and you’re trying to convey just how boring this class is to one of your friends. So you say “Seriously, this class is so boring. . .” Please complete the phrase “Seriously this class is so boring. . .” with something funny.

In each of these humor production tests, the experimenters or independent judges rate the funniness of participants’ responses, yielding a score for humor production ability. Given the conceptual similarities between humor and creativity noted earlier, it is perhaps not surprising that researchers have found that humor production ability is strongly related to creativity (e.g., Brodzinsky & Rubien, 1976; Clabby, 1980; Fabrizi & Pollio, 1987). Brodzinsky and Rubien (1976), for instance, found that participants who generated funnier captions for cartoons also scored higher on the RAT (Mednick & Mednick, 1959, 1962) described above. Importantly, the RAT is thought to measure “convergent creative thinking” (Lee, Huggins, & Therriault, 2014; Smith, Huber, & Vul, 2013). Convergent creative thinking is involved in coming up with optimal strategies to solve problems (Cropley, 2006). Thus, funnier people tend to be better at seeing problem-solving strategies that lead to effective solutions to problems. O’Quin and Derks (1997) conducted a meta-analysis of this research and found an average correlation of 0.34 between humor production ability

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and creativity as measured by the RAT. O’Quin and Derks concluded that, although creativity and humor production do involve similar mental processes, they are nonetheless distinct. Whereas humorous productions are typically creative, individuals can be creative without being funny. Although humor production ability and creativity are clearly related, the nature of that relationship remains unclear based on previous research. It is possible that there is a direct relationship between creativity and humor production, such that creativity is a critical cognitive ability involved in humor production. However, as O’Quin and Derks (1997) noted, humor production ability and creativity might be related due to the common influence of a third variable such as intelligence. Indeed, intelligence and creativity are related to one another (Jauk, Benedek, Dunst, & Neubauer, 2013; Silvia, 2008; 2015), and humor production ability positively correlates with intelligence (e.g., Greengross & Miller, 2011; Greengross et al., 2012; Howrigan & MacDonald, 2008; Koppel & Sechrest, 1970). Thus, it is possible that because of the conceptual overlap between creativity and intelligence, neither predicts humor production ability on its own when taking the other into account. Accordingly, Kellner and Benedek (2017) conducted a study to better delineate the unique roles that creativity and intelligence play in humor production. Kellner and Benedek devised their own humor production test (HPT) based on Ko¨hler and Ruch’s (1993) CPPT. The HPT consisted of visual cartoons and asked participants to come up with funny captions for the cartoons. As in the CPPT, the HPT reflected three different types of cartoons: incongruity resolution, nonsense, and sexual. To better understand how intelligence relates to humor production, they assessed intelligence conceptualized as fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence (Horn & Cattell, 1966). Fluid intelligence refers to the ability to think and reason abstractly; whereas crystallized intelligence refers to knowledge acquired from prior learning and experiences. The two forms of intelligence work together in daily life. For instance, when taking a statistics test, you would use fluid intelligence to devise problem-solving strategies; you would use crystallized intelligence to recall and execute the right formulas. Kellner and Benedek also assessed creativity conceptualized as divergent creative thinking rather than convergent thinking. Divergent creative thinking involves spontaneous, unconstrained generation of ideas or solutions to a problem (e.g., brainstorming; Cropley, 2006). Kellner and Benedek replicated previous findings showing that humor production ability correlated at a statistically significant level with creativity and overall intelligence: participants who came up with funnier cartoon captions also scored higher in intelligence and creativity. Interestingly, Kellner and Benedek’s study adds to previous research showing that proficiency in divergent creative thinking, as well as convergent creative thinking, seem to be critical skills underlying the ability to be funny. Additional analyses showed that both intelligence and creativity played unique roles in explaining humor production when taking the other into account. Both intelligence and creativity are important, independent components of humor production. Finally, Kellner and Benedek also showed that humor production ability was more strongly related to crystallized intelligence than with fluid intelligence. This finding is consistent with those of Greengross and Miller (2011) who also found that humor production ability correlated more strongly with a measure of crystallized intelligence than with a measure of fluid intelligence. Together these findings more clearly delineate how intelligence relates to humor ability. It appears that acquired

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knowledge, particularly in the subtleties of language, plays a critical role in being funny (p. 56). In addition to creativity and intelligence, various personality traits also appear to underlie humor production ability. For example, Robert Turner (1980) examined the association between humor production ability and self-monitoring, a personality trait having to do with the degree to which people are sensitive to environmental cues of social appropriateness and regulate their behavior accordingly. Turner assessed humor production ability in two ways. Participants performed the usual cartoon caption completion task, and a second task in which they created 3-minute comedy monologues to describe miscellaneous objects (i.e., tennis shoes, a wristwatch, and a box of crayons). For each task, judges rated the funniness of participants’ responses. As predicted, higher self-monitors produced funnier responses on both tasks. Turner suggested that attending to social cues and reactions enables high self-monitors to develop the skill to say and do funny things. In contrast, low self-monitors, because they are less attentive to others, do not learn as readily from those responses and therefore do not develop as much skill at producing humor. Consistent with these results, other research has found a positive correlation between self-monitoring and a self-report measure of humor production ability (Bell, McGhee, & Duffey, 1986). Recall from Chapter 4, The Personality Psychology of Humor, that openness to experience (one of the Big Five personality traits) also positively relates to humor production ability (Nusbaum et al., 2017). People higher in openness to experience are better than others at being funny. Overall, then, humor production is a skill that people develop over the course of their lives that requires crystallized intelligence and creativity in the form of both convergent and divergent thinking. Furthermore, certain personality traits, namely self-monitoring and openness to experience, appear to contribute to the development of the ability to produce humor.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION Cognitive psychology has made an important impact on the psychological study of humor. In fact, the most influential comprehensive theories of humor can be described as cognitive theories: they borrow concepts and theory from cognitive psychology to describe the mental processes involved in the perception and interpretation of a stimulus event, identifying perceptions of incongruity as a cognitive mechanism that is minimally necessary for all humor. In this chapter, we discussed important contributions to the cognitive psychology of humor from a broad network of related disciplines including linguistics, psycholinguistics, and computer science. Indeed, many important theoretical advances in recent decades have originated in linguistics. We first described some of the methods cognitive psychologists have developed to measure the strength of semantic association between concepts in memory, and thus investigate how people store knowledge or meaning of concepts in their minds. In the mid-1950s psychologists developed self-report questionnaires to measure the semantic distance between concepts, and then in the 1970s they began to take advantage of computer technology to develop several more sophisticated techniques (e.g., the lexical decision task) to

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study schema activation in real time. We then discussed how psychologists and psycholinguists have used these techniques to investigate the cognitive mechanisms (e.g., perception of incongruity, incongruity resolution) that underlie the perception of jokes and other forms of conversational humor such as irony and sarcasm. In our consideration of linguistic approaches to the study of humor, we noted that linguists have contributed to the cognitive psychology of humor by developing models of text analysis that fully and precisely specify the rules for processing textual information that are necessary and sufficient to produce humor. Ideally, semantic theories would reach a level of specification that is both precise and broad enough that theorists can represent them computationally, i.e., use the theory to program a computer to make sense of any humorous text and to distinguish humorous from nonhumorous text. The most influential linguistic theories have been Raskin’s (1985) script-based semantic theory of humor and Attardo and Raskin’s (1991) general theory of verbal humor. The cognitive psychology of humor also includes investigations of the ways humor affects or relates to other cognitive processes such as creativity and memory. It is apparent that exposure to humorous stimuli and endorsement of each of the four humor styles relate positively to creative potential. It is also clear that people show better memory for the general essence of humorous information than nonhumorous information when both are presented in the same context, and that humor probably facilitates memory by aiding both encoding and retrieval of information. Finally, relevant to the cognitive psychology of humor, scholars have conceptualized humor (particularly humor production) as a cognitive ability. Research suggests that the development of humor production ability (the ability to be funny) requires crystallized intelligence and creativity in the form of both convergent and divergent thinking. Furthermore, certain personality traits, namely self-monitoring and openness to experience, appear to contribute to the development of the ability to produce humor. The field of humor research studies many different questions that are relevant to the cognitive psychology of humor. As noted throughout this chapter, there are many research questions and hypotheses derived from a variety of theories that warrant empirical investigation. Further research on questions related to the cognitive psychology of humor might not only provide a better understanding of the ubiquitous phenomena of humor, but might also shed light on other more basic questions of interest to psychologists, such as the interface between cognition and emotion, comprehension of ambiguous meaning, and cognitive aspects of nonverbal as well as verbal interpersonal communication. Research questions relating to cognitive aspects of humor could form the basis of a good many Masters and Ph.D. theses for years to come.

KEY CONCEPTS • • • • •

Perceptions of incongruity Activity factor Evaluative factor Potency factor Within-domains distance

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Between-domains distance Lexical decision task Priming effect Cross-modal lexical priming task Word fragment completion test Irony Graded Salience Theory Processing equivalence hypothesis Intensifiers Constraint-Satisfaction Model Script-based Semantic Theory of Humor General Theory of Verbal Humor Knowledge resources JAPE (Joke Analysis and Production Engine) Flexible Thought Hypothesis Positive Emotion Hypothesis Intrapersonal Variability Hypothesis Rehearsal Hypothesis Arousal Hypothesis Contextual Surprise Hypothesis Incongruity Hypothesis Humor Production Ability Cartoon Production Punchline Test Joke Stems Task Convergent creative thinking Fluid intelligence Crystallized intelligence Divergent creative thinking Self-monitoring Openness to experience

CRITICAL THINKING 1. As discussed in the current chapter, humor often generates an increase in individuals’ creativity. However, the mechanism by which this increase is caused is not yet fully known. What do you think would be a good explanation for the relationship? Why? 2. The use of technology to study humor has been a prevalent theme in the field of cognitive psychology. How else could technology or social media platforms be used to study styles of humor? What types of humor would they best be applied to? How might these topics/studies change the field of cognitive psychology? 3. Vaid and colleagues made use of priming tasks to study humor comprehension and schemas. The results of their 2003 study were inconclusive: the initial schemas were activated during the first two joke segments, the second schemas were active during the

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second segment, but neither schema was active at the punch line. Why might these results have occurred? What variable(s) might mediate this effect? 4. In the last section of this chapter, humor is described as a cognitive ability, one that is affected by intelligence, self-monitoring, and openness to experience. If humor can be affected by these things, then could humor also affect these traits? Why or why not? Based on your opinion, formulate a hypothesis and then design a study to test your hypothesis. Include conditions, treatments, measures, participants, and predicted results.

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C H A P T E R

6 The Physiological Psychology of Humor and Laughter

Like all psychological phenomena, humor is based on complex biological processes taking place in the brain and nervous system. To experience humor, an individual must first perceive playful incongruity in a stimulus event. This perceptual/cognitive process draws on systems located in many regions of the cerebral cortex, those involved in visual and auditory perception, language comprehension, social cognition, and logical reasoning. The

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perception of something as funny stimulates parts of the brain (e.g., prefrontal cortex, limbic system) responsible for producing emotions of mirth and amusement. Such emotions, in turn, stimulate the production and release of biochemical molecules that produce further changes in the brain and body through the autonomic nervous system and endocrine system. In addition, the activation of mirthful emotion typically triggers the expressive behavioral responses of smiling and laughter, which involve the brainstem and its connections to the forebrain, as well as the nerves leading to muscles in the face, larynx, and respiratory system. The investigation of these sorts of biological processes in humor lies within the domain of physiological psychology (also known as psychobiology or biological psychology). Physiological psychologists study the biological underpinnings of behavior and psychological states in brain chemistry and the nervous system. Thus, they attempt to develop and test theories about a variety of psychological phenomena in terms of the brain-behavior relationship (Carlson, 2008). Historically, the study of humor and laughter has not been a major focus in physiological psychology. However, the recent publication of several studies using sophisticated equipment such as fMRI scanners suggests that interest in studying the underlying brain structures and biochemical processes implicated in humor and laughter is increasing. As we will see, physiological research into humor and laughter highlights the interplay between cognitive and emotional processes, thus suggesting that humor and laughter could be fruitful topics for investigating the interplay between emotion and cognition more generally. In the first section of this chapter, The Nature of Laughter, we discuss the relationship between laughter and emotion, followed by an overview of research on the facial expressions of laughter and smiling, the acoustics of laughter, and pathological laughter. In the next section, Laughter in Animals, we underscore the close connection between humor, laughter, and play. Then, in the section Where do Humor and Laughter Occur in the Brain?, we address the different areas of the brain that are implicated in the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral processes (laughter) of humor. Finally, we discuss evolutionary psychology theories that attempt to account for the origins and adaptive functions of humor and laughter.

THE NATURE OF LAUGHTER Our discussion of the biological underpinnings of humor provides an opportunity to focus more closely on interesting questions concerning the nature and functions of laughter. As many authors have noted, boisterous laughter comprises a very strange set of behaviors. A hypothetical alien from outer space would certainly be struck by the oddity of this behavior, noting the vocalization of loud, barking noises, the repetitive contractions of the diaphragm and associated changes in respiration, the open mouth and grimaces caused by contractions of facial muscles, the flushing of the skin, increased heart rate and general physiological arousal, production of tears in the eyes, loss of strength in the extremities, and flailing body movements (cf. Askenasy, 1987; Keith-Spiegel, 1972). Such hearty laughter seems to take over the whole organism in an uncontrollable and compulsive way, conveying almost overwhelming feelings of enjoyment and amusement. It is

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also very contagious and difficult to fake (van Hooff & Preuschoft, 2003). What a peculiar way for people to respond to the perception of humor! Koestler (1964) characterized laughter as a physiological reflex, and suggested that it is the only domain in which a highly complex mental stimulus (i.e., humor) produces such a stereotyped reflexive response. However, as van Hooff and Preuschoft (2003) pointed out, laughter is not actually a reflex. Unlike reflexes, laughter is highly dependent on motivational and emotional states, and social context. We can define laughter, then, as a ritualized and largely stereotyped vocal act that serves as a communication signal (Provine & Yong, 1991; van Hooff & Preuschoft, 2003). Laughter is closely related to smiling; the difference between them is that they represent a different degree of emotional intensity, rather than qualitatively and affectively different responses to a stimulus (Messinger, Cassel, Acosta, & Cohen, 2008; Ruch, 1994). In fact, the same facial muscles are involved in laughing and smiling, with stronger contractions of longer duration occurring in laughter (Ruch, 1993). The close connection between smiling and laughter is also evident in the fact that laughter typically begins as a smile and, after the laughter ends, gradually fades smoothly back into a smile once again (Pollio, Mers, & Lucchesi, 1972). Nikopoulos (2017) argued that there are four characteristics of laughter that seem to apply universally: 1. Laughter communicates information to others. Nikapoulos argued that laughter evolved primarily to facilitate communication, which explains why we are much more likely to laugh and smile in social situations than when we are alone. It also explains why when we do laugh while alone, we do so in response to stimuli that imitate social interaction, such as while reading a book or watching television (Provine, 2001; Scott, Lavan, Chen, & McGettigan, 2014). 2. Laugher is mostly invariable. Although people’s laughs do not all sound identical, we all as human beings share anatomical uniformity that produces a degree of similarity in laughter (i.e., short bursts of sound). 3. The content of laughter is highly variable. Laughter reflects one’s subjective perception of a situation. Whether or not a person laughs or smiles in a given situation reveals much about their dispositional qualities (e.g., attitudes, personality) that determine their perceptions. 4. Laughter is associated with positivity. Nikapoulos contends that in order for laughter to function as a meaningful social signal, people must, for the most part, consensually understand its affective meaning. Further, laughter signals one’s subjective perception that something is funny. Thus, people, by default, assume that laughter and smiling reflect expressions of positive affect; they deviate from this understanding to the extent they perceive expressions of positive affect (particularly a high level of positive affect) as inappropriate or unlikely in a given situation (e.g., nervous laughter, pathological laughter, laughter elicited by tickling).

Laughter and Emotion Laughter is one of many largely “hard-wired” behavior patterns people use to express emotion. Through laughter, people express a pleasurable feeling closely related to joy. As

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noted in Chapter 1, Introduction to the Psychology of Humor, researchers have not settled on an agreed-upon name for this emotion, with different scholars referring to it as “amusement,” “humor appreciation,” or “exhilaration.” We prefer the term “mirth,” which captures its emotional nature as well as its association with humor and laughter. Like other emotions, mirth triggers a range of physiological changes that take place in the brain, autonomic nervous system, and endocrine (hormone) system (Cacioppo, Berntson, Larsen, Poehlmann, & Ito, 2000), along with subjective feelings of pleasure, amusement, and cheerfulness. Since the 1960s, researchers have investigated mirthinduced physiological changes including heart rate, skin conductance, blood pressure, skin temperature, and muscle tension. Although there have been some inconsistent findings (e.g., Harrison et al., 2000; Hubert & de Jong-Meyer, 1991), the results of these investigations generally indicate that mirth is associated with increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system, the branch of the autonomic nervous system associated with the wellknown fight-or-flight response (see McGhee, 1983b, for a review of early research). In one influential study, Lennart Levi (1965) found that participants who watched a comedy film produced more adrenaline and noradrenaline (measured in urine samples) than those who watched an emotionally neutral nature film, and comparable amounts to participants who watched fear- and anger-evoking films. Other experiments have found mirth-related increases in heart rate, skin conductance, and other variables associated with sympathetic arousal (Averill, 1969; Foster, Webster, & Williamson, 2002; Godkewitsch, 1976; Goldstein, Harman, McGhee, & Karasik, 1975; Hubert & de Jong-Meyer, 1990; Jones & Harris, 1971; Langevin & Day, 1972; Marci, Moran, & Orr, 2004). These effects indicate that humor activates the sympathetic-adrenal-medullary (SAM) system, the well-known “fight-or-flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system, which is also involved in stress-related responses such as fear and anger. In several of these experiments, researchers found positive correlations between the perceived funniness of humor stimuli and the amount of increase in physiological arousal, suggesting that stronger feelings of mirth were related to greater activation of the sympathetic nervous system. In addition to SAM activation, there is some evidence that extended periods of mirth activate the hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical (HPA) system, the stress response that causes the adrenal cortex to release cortisol into the bloodstream. Hubert and de JongMeyer (1990) found that exposure to a brief 9-minute humorous cartoon did not increase salivary cortisol levels. However, Hubert, Moeller, and de Jong-Meyer (1993) found that a longer (90 minutes), and arguably more humorous, Monty Python movie significantly increased cortisol compared to an emotionally neutral nature film. Indeed, 50% of participants who watched the Monty Python movie exhibited HPA activation, as indicated by increased cortisol levels relative to baseline, starting about 1 hour after the beginning of the movie and continuing for 1 hour after it had ended. Hubert et al. also found that the degree to which cortisol increased positively related to participants’ perceptions of the funniness of the movie, indicating that the more amusing participants found the movie, the greater the increase in cortisol they experienced (see Fig. 6.1). Two findings suggest that the increased physiological arousal in response to humor material is caused by the experience of mirth rather than by laughter per se. First, Foster

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6.1 Cortisol levels among participants in the humorous and nonhumorous conditions in Hubert et al.’s (1993) study. Source: From “Film-induced amusement changes in saliva cortisol levels,” by W. Hubert et al. (1993), Psychoneuroendocrinology, 18, p. 265. Copyright 1993 by Elsevier. Reprinted with permission.

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et al. (2002) found that participants experienced increased heart rate and skin conductance after recalling a humorous experience without actually laughing. Second, the observation that people experience greater physiological changes in response to humor material to the extent they find the material amusing: the stronger the feeling of mirth, the greater the physiological arousal. Thus, laughter does not appear to cause physiological arousal; rather it seems that laughter and peripheral autonomic arousal are separate (although correlated) consequences of mirth. Overall, it appears that mirth triggers a physiological response of autonomic arousal similar to the “fight-or-flight” response, which prepares the body for vigorous activity. In addition, there is evidence that mirth also causes a loss of muscle tone. Indeed, the expression “weak with laughter” is common to many languages (Overeem, Lammers, & Van Dijk, 1999). With vigorous laughter, people often feel a weakness in their limbs and occasionally even fall to the floor. Supporting this idea, an early study by Paskind (1932) found that participants experienced a decrease in muscle tone in their forearms while they were laughing. More recently, Sebastiaan Overeem and his colleagues (1999) examined the effects of mirth on the H-reflex, assessed by electrically stimulating a nerve in the leg and using electromyography (EMG) to measure the resultant activation of an adjacent muscle. A severe reduction in amplitude indicates motor inhibition or muscle weakness, such as that seen in cases of cataplexy, in which afflicted individuals suddenly collapse from severe loss of muscle tone. Overeem et al. found that the H-reflex decreased by almost 90% when participants laughed in response to watching humorous slides. In a subsequent study, Overeem, Taal, Gezici, Lammers, and Van Dijk (2004) demonstrated that the emotion of mirth underlying laughter caused this effect, rather than the respiratory or motoric effects of laughter itself. Thus, there appears to be truth to the idea that laughter causes muscle weakness, although, more accurately, it appears that the mirthful emotion underlying laughter causes muscle weakness. While the positive emotion of mirth triggers the activation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS), physiologists debate over the “emotional specificity” of ANS activity: i.e., whether there are ANS distinctions among different emotions (Levenson, 1992). For

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instance, in her review of the empirical literature, Lisa Feldman Barrett (2006) concluded that diverse emotions have not consistently revealed differentiated autonomic responses or central nervous system activity. In contrast, other literature reviews and empirical studies have identified unique biomarkers for different emotions (e.g., Christie & Friedman, 2004; Harrison et al., 2000; Kragel & LaBar, 2013; Kreibig, 2010; Stemmler, 2009; Stephens, Christie, & Friedman, 2010). For example, positive emotions, compared to negative emotions, seem to involve a smaller increase in blood pressure and less autonomic activation overall (Cacioppo et al., 2000). Moreover, there appear to be nuanced differences in the physiological underpinnings of positive emotions, such as happiness, joy, and amusement (mirth). For instance, mirth and joy are associated with increased heart rate variability, whereas happiness is associated with decreased heart rate variability. All three emotions involve increased electrodermal activity (the state of sweat glands in the skin, which is an indication of autonomic arousal) and faster breathing. These changes, however, are comparatively greater in mirth than in happiness or joy (Kreibig, 2010). Some researchers (e.g., Gray, 1994; LeDoux, 1994, 2003) have also pointed out that peripheral changes in the autonomic nervous system and endocrine system may be the wrong place to look for physiological differences among different emotions, since these systems have functions that may be common to many different emotions, such as energy requirements, metabolism, and tissue repair. Instead, they argued that more important differences are likely to be found in the brain systems that underlie different emotions. Therefore, although the somatovisceral changes accompanying mirth may be quite similar to those associated with negative emotions like anger and fear, there are likely important differences in the brain systems underlying these emotions, including the production of biochemical molecules such as neuropeptides, neurotransmitters, and opioids (Panksepp, 1993, 1994). These, in turn, may have different implications for health, such as different effects on the immune system (Kennedy, Glaser, & Kiecolt-Glaser, 1990). We discuss the potential effects of humor and laughter on physical health in Chapter 10, The Health Psychology of Humor: Humor and Physical Health.

Facial Expressions of Laughter and Smiling Laughter is characterized by a distinctive facial display, which closely resembles smiling. This emotional facial display is one way laughter serves as a communication signal. Paul Ekman and his colleagues at the University of California at San Francisco have conducted extensive research on facial expressions of emotion, including smiling and laughter (Ekman, Davidson, & Friesen, 1990; Ekman & Friesen, 1978; Frank & Ekman, 1993). Although they have identified 18 different types of smiles, Ekman and his colleagues have found only one that is reliably associated with genuine enjoyment or amusement. They have named this smile the Duchenne display, after the French anatomist (Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne) who first identified it in 1862. Other types of smiles are associated with feigned amusement (“forced” or “faked” smiles) or negative emotions such as embarrassment or anxiety, or other negative emotions coupled with enjoyment (S. L. Brown & Schwartz, 1980). More recent studies continue to examine perceived levels of genuineness of smiles and facial expressions using large databases of facial

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expressions (e.g., Dawel et al., 2017). Further, physiological psychologists are developing neuro-computing programs with the goal of recognizing Duchenne or “genuine” smiles as well as people do (Wu et al., 2017). The Duchenne display involves symmetrical, synchronous, and smooth contractions of both the zygomatic major and the orbicularis oculi muscles of the face (see Fig. 6.2). The zygomatic major is the muscle in the cheeks that pulls the lip corners upwards and backwards, while the orbicularis oculi is the muscle that surrounds each eye socket and causes wrinkling of the skin at the outer sides of the eyes (“crow’s feet”). Although most types of smiles involve contractions of the zygomatic major, only genuine enjoyment smiles involve the contraction of the orbicularis oculi, which is less subject to voluntary control. The Duchenne display occurs in laughter as well as smiling, although laughter often includes some additional muscles, such as those involved in opening the mouth and lowering the jaw (Ruch & Ekman, 2001). Thus, researchers use the presence or absence of the Duchenne display to determine whether a person is smiling or laughing to express genuine, spontaneous enjoyment or to feign amusement. Ekman and Friesen (1978) developed the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to measure the contraction of facial muscles involved in the expression of different emotions. Researchers who study laughter can use FACS to distinguish between Duchenne and nonDuchenne laughter. This is important because only Duchenne laughter expresses genuine enjoyment. Dacher Keltner and George Bonanno (1997), for instance, interviewed adults whose spouses had died 6 months previously, and FACS-coded participants’ laughter during the interviews. Participants who exhibited more Duchenne laughter also reported experiencing more positive emotions (e.g., happiness, joy) and fewer negative emotions (e.g., anger, distress, guilt). They also reported better social adjustment, a more satisfactory relationship with the deceased spouse, and better relationships with others. Keltner and Bonanno showed muted videos of the interviews to a sample of college students. Students who viewed participants exhibiting more Duchenne laughter reported experiencing more positive emotions themselves, and judged the bereaved participants as healthier and better adjusted. These findings suggest that subtle differences in facial expressions during

FIGURE 6.2 The non-Duchenne and Duchenne smiles. The Duchenne display expresses genuine mirth. Note the “crow’s feet” at the outsides of the eyes reflecting the contraction of the orbicularis oculi muscles. Source: Image courtesy of Michelle Tabako.

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laughter signal the presence or absence of the Duchenne display, thus communicating different emotional states. Interestingly, a person’s facial expressions during laughter affect the emotions of observers, highlighting the role of laughter as a form of emotional communication. More recent studies support these findings, presenting evidence that Duchenne smiles are implicitly associated with psychological proximity, while non-Duchenne smiles are associated with psychological distance (Bogodistov & Dost, 2017).

Acoustics of Laughter The characteristic that most strikingly distinguishes laughter from other human activities is the loud and distinctive sounds that a person makes while laughing. These laughter sounds appear to serve two functions: (1) to communicate to others one’s joyful and playful emotional state, and (2) to induce this same emotional state in the listeners (Gervais & Wilson, 2005). In recent years, researchers have begun to study the acoustics (sound properties) of laughter, using methods commonly developed by ethologists to investigate animal vocalizations such as bird songs. Researchers digitize recordings of human laughter and then use computer-based spectrographic procedures to examine their audio waveforms, frequency patterns, and other acoustical characteristics. The unit of analysis in these studies is usually the series of “ha-ha-ha” sounds that one makes during a single exhalation. Researchers refer to such an episode as a “laughter bout,” and the individual “ha” syllables as “calls” (Bachorowski, Smoski, Owen, & Owren, 2001), “notes” (Provine & Yong, 1991), or “pulses” (Ruch & Ekman, 2001). Robert Provine and Yvonne Yong (1991), at the University of Maryland, analyzed the acoustical properties of 51 laughter bouts produced by male and female university students and staff members. To obtain recordings of laughter, they approached people in public places with a tape recorder and asked them to “simulate hearty laughter.” Most people found it difficult to laugh on command, and their first attempts were typically strained and artificial, presumably because they were not actually experiencing the emotion of mirth that laughter normally expresses. However, the funniness of the activity itself, along with the clowning and kidding of the experimenters, typically caused the subjects to begin feeling amused and they started laughing spontaneously and naturally. Provine and Yong analyzed these natural and spontaneous bouts of laughter. Laugh bouts ranged from one to 16 notes or calls with an average of four per bout. Each laugh note began with a protracted voiceless aspirant (i.e., a hissing “h” sound not produced by vibration of the vocal cords). This was followed by a forcefully voiced vowellike sound with an average duration of about 75 ms. Another voiceless aspirant then followed, with an average duration of about 135 ms, followed by the next voiced vowel sound. Thus, each complete “ha” note was about 210 ms in duration, resulting in about five notes typically emitted per second. Not surprisingly, the fundamental frequency (corresponding to the perceived pitch) of male laughter (averaging 276 Hz) was lower than that of females (502 Hz), reflecting the lower pitch of men’s voices. Each laugh note showed a clear harmonic structure, with numerous secondary frequencies that produced a richly harmonious quality.

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Based on their analyses, Provine and Yong emphasized the stereotypical nature of laughter, observing that there was very little variability across people in the overall duration of individual notes. Regardless of the number of notes in each bout of laughter, the duration of each note (onset-to-onset internote interval, or INI) seemed to remain fairly constant, at about 210 ms. However, the voiced segment (“vowel sound”) of each note became slightly shorter from the beginning to the end of a laugh bout, while the intervening unvoiced (“h” sound) segments became correspondingly longer, thus maintaining the same overall duration for each note. They also observed that the amplitude (loudness) of each voiced note segment decreased from the beginning to the end of a bout. Interestingly, when played backwards, a laugh bout sounds quite normal, except for the fact that it becomes progressively louder instead of quieter. This is quite different from human speech, which does not sound at all normal when played backwards. Because Provine and Yong (1991) conducted their analyses on a relatively small sample of laughs obtained from people who were asked to produce laughter, they may not have captured and analyzed the full range of laughter that occurs naturally in social settings. Consequently, they may have concluded that laughter is more stereotyped and unvarying than is actually true. Accordingly, Jo-Anne Bachorowski and her colleagues (2001) at Vanderbilt University conducted more extensive acoustical analyses of laughter using recordings of 1024 laughter bouts from 97 male and female university students. Bachorowski et al. obtained natural laughter samples by recording participants watching humorous videos in a comfortable laboratory setting, either alone or in same-sex or mixed-sex dyads. In contrast to the stereotypy of laughter that Provine and Yong (1991) found, Bachorowski et al. (2001) found that participants exhibited a great deal of variability and complexity in the acoustic properties of their laughter. Bachorowski et al. identified several different types of individual laugh calls (notes), including voiced “song-like,” unvoiced “grunt-like,” and unvoiced “snort-like” calls, in addition to “glottal pulses,” and “glottal whistles.” Several different types of calls often occurred within a single bout of laughter, and there was little consistency within individual participants in the types of calls they produced from one laugh bout to another. However, they did find some sex differences. Women produced significantly more bouts containing voiced, song-like calls, whereas men produced more unvoiced, grunt-like laughs. Men and women did not differ, though, in the frequency of unvoiced snort-like laughs. Although there were no sex differences in the overall number of laugh bouts produced in response to the humorous videos, men exhibited slightly longer bouts with more calls per bout. On average, laugh bouts were comprised of 3.4 calls per bout, with a total duration of 870 ms, but there was a great deal of variability in these numbers. Laugh bouts typically began with a fairly long call (280 ms duration) followed by a series of shorter calls (lasting 130 ms each). Like Provine and Yong, Bachorowski et al. found that the unvoiced “h”sound segments between calls tended to be shorter at the beginning of a bout and then became progressively longer toward the end. Analyses of fundamental frequencies of calls also indicated a considerable amount of variability, both between and within individuals. Indeed, the fundamental frequencies were often found to change over the course of an individual call, either rising or falling in pitch. Compared to shorter bouts, longer bouts of

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laughter tended to have higher mean fundamental frequencies and greater shifts in frequency within calls. Analyses of the vowel sounds in voiced calls revealed that these are not nearly as distinct or clearly articulated as the vowels of speech, but tend to be a central, unarticulated schwa (like the “a” sound in “about”). Contrary to the observations of Provine and Yong (1991), “ho-ho” and “he-he” laughs were extremely rare, while “ha-ha” was much more common. Nonetheless, there was some evidence that individuals tend to have distinct laughs based on slight variations in the vowel sounds and other vocal characteristics that they produce while laughing. Bachorowski and her colleagues concluded that laughter is much less stereotyped than Provine and Yong (1991) had initially claimed, but rather represents a “repertoire of sounds.” Arguing that laughter has an important social communication function, they suggested that these different sounds of laughter combine in various ways to communicate subtle differences in emotions to other people. In a series of experiments, Silke Kipper and Dietmar Todt (2001, 2003a, 2003b), at the Free University of Berlin, took a somewhat different approach to studying the acoustics of laughter. Using computer equipment, they systematically modified various acoustical parameters of natural laughter bouts, such as the duration of laugh notes, the fundamental frequencies, and amplitude (loudness). They then had participants listen to these altered laugh bouts and asked them to rate the degree to which these laughs sounded like normal laughter, as well as rating their emotional responses to them. Among a number of interesting findings, these researchers found that laughter can diverge to a considerable degree on various acoustical parameters and still be perceived as normal laughter. Moreover, laugh bouts that showed substantial variability across calls were considered more natural, and elicited more positive emotional responses as compared to more stereotyped bouts containing little variability. These findings cast further doubt on the view of laughter as a highly stereotyped vocalization. Additional findings from these studies supported the view of laughter as a method of communicating positive emotions and eliciting similar emotional responses in others. For example, the more natural-sounding a laugh bout was rated to be, the more it elicited a positive emotional response. More recent research has found further evidence supporting these claims. Lavan, Scott, and McGettigan (2016), for example, found that when presented with authentic laughter and fake laughter, people responded to the acoustic predictors of authentic laughter without needing the verbal cues described in Duchenne laughter (for additional research on acoustics of laughter, see Mowrer, 1994; Mowrer, LaPointe, & Case, 1987; Nwokah, Hsu, Davies, & Fogel, 1999; Vettin & Todt, 2004).

Pathological Laughter Brain disorders involving pathological laughter are well known in the neurological literature, and practitioners have reported numerous cases since the late 1800s (Duchowny, 1983; Forabosco, 1998; Poeck, 1985). The study of pathological laughter, in connection with knowledge of the underlying brain abnormalities, is one way that neuroscientists have been able to make inferences about the brain sites that may be involved in normal laughter. Pathological laughter differs from natural laughter in that it (1) contains unusual motor patterns, (2) occurs in the absence of pleasant and mirthful emotional experience, or

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(3) occurs in an inappropriate social context or in the absence of humorous stimuli. Duchowny (1983) distinguished three major categories of pathological laughter, each of which has different clinical manifestations and anatomical substrates: (1) excessive laughter, (2) forced laughter, and (3) gelastic epilepsy. Excessive Laughter Excessive laughter conditions involve emotional instability, heightened feelings of mirth and euphoria, an inability to inhibit laughter, and a lack of insight into the abnormality of the laughter. Excessive laughter conditions most commonly occur in adulthood and tend to be associated with disorders such as schizophrenia, mania, and dementia that affect parts of the brain involved in emotion production and regulation, including the limbic system and parts of the frontal lobes. One such disorder is Angelman syndrome (AS) named after the English physician, Harry Angelman, who first identified the disorder. AS is a neurological disorder that causes severe intellectual/cognitive disability, motor dysfunction, speech impairment, seizures, and hyperactivity. People suffering from AS display gait ataxia (jerky gait), excitability, and an inappropriately happy mood coupled with excessive laughter and smiling (Dagli, Mueller, & Williams, 1998; Williams, 2010). For several decades, the cause of AS remained a mystery (Williams, 2010). However, medical scientists now believe that AS is caused by mutations in the maternal gene, UBE3A (Margolis, Sell, Zbinden, & Bird, 2015). Forced Laughter Patients suffering from forced laughter conditions exhibit involuntary outbursts of explosive, self-sustained laughter, often accompanied by autonomic disturbances of heart rate and vasomotor control. Although they may appear to others to be feeling genuinely amused, these patients usually do not subjectively experience the positive emotion of mirth that normally accompanies laughter, but rather experience laughter as unpleasant, embarrassing, and something to be endured. Many forced laughter patients also exhibit pathological crying, with fits of laughter merging into crying or vice versa. Indeed, it can be difficult to tell whether they are laughing or crying. This indicates that some of the brain centers controlling laughter and crying are located very close together (likely in the part of the brainstem called the pons), suggesting a close link between the positive emotions of social play and the distressing emotions associated with social separation (Panksepp, 1998). Forced laughter conditions typically begin in adulthood and can result from a variety of disorders, including degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), as well as tumors and lesions in various parts of the brain due to cerebrovascular accidents (strokes) and brain injury. Pathological “forced laughter” conditions have been associated with lesions in many areas of the brain, ranging from the frontal and temporal lobes of the cortex and the pyramidal tracts to the ventral mesencephalon, the cerebellum, and the pons (Wild, Rodden, Grodd, & Ruch, 2003; Zeilig, Drubach, Katz-Zeilig, & Karatinos, 1996). In most of these cases, the effect of the lesions seems to be chronic disinhibition of laughter-generating circuitry (i.e., an inability to inhibit or modulate laughter normally), rather than an excitatory effect. People suffering from the condition fou rire prodromique (pathology of crazy laughter) experience uncontrolled laughter lasting up to half an hour or even longer. Such episodes can

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signal the onset of a stroke in the brainstem. In some tragic cases, people have literally laughed themselves to death. Gelastic Laughter The neurological condition gelastic epilepsy, first documented in 1873 (Holmes & Goldman, 2012), causes patients to experience seizures in the form of uncontrolled bouts of laughter. Motor convulsions, eye movement abnormalities, and autonomic disturbances often accompany laughter during seizures. Furthermore, patients typically lose consciousness and report unawareness of these “laughter attacks.” In cases where the patients remain conscious during the seizure, some report a pleasant feeling of mirth, but most experience the laughter as inappropriate and even unpleasant. The laughter typically lasts less than a minute, but can be more prolonged when associated with complex partial seizures (Arroyo et al., 1993). Gelastic epilepsy usually begins in childhood, and cases have even been reported in newborn infants, demonstrating that the neural circuits for laughter are fully developed at birth (Sher & Brown, 1976; see Te´llez-Zenteno, Serrano-Almeida, & Moien-Afshari, 2008 for a review). Brain imaging studies have identified several brain regions that are associated with gelastic seizures, most importantly the hypothalamus, temporal lobes, and medial frontal lobe (Arroyo et al., 1993; Tran et al., 2014). The most common type of gelastic epilepsy, which has also been studied most extensively, is associated with hypothalamic hamartomas, which consist of nonmalignant abnormal tissue growth in the hypothalamus. Indeed, seizures have been best resolved with resection, ablation, or irradiation of the hypothalamic hamartomas (Te´llez-Zenteno et al., 2008; Incorpora et al., 2013). Research has shown that the hypothalamus and pituitary gland release hormones during seizures, and it appears that the abnormal hypothalamic electrical activity spreads to areas in the limbic system and brainstem to produce the psychophysiological manifestations of laughter (Wild et al., 2003). These findings suggest that the hypothalamus has an important role in normal laughter. As noted earlier, the hypothalamus functions as a control center for the autonomic arousal associated with the fight-or-flight response, and it regulates a range of motivational states including hunger and sexual arousal (as psychology professors frequently explain to their students, the hypothalamus is responsible for the four “f’s”: feeding, fighting, fleeing, and sexual intercourse).

LAUGHTER IN ANIMALS Although some researchers have suggested that humans are the only animal that laughs (e.g., Stearns, 1972), primatologists have studied in some detail a form of laughter emitted by young chimpanzees and other apes, including bonobos, orangutans, and gorillas (Preuschoft & van Hooff, 1997; van Hooff & Preuschoft, 2003). Primatologists describe ape laughter as a staccato, throaty, panting vocalization that accompanies the relaxed openmouth display or “play face,” and is emitted during playful rough-and-tumble social activities such as wrestling, tickling, and chasing games. Although it sounds somewhat different from human laughter, it is quite recognizable as such, occurring in similar social contexts.

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The “Play Face” and Laughter in Primates Van Hooff and Preuschoft (2003, p. 267) described the play face depicted in Fig. 6.3 as follows: The mouth is opened wide and the mouth corners may be slightly retracted. In most (but not all!) primate species the lips are not retracted but still cover the teeth. In many species, this facial posture is often accompanied by a rhythmic staccato shallow breathing (play chuckles) and by vehement but supple body movements. The posture and movements, both of the face and of the body as a whole, lack the tension, rigidity, and brusqueness that is characteristic of expressions of aggression, threat, and fear.

The play face, as the name suggests, occurs while the animals are involved in social play. Play is a common activity among juveniles, not only in primates, but in all mammal species and even some birds. In play, animals perform many activities that are normally important for survival, such as hunting, fighting, mating, fleeing, and simple locomotion (jumping, sliding, pirouetting) “just for fun,” with a great deal of exuberance and energy. Young primates spend many hours in playful mock fighting, chasing, attacking, wrestling, and tickling one another, perhaps as a way of programming various cortical brain functions and developing the social skills needed to perform such behaviors in more “serious” contexts later in life (Gervais & Wilson, 2005; Panksepp, 1998). When primates are playfully fighting and chasing each other, they use the play face, along with the breathy, panting laughter-like grunts, to let each other know that they are just having fun and not seriously intending to harm one another. At the same time, though, researchers recognize that animal play involving the play face can be competitive. Indeed, Panksepp (1998) describes rough-and-tumble play in all mammal species as “joyful social exchange with a strong competitive edge” (p. 284). During bouts of play, animals frequently pin each other down, and one individual often emerges as the more dominant. However, for the playful interactions to continue, the dominant individual must also allow the less dominant one to “win” quite frequently. In much the same way, teasing and other forms of verbal play in humans appear to be ways of competing in a friendly way, and those who tease others are required also to playfully accept the teasing directed at them by others. Ross, Bard, and Matsuzawa (2014) found that chimpanzees make the play face to signal playful intentions as young as 12 months old. Ross et al. observed that young chimps made

FIGURE 6.3 The chimpanzee play face featuring “Burrito” and “Jamie.” Source: Courtesy of Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest; ChimpsNW.org.

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the play face more often when engaging in mock fighting than when engaging in “benign play” (i.e., bouncing and acrobatics). Chimpanzees also readily make the play face and “laugh” during playful interactions with human caretakers in zoos. As with human infants, tickling and peek-a-boo games containing an element of surprise, occurring in a relaxed and trusting social atmosphere, are particularly effective at eliciting laughter in chimps. In their recent research on the facial expressions and play intensity in 10 Western Lowland gorillas, Waller and Cherry (2012) distinguished between two play faces: the “play face” and the “full play face.” Whereas gorillas expressed the play face with an open mouth and only the lower teeth exposed, they expressed the full play face with an open mouth and both the upper and lower teeth exposed. Waller and Cherry coded how often gorillas made each face while engaging in gentle play (i.e., tickling, play biting) and intense play (i.e., chasing a playmate, jumping on playmate with their feet). They found that gorillas made the full play most often while engaging in intense play (80% of the observed full play faces occurred during intense play; only 51% of the standard play faces occurred during intense play). In addition, gorillas engaged in intense play longer when they exhibited the full play face (median 5 50.64 seconds) compared to when they exhibited no playful facial expression (median 5 13.14 seconds). These findings suggest that gorillas use the full play face when engaging in rough-and-tumble play to communicate playful, rather than aggressive, intentions. It is interesting to note that, by means of the play face, animals demonstrate an ability to distinguish between reality and pretense, seriousness and play, which, as we have seen in previous chapters, is arguably the essence of humor. Thus, one can make the case that animals exhibit and experience a rudimentary form of humor in addition to laughter. Moreover, chimpanzees and gorillas that have been taught to communicate with sign language have used sign language in playful ways (e.g., making puns, making humorous insults, and using incongruous words) raising the possibility that they have a rudimentary sense of humor (see Gamble, 2001, for a review). Importantly, the apes’ humorous use of sign language is typically accompanied by the play face, providing further evidence for the close connection between linguistic humor and play. As noted earlier, chimpanzees exhibit “laughter” that is characterized by a staccato, guttural, throaty panting sound associated with rapid and shallow breathing, that typically accompanies the relaxed open-mouth play face display. Other primates such as gorillas, orangutans, and macaques exhibit a similar vocalization (van Hooff & Preuschoft, 2003). Davila-Ross, Allcock, Thomas, and Bard (2011) examined two distinct forms of laughter in chimpanzees, specifically laughter replications (“laughing after the laughter of others”) and spontaneous laughter. In addition to establishing that the laughter replications are directly caused by the laughter of the playmate, they found that play involving laughter replications lasted longer than play involving spontaneous laughter, which lasted longer than play without laughter. A major difference between human and chimpanzee laughter is that chimpanzees exhibit a unique breathing pattern characterized by a rapid alternation between shallow inhalations and exhalations, with single sounds being produced during each inhalation and exhalation. In contrast, as described previously, human laughter involves a series of multiple “ha-ha-ha” sounds or calls occurring during a single exhalation, with no vocalization during the intervening inhalations.

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“Laughter” in Rats? Physiological psychologist Jaak Panksepp and his colleagues at Bowling Green State University (Burgdorf, Panksepp, & Moskal, 2011; Panksepp, 2000; Panksepp & Burgdorf, 2000, 2003) have provided intriguing evidence that a form of laughter may even exist in rats. They found that laboratory rats produce a high-frequency (approximately 50 kHz), ultrasonic chirping sound during social rough-and-tumble play, and also when being tickled by human handlers. Although humans are unable to hear these sounds without the aid of specialized sound equipment, they are within the auditory range in which rats communicate. Rats seem to be most ticklish on the nape of the neck, although they also apparently enjoy a “full body” tickle. When they have previously been tickled by a human hand, they will eagerly approach that hand rather than one that has merely petted them, chirping all the while. Like laughter among people, rat “laughter” appears to be contagious, and young rats generally prefer to spend time with older animals that produce more of this chirping sound as compared to those that do not. This chirping “laughter” is also readily conditioned using both classical and operant methods, and animals will run mazes and press levers for an opportunity to be tickled and “laugh.” Rat “laughter” can easily be amplified or reduced by selective genetic breeding, indicating that it reflects a heritable emotional trait. Finally, Buck, Malavar, George, Koob, and Vendruscolo (2014) examined chirping “laughter” in alcohol-dependent rats. They first conditioned rats to learn the consequence of pressing two levers: one was responsible for dispensing alcohol, the other water. Then, they exposed some rats to alcohol vapor to create a group of alcohol-dependent (alcoholic) rats. They exposed the nonalcohol-dependent rats to air only. Next, they placed the rats in the experimental chamber with the levers retracted for two minutes and measured anticipatory chirping laughter. Finally, they left the rats in the chamber for 30 minutes to “selfadminister” alcohol or water by pressing the respective levers. Buck et al. found a positive correlation between the frequency of “laughing” among dependent rats in the 2-minute anticipatory period and their amount of alcohol intake during the 30-minute reinforcement session. In other words, the alcoholic rats that drank more in the reinforcement session “laughed” more in anticipation. Panksepp and Burgdorf (2003) suggested that this chirping “laughter” arises from organized “ludic” (from Greek ludos 5 play) brain circuits that form the “emotional operating system” for the positive emotion of joy (or what we call mirth), which is activated during social play, and which may be common to all mammals. They postulated that play-related joy has an important social facilitation and bonding function in mammals, promoting cooperative forms of social engagement and helping to organize social dynamics. They suggested that rough-and-tumble play in rats, accompanied by chirping “laughter,” may provide a useful animal model for researchers to investigate the brain structures mediating positive emotions relating to play and laughter, in much the same way that other animal models have been used to elucidate the brain mechanisms of negative emotions such as fear and anger (Panksepp, 1998). Research using this model has already begun to shed light on the neural bases of positive playful emotion. For example, this research suggests

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an important role of endorphins and other opioids, the morphine-like substances created in certain brain sites. Low doses of morphine increase play in rats, whereas the opiate antagonist naloxone (which inhibits the effect of opioids) decreases play (Panksepp, 1998). These findings suggest that opioid systems may also be involved in mirthful humor and laughter in humans.

WHERE DOES HUMOR OCCUR IN THE BRAIN? Based on evidence from cases of pathological laughter and electrical brain stimulation, and from animal studies, electroencephalogram (EEG) studies, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies, neuroscientists are piecing together the regions and circuits of the brain that control the cognitive, emotional, and motor processes involved in humor. As with other emotional systems (Panksepp, 1998), the structures and circuits underlying humor and laughter are distributed throughout the brain, including regions in the neocortex, basal ganglia, diencephalon, limbic system, and brain stem. In this section, we provide a brief overview of research attempting to identify the different areas of the brain that are implicated in the cognitive processes, emotional experience, and behavioral expression (laughter) of humor.

Cognitive Processes of Humor Cases involving electrical brain stimulation suggest the cognitive processes of humor can be isolated in different parts of the brain from emotional and motor processes. Surgeons commonly electrically stimulate various areas of the exposed surface of the brain when patients undergo brain surgery for treatment of epileptic seizures in order to localize areas that should and should not be removed. The patients remain conscious during this procedure. These electrical probes occasionally trigger laughter in the patients, with or without accompanying feelings of mirth. Fried and colleagues (1998), for instance, described an epileptic patient who consistently laughed whenever surgeons stimulated a small region of the supplementary motor area located on the left frontal lobe of the cortex of her brain. Interestingly, she attributed her laughter (caused by electrical stimulation) to various stimuli in her environment and reported feeling amused. For example, she would say that she laughed because of the funny appearance of a picture of a horse that she happened to be looking at, or because the people in the room behaved in an amusing way. It appears that when surgeons induced mirthful feelings through electric stimulation, the patient’s brain generated cognitive-perceptual incongruities to account for them. Overall, this remarkable case provides evidence that cognitive processes of humor can be dissociated from the emotional and motor components of mirth and laughter. Other research designed to more explicitly delineate the brain structures and circuitry underlying the cognitive processes involved in humor have focused on (1) distinguishing the roles of structures in the right versus left hemispheres of the brain, and then more recently on (2) identifying specific structures that are responsible for detecting and resolving incongruity.

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Right Hemisphere Versus Left Hemisphere Clinical observations of patients with right hemisphere damage (RHD) resulting from strokes or other brain injury have suggested that the right hemisphere plays an important role in the processing of humor material. Although RHD patients typically have normal linguistic abilities, they often fail to “get a joke” or understand the main point of a story. Interestingly, they can understand elements of a joke or details of a story, but cannot piece them together to form a coherent interpretation. In addition, they have difficulty extracting inferences and nuances from communication, and consequently misunderstand sarcasm (Brownell & Gardner, 1988). In contrast, patients with left hemisphere damage (LHD) often suffer aphasia (they exhibit language impairment because language functions are located in the left hemisphere in righthanded people). However, to the extent allowed by their linguistic impairments, they usually can combine elements of a joke or story into a coherent whole in order to get the joke or understand the story. In sum, the comparison of RHD and LHD patients suggests that RHD patients have difficulty understanding and appreciating at least some forms of humor. In one study, Bihrle, Brownell, and Powelson (1986) compared the ability of RHD and LHD patients to comprehend humor. Bihrle et al. selected a series of captionless comic strips, each containing four picture panels forming a narrative, with the final picture introducing a humorous ending much like the punch line of a verbal joke. They presented participants with the first three panels from the comic strips and instructed them to select from two alternative pictures that would make the funniest ending. In each case, one alternative was the original picture that contained an incongruity that made sense with the rest of the comic strip (incongruity 1 resolution). One of the other alternatives contained an incongruous ending that did not make sense or follow from the first three panels of the comic strip (incongruity without resolution); the other contained a nonsurprising coherent ending (resolution without incongruity). By examining which “wrong” (less funny) alternatives participants chose, Bihrle et al. could identify which part of humor comprehension (incongruity detection or incongruity resolution) gave them difficulties. Bihrle et al. made two interesting discoveries. First, they found that RHD patients had more difficulty selecting the correct alternative, indicating that the right hemisphere plays an important role in humor comprehension. Second, RHD patients were particularly likely to select incongruous endings that did not follow from the first three panels of the comic strip (incongruity without resolution). For example, instead of the correct, funny ending, they would often select a slap-stick ending (e.g., a picture of someone slipping on a banana peel) that was completely irrelevant to the rest of the comic strip. Thus, they seemed to be aware that humor involves some sort of incongruity, and were able to recognize (detect) incongruity, but had difficulty identifying which incongruous endings made sense in relation to the rest of the comic strip. This inability to recognize relevance or coherence might account for the clinical observation that RHD patients often engage in silly, socially inappropriate forms of humor (i.e., humor that is not relevant to the social situation). Interestingly, when LHD patients made errors, they were more likely than RHD patients to choose incorrect endings that did not contain any incongruity, but simply provided an ordinary, unsurprising completion to the story. Thus, LHD patients showed some difficulty recognizing incongruity.

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Other researchers found similar results using different stimuli, including verbal jokes rather than visual cartoons (e.g., Brownell, Michel, Powelson, & Gardner, 1983; Wapner, Hamby, & Gardner, 1981). Overall, it appears that the left hemisphere of the brain plays a role in perceiving incongruity, whereas the right hemisphere is important for making coherent sense of (i.e., resolving) the incongruity within the social context (Bihrle, Brownell, & Gardner, 1988; Gillikin & Derks, 1991; McGhee, 1983b). More recent research suggests that part of the difficulty of RHD patients in comprehending humor involves deficits in “theory of mind”—the ability to attribute beliefs and intentions to other people in order to explain or predict their behavior (Brownell & Stringfellow, 2000). Francesca Happe´, Hiram Brownell, and Ellen Winner (1999) tested humor comprehension in groups of RHD and LHD patients and non-brain-damaged control participants using nonverbal cartoons that either did or did not require a sophisticated theory of mind in order to understand and appreciate the humor. In the theory of mind cartoons, the humor depended on what a character mistakenly thought or did not know. For example, in one cartoon a man was playing a guitar and singing on a balcony of a high-rise apartment building, while two women, one on the balcony above him and the other on the balcony below, were listening with rapt attention, each apparently thinking that he was serenading her. To understand the joke, one must be able to recognize differences in the beliefs and perceptions of each of the characters. Happe´ et al. presented participants with pairs of cartoons, each comprised of the original humorous cartoon and a modified version in which the key humorous element had been replaced with something less funny. Participants were asked to choose which of the two cartoons was funnier. RHD patients exhibited more errors than both the LHD patients and the normal control participants in identifying the humorous cartoons that involved theory of mind, but not in identifying the humorous cartoons that did not involve theory of mind. In contrast, LHD patients did not differ from non-brain-damaged participants in identifying the humorous option for either type of cartoon. Brownell and Stringfellow (2000) suggested the inability to attribute beliefs and intentions to other people accounts for the difficulty RHD patients have shown in resolving or “making sense” of incongruity. They proposed that incongruity resolution often depends on theory of mind—correctly attributing beliefs and intentions to other people. Also, it is noteworthy that appropriate social and emotional functioning also involves theory of mind. Thus, impairments in theory of mind could account for the socially inappropriate forms of humor RHD patients often exhibit (see also Lyons & Fitzgerald, 2004, for a discussion of humor in autism and Asperger syndrome, which are thought to involve deficits in theory of mind). Although previous research indicated an important role of the right hemisphere in humor comprehension, Prathiba Shammi and Donald Stuss (1999), at the University of Toronto, indicated that it is the right frontal lobe, specifically, that seems to be most important. They tested patients with single focal brain damage restricted to the frontal (right, left, or bilateral) or nonfrontal (right or left) brain regions, as well as age-matched normal controls. They gave participants several humor tests to assess the ability to recognize incongruity and incongruity resolution in both verbal and nonverbal forms of humor. Only RHD patients with right frontal lobe damage exhibited similar deficits in incongruity resolution as reported in previous research. Furthermore, they reacted with less emotional

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responsiveness (smiling and laughter) to all the humorous materials as compared to those with lesions in other brain areas. Shammi et al. noted that the frontal lobes, and particularly the right frontal lobe, appear to be especially involved in the integration of cognition and emotion, due to their connections to the limbic system, as well as many other cortical regions. In addition to the integration of cognition and emotion, the frontal lobes have been shown to play a crucial role in a number of cognitive functions that are likely important for humor comprehension, including narrative discourse, abstract and nonliteral interpretation, working memory, problem-solving, and indirect forms of communication such as irony, affective intonation, and sarcasm. To determine whether the left or right hemisphere is more active in humor, Svebak (1982) used an electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure the electrical activity (i.e., the amount of discordant alpha wave activity) occurring at sites on the right and left occipital lobes of healthy participants while they watched a comedy film. He found that participants that laughed while watching the film (and therefore presumably found it highly amusing) showed less discordant right left alpha activity than did those who did not laugh, suggesting coordinated activity of both hemispheres during mirth. Svebak (1982) conducted a follow-up study in which he replicated these results and demonstrated that the greater concordance in alpha activity across the hemispheres associated with laughter was not simply caused by laughter-related changes in respiration. Overall, then, it appears that the left and right hemispheres of the brain work together in a coordinated manner during humor and mirth, rather than one hemisphere being more active than the other (Box 6.1).

BOX 6.1

A D VA N C E D T E C H N O L O G Y F O R S T U D Y I N G H U M O R IN THE BRAIN Advances in technology have presented a new frontier for physiological psychology research. The first of the three most commonly used technologies is the electroencephalogram (EEG). The EEG detects electrical activity in the brain using electrodes (pictured below). Brain cells constantly communicate by electric impulses (even while you sleep!). EEG recordings help us understand the type of activity taking place when participants are presented with different stimuli (such as a joke).

Image used under license from hakaba/Shutterstock. com.

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BOX 6.1 The electromyography (EMG) test records the zygomatic muscle of the face (the muscle that pulls the corners of the mouth up to form a Duchenne smile), thus detecting the presence or absence of smiling and laughter.

(cont’d) investigate humor. These investigations have begun to map out the areas in the cortex involved in the comprehension of humor, as well as subcortical areas in the limbic system underlying the emotional response of mirth.

r 2017 IEEE. Reprinted, with permission, from Bethel (2007). Psychophysiological experimental design for use in human robot interaction studies.

fMRI uses high-powered, rapidly oscillating magnetic fields to scan the brain and detect small changes in blood oxygenation levels (which are indicative of changes in neuronal activity) in specific regions of the brain. Several recent studies have employed this method to

r Moussa MN, Steen MR, Laurienti PJ, Hayasaka S (2012) Consistency of network modules in restingstate fMRI connectome data. PLoS ONE 7(8): e44428. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0044428

Specific Brain Structures Responsible for Detecting and Resolving Incongruity As mentioned in Chapter 2, Classic Theories of Humor, and Chapter 3, Contemporary Theories of Humor, cognitive theories of humor appreciation suggest that humor comprehension involves complex processes of detecting and resolving incongruity. Recent studies using fMRI and EEG technology have lent support to that idea by localizing the specific neural underpinnings of incongruity detection and resolution (e.g., Bekinschtein, Davis, Rodd, & Owen, 2011; Campbell et al., 2015; Chan et al., 2012, 2013; Samson et al., 2008; Shibata, Terasawa, & Umeda, 2014). For instance, Samson et al. (2008) presented participants with visual cartoons that contained resolvable incongruity (incongruity resolution

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cartoons) or cartoons that contained only an incongruity with no resolution (incongruity only cartoons). Both types of cartoons implicate cognitive processes of incongruity detection, but only the incongruity resolution cartoons involve processes of incongruity resolution. Thus, the areas of the brain uniquely involved in the processing of the incongruity resolution cartoons can be attributed to resolution of incongruity. Results indicated that the processing of the incongruity resolution cartoons involved greater activation of the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and the temporoparietal junctions (TPJ) than the processing of incongruity only cartoons. Thus, it appears that the IFG and TPJ are involved in the resolution, but not detection, of incongruity in visual cartoons (see also Wild et al. 2006). These areas appear to play a key role in the semantic integration of complex visual stimuli. Chan et al. (2013) also found that detection and resolution of incongruities in verbal humor involve different areas of the brain. Chan et al. (2013) presented participants with three types of verbal stimuli: jokes containing resolvable incongruity (incongruity resolution jokes), jokes containing irresolvable incongruity (incongruity only jokes), and nonhumorous stories (no incongruity stories) serving as a baseline or control condition. They placed participants in an fMRI scanner and presented them with 64 jokes or nonhumorous stories. The setup was shown for 20 seconds and the punch line (ending) for 9 seconds. Participants pressed a button on a keypad to indicate that the joke/story was comprehensible or incomprehensible. The fMRI images of participants exposed to incongruity only jokes showed greater activation in the right middle temporal gyrus (MTG) and the right medial frontal gyrus (MFG) compared to participants in the no incongruity stories control condition. These findings suggest that the right MTG and the right MFG are involved in the process of detecting incongruity. They also found that the brain images for participants exposed to incongruity resolution jokes showed greater activation of the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), superior frontal gyrus (SFG), and the left inferior parietal lobule (IPL) compared to participants exposed to incongruity only jokes, indicating that these areas are uniquely involved in the integration of verbal information that is required to resolve incongruities (see Shibata et al., 2014, for similar findings). Fig. 6.4 provides a summary of the brain structures that Chan et al. (2013) and others have found to be involved in incongruity detection and resolution. Amir, Biederman, Wang, and Xu (2013) extended the investigation of the neural underpinnings of incongruity detection and resolution by comparing the brain regions involved in the detection of humorous versus nonhumorous incongruity. As depicted in Table 6.1, they presented participants with ambiguous drawings followed by captions that provided a: 1. literal description creating nonhumorous interpretation without incongruity; 2. interpretive description creating nonhumorous incongruity (see bold cell in panel i); 3. interpretive description creating humorous incongruity (see bold cell in panel ii). So that participants could fully interpret the captions in relation to the drawings, each drawing appeared alone on a screen for two seconds; the caption then appeared for five seconds, followed by the drawing alone again for three seconds. Using neuroimaging software, Amir et al. found many neurological similarities in the processing of the captions that involved humorous and nonhumorous incongruity. Importantly, however, the processing of humorous incongruity uniquely involved several brain regions. Specifically, the

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FIGURE 6.4 Illustration of the brain areas involved in incongruity detection and incongruity resolution. 1. Temporoparietal junction: Incongruity resolution 2. Middle temporal gyrus: Incongruity detection 3. Superior frontal gyrus: Incongruity resolution 4. Medial frontal gyrus: Incongruity detection 5. Inferior frontal gyrus: Incongruity resolution 6. Inferior parietal lobule: Incongruity resolution Source: Image courtesy of Olivia Muse.

TABLE 6.1 Examples of Drawings Presented to Participants with Literal (Nonincongruous) Captions or Interpretive (Incongruous) Captions Drawing

Literal (No Incongruity) Description

Interpretive (Incongruity) Description

Rectangles with square tabs

Fluorescent light bulbs (nonhumorous)

A plethora of dots surrounded concentrically around a single dot

Germs avoiding a friend who caught antibiotics (humorous)

Drawing i adopted from “A normative set of 98 pairs of nonsensical pictures (droodles),” by T. Nishimoto et al., 2010, Behavior Research Methods, 42, p. 685. Copyright 2010 by Springer. Reprinted with permission. Drawing ii adopted from “Droodles The Classic Collection” by Roger Price r2000 by Tallfellow Press, www.Tallfellow.com. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

captions involving humorous incongruity (but not those that involved nonhumorous incongruity) stimulated the: 1. 2. 3. 4.

Medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC); Temporal poles (TPs); Temporo-occipital junctions (TOJs); Temporoparietal junctions (TPJs).

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The TPs and TOJs play a role in connecting separate concepts, but subsequent activation in the mPFC (reward center) occurred with humorous incongruity. Thus, an interesting implication of these results is that processing humorous incongruity is intrinsically rewarding; processing nonhumorous incongruity involves similar processes, but without the intrinsic reward. Taken together, recent studies using fMRI and EEG technology have made significant advancements in our understanding of the specific brain regions responsible for the cognitive processing of humor comprehension. These studies are consistent with cognitive theories of humor (discussed in Chapter 2: Classic Theories of Humor and Chapter 3: Contemporary Theories of Humor), which propose that comprehension involves separate processes of incongruity detection and resolution.

Mirth: Emotional Experience of Humor Studies using EEG and neuroimaging technology have distinguished the neural circuitry and brain regions involved in mirth or amusement (the emotional experience of humor) from the cognitive processes involved in humor comprehension. In one important study, for instance, Peter Derks and colleagues at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Derks, Gillikin, Bartolome-Rull, & Bogart, 1997) used an EEG test to examine event-related potentials (ERPs) associated with joke comprehension and appreciation (mirth). ERPs are spikes in positively or negatively polarized brain wave activity occurring at very brief intervals after an event, and appear to indicate different types of information processing. Derks et al. monitored 21 EEG electrodes placed on different spots on participants’ scalps to monitor brain wave activity while they read a series of verbal jokes on a computer screen. Derks et al. also collected EMG recordings of the zygomatic muscle of the face to assess the extent to which participants smiled or laughed at the jokes, thus reflecting the degree to which they experienced mirth or amusement in response to the jokes. Participants exhibited an increased positive polarization of brain waves with peak amplitude about 300 ms (P300) following presentation of the punch line, regardless of whether or not they smiled or laughed (i.e., regardless of whether or not they experienced mirth). Critically, though, participants also subsequently exhibited a negative polarization with peak amplitude at about 400 ms (N400) only in response to jokes that made them smile or laugh (i.e., jokes that elicited mirth), suggesting that the N400 wave is uniquely associated with mirth apart from humor comprehension (see also Coulson & Kutas, 2001; Marinkovic et al., 2011). Campbell et al. (2015) also distinguished the neural underpinnings of humor appreciation (i.e., mirth) from comprehension. They placed 24 participants individually in an MRI chamber and showed them 120 comics that were: (1) funny, (2) not funny (but intended to be funny), or (3) altered and not intended to be funny. Campbell used neuroimaging software to measure blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) neural responses to each stimulus. To identify the regions involved in humor comprehension, they examined BOLD responses that were unique to the funny comics relative to the comics that were not funny but intended to be funny. They found that humor comprehension was associated with BOLD

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FIGURE 6.5 Subcortical view of the brain showing the “mirth induction” regions in the mesolimbic reward network. Source: Image courtesy of Olivia Muse.

responses in the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), bilateral temporal pole gyrus (TP), and bilateral temporoparietal junction (TPJ). They identified regions involved in humor appreciation by comparing BOLD responses unique to the funny comics relative to the ones that were not intended to be funny. Humor appreciation (mirth) was associated with BOLD responses in the bilateral substantia nigra (SN) and bilateral amygdala. Osaka, Yaoi, Minamoto, and Osaka (2014) reported similar findings in a study of humor appreciation of Manga comics. A number of other studies found similar patterns of activation in subcortical brain regions in response to humorous stimuli (e.g., Azim, Mobbs, Jo, Menon, & Reiss, 2005; Mobbs, Greicius, Abdel-Azim, Menon, & Reiss, 2003; Mobbs et al., 2005; Shibata et al., 2014). For instance, Mobbs et al. (2003) found that participants exhibited greater activation in the following regions comprising the mesolimbic reward network in response to humorous versus nonhumorous cartoons (see Fig. 6.5): 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

The anterior thalamus; Ventral striatum; Nucleus accumbens; Ventral tegmental area; Hypothalamus; Amygdala.

Laughter: The Behavioral Expression of Humor Physiologists believe that the activation of the emotion induction centers that produce mirth stimulates emotion effector (expression) sites, including the motor and premotor areas of the cerebral cortex (initiating facial and bodily movements), the hypothalamus (controlling autonomic responses such as increased heartrate and flushing), thalamus, periaqueductal gray matter, reticular formation, cranial nerve nuclei (controlling facial, laryngeal, and

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respiratory actions), and parts of the brainstem, all of which are involved in smiling and laughter as the expression of mirth. Most authors agree that there is likely a final common pathway for laughter located in the brainstem (possibly in the dorsal area of the pons) which coordinates the respiratory, laryngeal, and facial components of laughter (Wild et al., 2003). In addition to excitatory input triggering laughter, inhibitory signals arriving in the brainstem from various higher centers in the brain serve to inhibit inappropriate laughter. Most researchers believe that the pathological laughter described earlier is due to damage involving the corticobulbar tract, a motor pathway originating in the frontal cortex and terminating in cranial motor nuclei in the pons and medulla, which results in a failure of these laughter inhibition mechanisms (Mendez, Nakawatase, & Brown, 1999). Parvizi and colleagues (2001) have also hypothesized a possible role of the cerebellum in modulating the intensity and duration of laughter. According to this view, the cerebellum receives information concerning the current social-emotional context from the cortex and telencephalic structures, and feeds this information back to various effector sites. In this way, laughter may be inhibited or amplified, depending on its appropriateness to the social and emotional situation (e.g., whether one is at a party or a funeral). However, when a stroke or other disease causes lesions to specific regions of the cerebellum or to the relevant structures and pathways leading into or out of it, this modulation does not take place, resulting in pathological laughter occurring in socially and emotionally inappropriate contexts (Parvizi, Anderson, Martin, Damasio, & Damasio, 2001). Recent neuroimaging studies have attempted to more definitively identify the brain regions responsible for laughter. However, because of constraints inherent in fMRI procedures, studies have largely focused on mapping the neurological networks activated when participants observe others laughing (Caruana et al., 2015). The brain regions that appear to be involved in the perception of laughter include temporal areas (basal temporal gyrus, superior temporal gyrus), and the amygdala (e.g., Fusar-Poli et al., 2009; Hennenlotter et al., 2005). As Caruana et al. (2015) noted, some studies on the perception of laughter also reported activation of frontal regions of the brain when participants mimicked the facial expressions of those they observed laughing. Thus, researchers hypothesized that the frontal areas are involved in the motor production of laughter, but not in the cognitive processing of humor stimuli (Hennenlotter et al., 2005). However, laughter without mirth resulting from tickling activates the temporal gyrus, whereas genuine laughter involving mirth initiated by humorous incongruity or the recall of humorous memories, activates the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC; Szameitat et al., 2010). Importantly, the ACC connects to emotion induction sites located in the limbic system involved in “turning on” the emotion of mirth, and to the cognitive processing centers in the prefrontal cortex (Stevens, Hurley, & Taber, 2011). This suggests that the pACC could be involved in the cognitive and affective processes of humor, as well as the motor production of laughter. In sum, although further research is needed to clarify the exact brain sites and pathways involved, it is clear that humor is a complex activity involving cognition, emotion, and motor behavior that involves the coordinated activation of a wide range of brain regions, including parts of the cerebral cortex, the limbic system, and the brainstem (Box 6.2).

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BOX 6.2

A C O N V E R S AT I O N W I T H D R . Y U - C H E N C H A N Yu-Chen CHAN (詹雨臻) is an Associate Professor in the Institute of Learning Sciences and Technologies at National Tsing Hua University (NTHU) in Taiwan. She is a principal investigator of the Cognitive and Human Affective Neuroscience laboratory (CHAN lab) at NTHU. She teaches cognitive psychology, humor psychology, and cognitive neuroscience. Her research interests include humor, emotion, reward, memory, and creativity. The techniques she has used include fMRI, ERPs, and behavioral paradigms to identify and segregate cognitive and affective processing of humor. She has first-authored papers for NeuroImage (2012 and 2013) and Scientific Report (2016).

Authors: When did you first become interested in humor as a topic for psychological inquiry? What was it about humor that you found appealing as a topic of study? Yu-Chen Chan: My research interests focused mainly on creativity and problem solving before 2007. After that, I started to get interested in humor psychology. Previous behavioral studies of humor showed ample evidence of ratings on comprehension and appreciation of different joke types. By using garden path sentences and nonsensical ones as experimental stimuli innovatively, I further distinguished neural correlates of humor comprehension and affective processes effectively from the perspective of cognitive neuroscience (Chan et al., 2012, 2013). Authors: What would you say have been the most important developments in the physiological study of humor that you have seen over the course of your career? Yu-Chen Chan: Humor is an important cognitive and affective phenomenon. Remarkable advances in fMRI techniques have made it possible to study the neural correlates of humor processing. Goel and Dolan (2001)’s study was the earliest to separate cognitive and affective components of humor. Mobbs et al. (2003) proposed that mesolimbic reward centers, as affective components of humor, also play a key role in humor appreciation. Follow-up research also investigated cognitive and affective processes of humor across different humor types (e.g., Bekinschtein et al., 2011; Chan & Lavallee, 2015; Samson et al., 2008). The importance of individual differences in humor processing should not be neglected, such as sex/gender (Azim et al., 2005; Chan, 2016; Kohn, Kellermann, Gur, Schneider, & Habel, 2011) and gelotophobics (Chan, 2016, Scientific Reports).

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(cont’d)

Authors: In what ways would you say theory and research on the physiology of humor has contributed to the study of humor in other areas of psychology? Yu-Chen Chan: The tri-component theory of humor (Chan, 2016) I proposed states that humor processes include not only cognition (comprehension) and affect (appreciation), but also laughter (expression). They can be validated by cognitive neuroscience and further applied to explain the differences in humor appreciation and laughter responses between men and women, providing a reference in evolutionary psychology. The distinct processes in humor comprehension, appreciation, and expression (laughter) between men and women could also benefit industrial and organizational psychology, such as the application in advertisement marketing and persuasion. Finally, based on Martin et al.’s (2013) theory of humor styles and Ruch and Proyer’s (2011) theory of gelotophobia and personality traits, gelotophobics’ humorlessness towards hostile jokes (Chan, 2016, Scientific Reports) is examined through cognitive neuroscience, which can contribute to counseling or clinical psychology. Authors: What do you see as the most significant challenges that physiological psychologists studying humor will have to address in future research? Yu-Chen Chan: To date, the physiological psychology of humor mostly focuses on general populations; however, it is worth studying special population groups, such as people with autism, gelotophobia, or depression, by contrasting their performance before and after humor training. In addition, more delicate experimental designs can be adopted to investigate the relations between humor and other topics. For example, if humor, monetary, and erotic motivation are all used as rewards, are emotions elicited by these rewards taken in charge by different brain regions? Moreover, previous studies argued that schizophrenia patients with anhedonia symptoms show in-the-moment emotion responses, with the deficit in motivation of anticipation. Researchers can contrast humor and other types of stimuli that can motivate rewards in different anticipatory ways. Finally, although it takes longer to read stimuli for humor (e.g., verbal jokes or cartoons), future studies of humor in neuroscience can still focus on EEG/ERP or EMG techniques, which have better temporal resolutions, to supplement fMRI results showing good spatial resolutions. Authors: What’s your favorite joke? Yu-Chen Chan: I like jokes related to life and in which one can seek pleasure from bitterness: Three brothers live together on the 50th floor of a skyscraper. One day, the elevator is broken so they have to climb the stairs home. On the way upstairs, the elder brother suggests to tell a tragic story by turns. The elder brother starts, and the second brother continues. When it comes to the youngest brother, they are already on the 46th floor. The elder brother says: “Come on, we will be home when you finish it.” The youngest brother says: “Well. . .but I left the key at home.” And also jokes illustrating the Piagetian concept of conservation: On New Year’s Eve, Jason wants to have a pizza and watch TV at home while waiting for the New Year’s arrival. He goes to the store to order a big one. The clerk asks him: “Sir, do you want the pizza cut into 4 or 8 pieces?” Jason says: “4 pieces. How could I finish 8 pieces?”

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EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR AND LAUGHTER According to Leda Cosmides and John Tooby at the Center for Evolutionary Psychology, evolutionary psychology is “an approach to psychology, in which knowledge and principles from evolutionary biology are put to use in research on the structure of the human mind. It is not an area of study, like vision, reasoning, or social behavior. It is a way of thinking about psychology that can be applied to any topic within it” (http://www. cep.ucsb.edu/primer.html). Evolutionary psychology is based on the following underlying assumptions: 1. Psychological characteristics (e.g., personality traits) and mechanisms (e.g., working memory) that underlie behavior are adaptations to environmental conditions that increase the odds of survival and reproduction. 2. Natural selection is the process that shapes the development of psychological characteristics and mechanisms in response to environmental conditions or barriers to reproduction (Balliet, Tybur, & Van Lange, 2017; Bowlby, 1969; Tooby & Cosmides, 1990, 2005). The aim of research in evolutionary psychology is to explain the origins and functions of psychological characteristics and mechanisms that underlie behavior from the framework of Darwin’s theory of evolution (1859) and theory of sexual selection (1871) by identifying how those characteristics and mechanisms function as adaptions to environmental barriers to reproduction (Box 6.3). Evolutionary psychologists studying humor attempt to explain how humor (in particular, humor production and humor appreciation) affords a survival benefit (e.g., Gervais & Wilson, 2005; Weisfeld, 1993). Geoffrey Miller’s theory of mental fitness indicators (Miller, 1998, 2000, 2007) offers one explanation. Miller’s theory is rooted in Darwin’s (1871) sexual selection theory, and thus proposes that certain traits and behaviors (e.g., creativity, intelligence, music ability, humor) characteristics have a reproductive advantage, not because they directly confer a survival advantage, but because they increase one’s ability to attract a mate. Such traits require complex cognitive functions that resist mutations; thus, they signal good mental fitness and good genetic make-up. Accordingly, from this framework, humor (particularly humor production) is a sexually selected trait that evolved through natural selection because it signals intelligence and thus good genes (Bressler & Balshine, 2006; Bressler, Martin, & Balshine, 2006; Kaufman, Kozbelt, Bromley, & Miller, 2008). Sexual selection theories hold that women have a greater investment in parenting than men do, making them particularly attuned to signals of cognitive competence (e.g., Trivers, 1972). From this perspective, women should prefer men who display cognitive competence, and thus should prefer men who have greater humor ability over those that do not (Bressler et al., 2006; Wilbur & Campbell, 2011). Consistent with Miller’s sexual selection theory, research shows that in the context of courtship or mate selection, women often do, indeed, favor men with good humor ability as potential partners for a serious relationship or marriage (e.g., Bressler et al., 2006; Lundy, Tan, & Cunningham, 1998). Eric Bressler and Sigal Balshine (2006), for instance, presented male and female undergraduates photographs of two “target” people (both either male or female) along with statements that were supposedly written by them. The statements from one of each pair always

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BOX 6.3

E V O L U T I O N A RY P S Y C H O L O G Y I N P O P U L A R C U LT U R E : T H E C O M E D Y O F C H R I S R O C K Barry Kuhle (2012) described two “ultimate functions” of humor. First, humor promotes courtship and aids in sexual selection (in the same ways that Geoffrey Miller described in the main body). Second, humor signals shared common knowledge; i.e., knowledge of a topic is required to both produce a joke and to understand that joke. This latter function echoes the commonplace notion that a joke “is funny because it’s true.” Evolutionary psychology suggests that this use of humor allowed ancestral humans to form more cohesive groups of like-minded individuals by first assessing shared attitudes, interests, backgrounds, and goals. Kuhle notes that the stand-up comedy of Chris Rock is largely based on the popular perceptions of evolutionary psychology. For instance, in regard to the concept of attracting mates, Rock jokingly comments about women: “Masters of the lie, the visual lie. Look at you. You got on heels; you ain’t that tall. You got on makeup; your face don’t look like that. You got a weave; your hair ain’t that long.” (Rock, 1999, 53:14 53:41). It has been

noted that men value physical attractiveness more highly than women do, and Kuhle’s evolutionary explanation is that attractiveness was a marker of fertility for women in ancestral times (but not so much now). Another facet studied through evolutionary psychology is parenting. According to the daughter guarding hypothesis, parents have psychological adaptations to preserve their daughter’s sexual reputation and mate value, and protect them from sexual victimization (Perilloux, Fleischman, & Buss, 2008). Rock provided his own insight on parenting in a comedy monologue several years before that hypothesis was made: “Sometimes I’m walking with my daughter, I’m talking to my daughter, I’m looking at her, I’m pushing her stroller, and sometimes I pick her up and I just stare at her and I realize my only job in life. . .is to keep her off the pole. Keep my baby off the pole! I mean they don’t grade fathers, but if your daughter’s a stripper, you f#@! up. Yeah. You went mighty wrong there, baby. . .” (Rock, 2004, 2:40 4:03).

contained humor and the other did not. Participants rated the targets on a number of perceived personality traits and selected the target that was most desirable as a relationship partner. Bressler and Balshine found that women preferred the humorous male target over the nonhumorous male target as a potential relationship partner; men exhibited no preference for either the humorous or nonhumorous female target. Other research, however, has produced findings that are not consistent with the sexual selection hypothesis. Li et al. (2009), for instance, found that both men and women (not just men) expected to use humor when interacting with an attractive potential romantic partner or someone with whom they already had an on-going relationship. Furthermore, both men and women (not just women) judged a funny opposite sex person as more attractive than a nonfunny person. Finally, when watching videos of speed dating interactions, both men and women perceived humor production and appreciation among both male and female partners as a signal of romantic interest. Based on these findings, it THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

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appears that both men and women try to be funny to invoke interpersonal attraction from others, and both men and women are attuned to humor production in potential romantic partners. Also, research has shown mixed results for the hypothesized mechanism that humor signals intelligence. Supporting the hypothesized sexual selection mechanism, Greengross and Miller (2011) found that general and verbal intelligence both positively correlated with humor production ability, which in turn predicted “mating success” (number of sexual partners). They also found that men exhibited better humor ability than women. Greengross and Miller contend that these findings indicate that “the human sense of humor evolved at least partly through sexual selection as an intelligence-indicator” (p. 188). Other research, however, has failed to support the sexual selection hypothesis that humor is an honest indicator of intelligence. Indeed, Lundy et al. found that women perceived humorous men as less intelligent (but more cheerful) than nonhumorous men. Similarly, Senko and Fyffe (2010) asked women to give their impressions of men using “pick-up” lines that were either humorous or nonhumorous. Participants preferred men for a long-term relationship who used nonhumorous pick-up lines because the humorous ones conveyed lower intelligence, among other things. In addition, Hall (2015) asked participants to rate a number of “target” people along various dimensions after reading their Facebook profiles. Hall found that participants rated targets as more extraverted, but not more intelligent, to the extent their Facebook profiles were funny. Finally, in a review of the relevant literature, Robert Storey (2003) concluded that humor “may have evolved as an instrument for achieving broad social adhesiveness and for facilitating the individual’s maneuverability within the group, but that it evolved through sexual selection has yet to be convincingly demonstrated” (p. 319). On the basis of these equivocal findings and new empirical findings, Li et al. (2009) suggested that people do not use humor as a basis for mate selection as proposed by an evolutionary psychology perspective, but rather to implicitly communicate their interest in another person, whether romantic or platonic (p. 925). Li et al. thus propose that people use humor as a strategy to initiate and monitor interpersonal relationships of all kinds. Thus, evolutionary theories can help to stimulate interesting research that furthers our understanding of humor and laughter.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION Physiological psychology is the study of the biological underpinnings of behavior and psychological states in brain chemistry and the nervous system. From a physiological perspective, we first considered the nature of laughter and its connection to the emotion, mirth. Mirth seems to trigger a physiological response of autonomic arousal similar to the “fight-or-flight” response, and the expressive behavior of smiling and laughing. Paul Ekman and his colleagues identified the Duchenne display, occurring in smiling and laughter, as reflecting genuine, spontaneous mirth. Laughter involves a distinctive pattern of vocalizations and a fixed action pattern that serves an interpersonal communication function. It has a contagious effect, as the sound of laughter elicits feelings of mirth in others, causing them to laugh as well. Interestingly, laughter is not a uniquely human phenomenon. Primatologists have found that chimpanzees and other apes, including bonobos, orangutans, and gorillas all exhibit a form of laughter. Primatologists describe ape laughter as a staccato, throaty, THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

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panting vocalization that accompanies the relaxed open-mouth or “play face,” and is emitted during playful rough-and-tumble social activities such as wrestling, tickling, and chasing games, highlighting the close connection between humor, laughter, and play. In this chapter, we also discussed the brain regions and neural circuits underlying humor, mirth, and laughter. Recent advancements in fMRI and EEG technology have allowed physiological psychologists to make significant advancements in our understanding of the brain regions responsible for the cognitive processes of humor comprehension. Consistent with cognitive theories of humor (e.g., incongruity theory, comprehensionevaluation theory), studies have shown that incongruity detection and resolution occur in different brain regions. In addition, research using neuroimaging technology has distinguished the neural circuitry and brain regions involved in mirth and consequent laughter from the cognitive processes involved in humor comprehension. In sum, physiological psychology has made considerable progress in advancing our understanding of the underlying brain structures and biochemical processes implicated in humor and laughter. Finally, the physiological approach draws attention to evolutionary psychology theories of humor. Evolutionary psychologists studying humor attempt to explain how humor affords a survival benefit. For instance, Geoffrey Miller’s theory of mental fitness indicators proposes that humor production ability, among other traits and behaviors, has a reproductive advantage, not because it directly confers a survival advantage, but because it increases one’s ability to attract a mate. Specifically, humor production requires complex cognitive functions and thus signals good mental fitness and good genetic make-up. Accordingly, from this framework, humor (particularly humor production) is a sexually selected trait that evolved through natural selection because it signals intelligence and thus good genes.

KEY CONCEPTS • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Mirth Sympathetic adrenal medullary system Hypothalamic pituitary adrenocortical system Cataplexy Duchenne display Zygomatic major Orbicularis oculi Excessive laughter Forced laughter Gelastic epilepsy Angelman syndrome Fou rire prodromique Ape laughter Cognitive processes of humor Aphasia Right frontal lobe Electroencephalogram (EEG) Electromyography (EMG) Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

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Blood oxygen level dependent Mesolimbic reward network Hypothalamus Thalamus Periaqueductal gray matter Reticular formation Cranial nerve nuclei Brainstem Corticobulbar tract Frontal cortex Cranial motor nuclei Pons Medulla Cerebellum Temporal areas Amygdala Temporal gyrus Pregenual anterior cingulate cortex Prefrontal cortex

CRITICAL THINKING 1. Consider the opening cartoon: the characters state that “nothing is funny” and that they are just “having a good laugh.” What behavior might you see in these characters engaging in laughter without the possible presence of mirth? What brain function may or may not occur in this situation? If they were truly experiencing mirth, how might their behavior and brain functions differ? 2. In viewing humorous incongruity and nonhumorous incongruity images, participants in Amir et al.’s (2013) study only showed activation of the mPFC in the humorous incongruity condition, indicating pleasure at “getting” the joke. However, how might this compare to more complicated nonhumorous incongruities, such as riddles? Would you expect similar or dissimilar effects? Design a study in which you examine the impact of humorous (jokes) and nonhumorous incongruities (riddles) on study participants. Include hypothesis, conditions, measures, participants, and expected results. 3. Much of the research discussed in this chapter focuses on incongruity resolution through the presentation of canned jokes and cartoons. How might other forms of humor differentiate themselves in terms of brain processes? How might these different forms of humor impact the experience of mirth? What other factors might impact the physiology of humor differently? 4. This chapter discusses humor from an evolutionary psychological perspective. Does this perspective adequately explain the adaptation of humor behavior in humans? Why or why not? Are there other evolutionary explanations, besides sexual selection, that may account for the use of humor?

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C H A P T E R

7 The Developmental Psychology of Humor

The Psychology of Humor DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-812143-6.00007-2

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Although nearly everyone engages in humor to some degree, people differ from one another in terms of humor comprehension and production, the types of humor they enjoy, and the way they use and express humor in their daily lives. In this chapter, we will see that all of these aspects of humor begin to emerge soon after birth and continue to develop over the course of childhood and into adulthood. What are the typical patterns of humor development in children? How do children’s developing cognitive, social, and emotional capacities interact with their ability to understand, enjoy, and produce humor? What are the contributions of genetic and social environmental factors to the development of individual differences in children’s sense of humor, and how does a sense of humor influence the child’s cognitive, social, and emotional functioning? How does humor change over the course of life, and what are the changing social and emotional functions of humor in later life? These, and other related questions, are the focus of a considerable body of research that has accumulated over the past 50 years on the developmental psychology of humor. Developmental psychologists use empirical research methods to study psychological development over the life span. Using a variety of research methods, including observational studies, experiments, surveys, and case studies, and using retrospective, crosssectional, and longitudinal designs, they investigate the processes of change in cognition, language, emotion, social functioning, and so forth. Developmental psychologists take a multifaceted perspective, recognizing that psychological development involves a complex interplay of genetics, biology, parental and family influences, and other social environment factors. All of these determinants of psychological development also apply to the development of humor. In this chapter, we discuss theories and research findings on the developmental psychology of humor, and examine the development of smiling and laughter in infancy and early childhood, the origins of humor in children’s play, the relation between humor and cognitive development, humor as emotional coping in childhood and adolescence, social underpinnings of humor development, individual differences in humor, and humor in later adulthood and old age.

SMILING AND LAUGHTER IN INFANCY AND EARLY CHILDHOOD Infants typically begin to smile during their first month, initially in response to tactile stimulation (e.g., tickling, rubbing the skin) accompanied by the sound of a caregiver’s voice, and a month or so later in response to visual stimuli such as moving objects and lights. In the following months, babies smile when they recognize objects, such as the general configuration of a face and, eventually, the faces of specific individuals that they recognize, such as their parents or siblings. This pattern of behavior indicates that they develop a cognitive schema, or mental representation, of an object or individual. Laughter first appears in the context of infant caregiver interaction, sometime between 10 and 20 weeks of age, and it quickly becomes a frequent part of the interactions between infants and their caregivers. Researchers have observed that young infants typically produce one to four laughs in a 10-minute face-to-face play session with their mother (Fogel et al., 1997). However, those play sessions and interactions only increase the response of laughter over time. In an early study, Alan Sroufe and Jane Wunsch (1972) investigated

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the stimuli that trigger laughter during the first year of life by having mothers engage in a variety of behaviors with their infants, such as making lip-popping sounds, tickling, displaying unusual facial expressions, and playing peek-a-boo games. They found that laughter occurs with increasing frequency and in response to a greater variety of maternal behaviors over the course of the year. The types of stimuli that produce laughter also change over the course of the first year. Tactile and auditory stimuli (e.g., kissing on the bare stomach or making the sound of a horse) that elicit laughter at 7 or 8 months are less likely to do so at 12 months. Conversely, visual and social actions (e.g., walking with an exaggerated waddle, or the “I’m going to get you” game) are more likely to induce laughter at 12 months than at 8. Drawing from these results, Sroufe and Wunsch noted that the most effective stimuli in inducing laughter are those that seem to make the greatest cognitive demands on the infant. Overall, the actions that trigger laughter seem to be ones that are unexpected or deviate from the child’s developing schemas about the world (e.g., when the child’s mother walks like a penguin, sucks on a baby bottle, or dangles a piece of cloth from her mouth). From these observations, Sroufe and Wunsch proposed an incongruity-based cognitive-arousal theory of laughter in infants. Similar to previous discussions of incongruity-based humor theories, they suggested that laughter occurs in response to an unexpected or incongruous event which is appropriate to the infant’s cognitive level, but does not mesh with developing schemas. Such incongruous events initially attract the attention of the child, and induce efforts at information processing, and produce accompanying physiological arousal. If the infant’s interpretation of the event is negative, either due to feelings of insecurity or perceptions of threat, he or she will cry and engage in avoidance behaviors; however, if the interpretation is positive, due to perceptions of a safe and playful environment, he or she will smile or laugh and engage in approach behaviors. Sroufe and Wunsch noted that their data provided little support for the ambivalence view of laughter, according to which laughter is associated with a concurrent mix of both positive and negative emotions. Instead, they observed that, although an infant might first respond to an incongruous stimulus with some apprehension and hesitation, once laughter begins the affective tone seems to be purely positive and is accompanied only by approach behaviors rather than vacillation. Thus, it appears that infants laugh in response to the perception of an incongruous object or event in a safe, playful, and nonthreatening social context. As we saw in Chapters 2 and 3, both classic and contemporary theories of humor propose that the perception of incongruity in a nonserious, humor mindset is also the basis of humor in adults. Some later experiments used the “peek-a-boo” game to investigate why infants smile and laugh in response to incongruous events. In this game, a familiar person hides his or her face for a few seconds and then suddenly reappears in front of the infant, saying “peek-a-boo!” while smiling and making eye contact with the infant. Infants between 6 and 12 months frequently smile and laugh upon seeing the person reappear. Infants seem to find the disappearance and reappearance of a familiar face in a playful context particularly enjoyable when they are in the process of mastering “object permanence,” the recognition that objects continue to exist even when they are not visible to the child (Shultz, 1976). In one study, MacDonald and Silverman (1978) showed that 1-year-old children smiled and laughed in response to this game more with their mothers than with strangers

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(indicating the importance of familiarity and perceptions of security) and when their mother rapidly approaches them during the game, rather than moving away from them (indicating the importance of increasing arousal). In a related line of research, Gerrod Parrott and Henry Gleitman (1989) investigated the role of expectations in 6 8-month-old infants’ enjoyment by inserting occasional “trick trials” in a series of standard peek-a-boo trials. In these trick trials, one person would hide and a different person would reappear in his or her place, or the same person would reappear, but in a different location than in the standard trials. The results showed that the infants smiled and laughed much less frequently in response to the trick trials than the standard trials, whereas the trick trials produced more eyebrow-raising, indicating surprise or puzzlement instead of amusement. These findings suggest that by this age infants have well-formed expectations about the identity and location of the returning person, and that conformity to these expectations contributes to their enjoyment of the game, whereas violations of those expectations induce puzzlement rather than enjoyment. Parrott and Gleitman suggested that when deviations from expectations are too great, the infant cannot “resolve” the incongruity by assimilating it into an overarching schema, thereby allowing the infant to make sense of it in some way. Thus infants, like older children and adults, are not always amused by just any incongruity or deviation from their expectations, but tend to prefer deviations that can be reinterpreted in a way that makes sense. In addition, the trick trials may have been so deviant from the infants’ experience that they induced a serious, nonplayful reaction of puzzlement, interfering with the playful state of mind that is required for humor. Social factors are also significant in the experience of laughter. Indeed, Shultz (1976) demonstrated that infants never smile or laugh in response to an impersonal analogue of the peek-a-boo game in which a toy disappeared and suddenly reappeared, whereas they frequently smile and laugh in response to a person playing the game. Thus, laughter right from its inception tends to be a form of social communication: infant laughter typically occurs during interactions with parents and other caregivers, who in turn tend to laugh in response to the infants. More recent research by Evangeline Nwokah and her colleagues (Fogel et al., 1997; Nwokah & Fogel, 1993; Nwokah et al., 1999; Nwokah, Hsu, Dobrowolska, & Fogel, 1994) has investigated the social nature of laughter as a means of emotional communication between infants and caregivers. Nwokah et al. (1994), for instance, conducted a longitudinal study in order to examine the timing and temporal sequence of laughter in interpersonal interactions between infants and caregivers. In this study, they observed the laughter of mothers and their infants during free play sessions over the first 2 years of the infants’ lives. They found that infant laughter increased in frequency over the first year and remained fairly stable during the second year (averaging about 0.3 laughs per minute by age two), whereas the rate of laughter in the mothers remained quite stable over the 2 years (at about 0.55 laughs per minute). By the second year, the rate and duration of laughter was significantly correlated between mothers and infants: the more a mother laughed, the more her infant laughed. Thus, it appears that the mother models during the first year, and the infant internalizes it by the second year. By the time the infant is 1 year of age, both mother and infant can induce laughter in the other by altering their tone of voice, facial expressions, and actions. For example, the

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mother can encourage laughter in the infant by engaging in incongruous behaviors, such as putting a toy on her head. However, the likelihood of laughter also depends on such factors as the timing, element of surprise, emotional state of both the mother and infant, and attention of the infant (Fogel et al., 1997). Thus, laughter is clearly a social process that serves an emotional communication function. Bainum, Lounsbury, and Pollio (1984) also demonstrated the importance of a social context for the experience of mirth expressed by smiling and laughter. They observed groups of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old children in a nursery school to investigate instances of laughing and smiling during structured and unstructured play. They found that 95% of all instances of smiling and laughter occurred when children were interacting with others; only 5% when alone.

HUMOR AND PLAY Developmental psychologists have also noted that laughter and humor develop in human children in the context of play, and many view humor as a particular form of mental play (Barnett, 1990, 1991; Bergen, 1998b, 2002, 2003; McGhee, 1979). What exactly is play? Although there is little agreement among play researchers and theorists about how to define this nebulous concept, most would agree that it is an enjoyable, spontaneous activity that is carried out for its own sake with no obvious immediate biological purpose (Berlyne, 1969). Michael Apter (1982) suggested that play is best viewed as a state of mind, rather than a specific characteristic of certain types of activities. Thus, one can engage in almost any activity in a playful way, as long as one has a nonserious, activity-oriented (rather than goal-oriented) mindset (Fig. 7.1). There are many similarities between humor and play (Bergen, 2002). Laughter and play both emerge at a similar age in infants (around 4 6 months), and both are facilitated by similar social contexts. Children enjoy both humor and play for their own sake without FIGURE 7.1 A father and daughter playing with finger puppets, demonstrating the “humor frame” of parent child dyadic play. Source: Image courtesy of Hannah Buie.

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having an obvious serious purpose. Humor and play both occur in safe settings with people who are trusted, and also seem to involve consolidation and mastery of newly acquired skills and concepts. Moreover, caregivers socialize their children into play and humor in similar ways and in similar contexts. Just as parents initiate their infant children into the “play frame,” teaching them to recognize the verbalizations and behaviors that signal “this is play,” parents also teach their children the meaning of the “humor frame” by means of facial expressions, behavioral and vocal exaggerations, and verbal labels indicating “this is funny.” Doris Bergen (1998a) asked parents of children from age one to seven to keep a record of the events that their children personally perceived to be funny. Most of the reported examples of children’s humor took place in the context of play and involved playful manipulations of language and actions. Common examples included: expressed joy in mastery and movement play (e.g., tickling games, chasing), clowning (e.g., exaggerated facial or bodily movements or voices), performing incongruous actions (e.g., rolling up a red placemat and pretending to eat it as a “Fruit Roll”), and playing with sounds and word meanings (e.g., chanting or singing nonsense words). Elena Hoicka and Nameera Akhtar (2012) investigated humor development through interviews and by videotaping 10-minute play sessions of parent child dyads with 2- and 3-year-old children. The study intended to examine: 1. Whether early humor production is predominantly imitative or novel; 2. How children cue their humor; 3. The types of humor children exhibit. Their findings suggest that while 3-year-olds produce more novel versus imitative humorous acts than 2-year-olds do, children of both age groups produce novel and imitative humor, cue their humor, and produce a variety of humor types (e.g., object-based, conceptual). See Fig. 7.2 for a description of the types of humor children exhibited. In a subsequent study, Hoicka and Akhtar conceptually replicated the first experiment using an online survey and a larger sample to determine if the same patterns would arise. The survey results suggested that humor imitation often reflects low understanding of the underlying humorous explanation, but children still cued the humor (expecting the audience to find the imitated humor funny, even if delivered incorrectly). However, children in the same age range are also capable of producing novel humor. As such, further research is needed to determine if imitative humor is developmentally helpful in mastering novel humor creation. Research showing that children engage in play to the extent they have a good sense of humor suggests there is a close connection between play and humor. Lynn Barnett (1990) developed a measure that adults can use to rate children’s playfulness. The measure assesses sense of humor, physical spontaneity, social spontaneity, cognitive spontaneity, and manifest joy (see Fig. 7.3). Research using this measure has demonstrated that ratings of children’s sense of humor significantly correlate with ratings on the other playfulness scales (Barnett, 1991). Similarly, Paul McGhee and Sally Lloyd (1982) found that the frequency with which nursery school children engaged in social play was the strongest predictor of their verbal and behavioral humor imitation and laughter. Collectively, these studies lend further support to the close link between humor and play.

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FIGURE 7.2 Demonstrates examples of humor types from Hoicka and Akhtar (2012, Studies 1 & 2). Source: From “Early humor production,” by E. Hoicka and N. Akhtar, 2012, British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 30, pp. 586 603. Copyright 2017 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

Although humor and play are closely related, they are not exactly the same thing. A small child may engage in enjoyable make-believe play by dressing up in her mother’s fancy dress and high-heeled shoes and putting on lipstick, but may not necessarily find it to be humorous or “funny.” However, if she puts the dress on backwards, wears the shoes on her hands, or gives herself a clown face with the lipstick, she might perceive this to be humorous and expect other people to laugh at it as well. Thus, humor involves a greater degree of incongruity, bizarreness, exaggeration, or discrepancy from the way things normally are, along with a playful attitude. At what point in a child’s development does humor first diverge from other forms of play? When a 6-month-old infant laughs in response to the peek-a-boo game, one might conclude that she is experiencing humor; however, some researchers suggest that she might not be. Laughter in infants and young children might be used to communicate a variety of positive emotions, not just humor. When, then, do children begin to laugh at things that are “funny” and not just “fun?” This has been a topic of some controversy among developmental psychologists. According to Martha Wolfenstein (1954), an early psychoanalytically oriented researcher of humor in children, humor does not emerge until sometime in the second year of life when make-believe play becomes differentiated into two strands, which she called “serious” make-believe and “joking” make-believe. In both kinds of make-believe, the child pretends that something is real, but knows that it is not. In serious make-believe, the focus is on the pretense or illusion of reality, whereas in joking make-believe the emphasis is on the recognition of unreality. Thus, a child engaged in serious make-believe play may become engrossed in a role, pretend to be a “mommy” or a “truck driver,” and carry out activities that closely resemble those of a real mother or truck driver. In humor, however,

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FIGURE 7.3 Children’s Playfulness Scale adapted from Barnett (1990). **indicates inverted coding. Source: From “The playful child: Measurement of a disposition to play,” L.A. Barnett, 1991, Play & Culture, 4, pp. 51 74. Copyright 2016 by APA. Reprinted with permission.

the child intentionally distorts reality and behaves in unusual or exaggerated ways with the intention of causing laughter. Paul McGhee (1979), a prominent developmental humor researcher, also saw a close link between humor and make-believe play. He based his theory on the more general theory of cognitive development formulated by the well-known Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1970). Similarly to Wolfenstein, McGhee argued that genuine humor does not begin until the middle of the second year of life, when children develop the capacity for fantasy, pretense, or make-believe play. This corresponds to the transition from the sensorimotor stage to the preoperational stage in Piaget’s theory. At this stage, children begin to represent schemas internally, instead of relying on the direct manipulation of objects to

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gain knowledge of the world (we discussed cognitive schemas in Chapter 5, The Cognitive Psychology of Humor). The most significant achievement at this age is the ability to use symbols and signs, including words, to represent other objects. According to Piagetian theory, a child experiences incongruity upon perceiving information that does not fit existing schemas. To make sense of incongruous information, the child normally reinterprets the perceived information to make it fit with the existing schema (assimilation, in Piaget’s terms), or modifies the schema to incorporate the new information (accommodation). In this way, the child eliminates incongruity in a way that expands his or her knowledge of the world. According to McGhee (1979), these processes for making sense of objects or events can occur in two ways: “reality assimilation,” which is more serious and reality-based, or “fantasy assimilation,” which is more playful and makes use of pretense and make-believe. In fantasy assimilation the child responds to incongruity by playfully applying the wrong schemas to objects, treating one object as if it were another one. In this way, children create experiences in their fantasy world that they know cannot take place in reality. Thus, in McGhee’s view, humor essentially involves the perception of an incongruity along with fantasy assimilation. For example, a child might pretend to comb her hair with a pencil, stretching the pencil schema to make it incorporate characteristics of a comb. The child does not permanently alter the schema in fantasy assimilation as she would in reality assimilation; she merely applies it incorrectly in the immediate context. Based on developmental research by Piaget and others, McGhee argued that children are not capable of this sort of fantasy assimilation until they acquire the capacity for symbolic play at around 18 months of age. In McGhee’s view, then, the 6-month-old infant who laughs in response to the peek-a-boo game is not really experiencing humor, even though he or she may perceive the situation to be incongruous and enjoyable. In contrast to both Wolfenstein and McGhee, Diana Pien and Mary Rothbart (1980) argued that symbolic play capacities and fantasy assimilation are not necessary for the appreciation of humor. Instead, humor requires only the recognition of incongruity along with a playful interpretation of that incongruity, and that both these abilities are present by the time infants first exhibit laughter, around the fourth month. Although infants at this age do not have internalized mental schemas, they do develop sensory and motor schemas based on their interactions with the physical world. In support of their view, they cited the research described earlier by Sroufe and Wunsch (1972), which indicated that infants laugh in response to visual and social events that deviate from familiar sensorimotor schemas. Although Pien and Rothbart agreed that make-believe play does not begin until the preoperational stage of cognitive development, they pointed out that by 4 months of age infants are capable of simple forms of playful behavior involving practice, exploratory, and manipulative play with objects, motor play, and social play (see also Garner, 1998). Like Piaget, they defined play as actions that are carried out for the pleasure of the activity alone, involving assimilation with little or no serious attempt to accommodate existing schemas to fit a stimulus. They argued that this ability to respond playfully is the only requirement to perceive incongruity as humorous, and to respond to incongruity in a playful way, the infant merely needs to be in a safe, nonthreatening environment. In Pien and

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Rothbart’s view, then, a 6-month-old infant laughing at the peek-a-boo game is actually experiencing humor. The question of when humor first occurs in infants may be impossible to resolve, however, since it depends in part on how one defines humor. Perhaps the most we can say is that humor originates in play and gradually becomes differentiated from other forms of play as a child’s cognitive abilities develop (Bergen, 2003). Most researchers today seem to avoid the question of when humor begins in children, focusing on overt behaviors like smiling and laughter and avoiding making inferences about subjective cognitive experiences such as humor. Nonetheless, most would agree that by the end of their second year, children are able to distinguish between humor and other forms of play. This also becomes more evident as children’s developing language skills enable them to describe certain events as “funny” or “silly,” in addition to laughing at them.

HUMOR AND COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT As seen in this and earlier chapters, most researchers and theorists view incongruity as an essential component of humor, where incongruity may be viewed as a deviation or discrepancy from one’s normal expectations. As discussed in Chapter 5, these expectations are based on one’s cognitive schemas, the mental representations stored in memory: children, as well as adults, tend to laugh at objects or events that do not conform to their existing schemas. Since schemas gradually develop throughout childhood as a person gains experience and familiarity with the world, the kinds of objects and events one perceives as incongruous with their schemas, and therefore humorous, also change over time. Things that seem incongruous and funny at an early age become mundane and less humorous at a later stage of cognitive development, whereas the older child’s more sophisticated schemas enable them to perceive and enjoy new kinds of incongruity and more complex forms of humor that are not comprehensible to younger children. Thus, the development of a sense of humor in children parallels their overall cognitive development. The effects of cognitive development on humor comprehension and appreciation have been the focus of a great deal of theoretical work and empirical research since the early 1970s.

McGhee’s Four-Stage Model of Humor Development Based on a variety of research findings, Paul McGhee (1979) proposed a four-stage model of humor development in children that corresponds to general trends in overall cognitive development. The four stages of humor development are: 1. 2. 3. 4.

Incongruous actions toward objects; Incongruous labeling of objects and events; Conceptual incongruity; Multiple meanings.

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As we saw earlier, McGhee argued that the appreciation of humor does not begin until the middle of the second year, when children progress into the preoperational stage of cognitive development and acquire the capacity for make-believe or fantasy play. Therefore, the first stage of humor development, which McGhee named incongruous actions toward objects, begins at this age. According to McGhee, children at this age are able to represent objects with internal mental schemas, and their humor consists of playfully assimilating objects into schemas to which they do not normally belong. For example, a child might hold a leaf to their ear and talk to it as if it were a telephone. The child’s recognition of the inappropriateness of the action is an important component of humor: if the child simply misapplies a schema without recognition of the error, adult observers might laugh, but the child would not. However, one way children learn to behave humorously is recognizing when their inadvertent cognitive errors produce laughter in their parents and others. Once they discover that such incongruous actions can cause people to laugh, they often intentionally engage in those actions to evoke laughter in others (Bariaud, 1988). McGhee’s second stage of humor development, called incongruous labeling of objects and events, begins early in the third year when the child is able to use language in playful ways. At this stage, the humorous use of language usually involves mislabeling objects or events. For example, children at this age may derive a great deal of amusement from calling a dog a cat, a hand a foot, an eye a nose, and so on. However, the child must understand the correct meaning of the word and must be aware that he or she is applying it incorrectly for it to be perceived as humorous. Thus, the child’s mastery of the correct usage of the word seems to be the critical factor in determining when it will be misapplied in a playful manner to create humor. The third humor stage, called conceptual incongruity, begins around 3 years of age when, according to Piaget, the child realizes that words refer to classes of objects or events that have certain key defining characteristics. Humor in this stage involves the violation of one or more attributes of a concept, rather than simple mislabeling. For example, instead of merely finding it funny to call a cat a dog, a child at this stage might find humor in imagining or seeing a picture of a cat with more than one head that says “moo” instead of “meow.” However, Johnson and Mervis (1997) questioned the cognitive basis of the transition from stage two to stage three. They pointed out that the Piagetian idea of a transition from “preconcepts” to “true concepts” at this age has not held up well in the research on children’s early conceptual development. Instead, infants’ prelinguistic categories have been shown to be based on the same principles as the categories of adults. These authors suggested that the transition from stage two to stage three in McGhee’s model may simply reflect a change in what children tend to talk about. Children first learn names for objects, which allows them to create stage-two humor involving mislabeling of objects. Later, they learn words for the attributes of objects, which leads to the enjoyment of stage-three humor involving incongruous attributes. During this timeframe, children also develop more complex syntactic abilities, enabling them to engage in various types of language play, including repetitious rhyming of words and the creation of nonsense words (e.g., “ringo, dingo, bingo”). Children around this age also enjoy simple riddles or “preriddles,” since they follow the structure of riddles without involving the play on words or concepts found in the true riddles enjoyed at a later stage (Yalisove, 1978).

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McGhee’s fourth stage of humor development, called multiple meanings, begins around age 7 when children progress from the preoperational to the concrete operational stage in Piaget’s theory of cognitive development (Piaget, 1970). Children in the concrete operational stage can manipulate schemas in their minds, and imagine the effects of various actions on objects (i.e., “operations”) without having to act them out. Also, they understand conservation, that physical matter does not magically appear or disappear despite changes in form. Children at this stage also become less egocentric, and recognize that other people’s perspectives may be different from their own. The development of these cognitive abilities contributes to their ability to appreciate sophisticated kinds of humor that play with reality in more complex ways. Regarding linguistic abilities, children at the concrete operational stage recognize the ambiguity inherent in language at various levels, including phonology, morphology, semantics, and syntax (Shultz & Pilon, 1973; Shultz & Robillard, 1980). They therefore can enjoy the play on words and double meanings that are an important component of many jokes and riddles (Whitt & Prentice, 1977; Yalisove, 1978). For example, children at this age would be able to understand the double meaning involved in the following joke (McGhee, 1979, p. 77): “Why did the old man tip-toe past the medicine cabinet?” “Because he didn’t want to wake up the sleeping pills.”

In addition to understanding puns and other jokes based on double meanings and language play, children at the concrete operational stage of development can understand other kinds of abstract humor based on logical inconsistencies that require inferential thinking. Indeed, McGhee (1971a; 1971b) reported that preoperational children had difficulty understanding the meaning of various jokes and cartoons containing abstract incongruities, whereas those who had achieved concrete operations demonstrated better comprehension. McGhee (1979) viewed stage four humor as the final stage in humor development, noting that adolescents and adults continue to enjoy it. However, we might speculate that some further development takes place with the onset of Piaget’s formal operations stage beginning in early adolescence (Piaget, 1970). In this stage, one’s thinking becomes more abstract and is governed more by logical principles than by perceptions and experiences. People at this age have a more flexible, critical, and abstract view of the world. They are able to mentally manipulate more than two categories of variables at the same time, detect logical inconsistencies in a set of statements, hypothesize logical sequences of actions, and anticipate future consequences of actions. These cognitive capacities enable people to play with ideas and concepts at a more abstract level than is possible in the concrete operational stage (Fu¨hr, 2001). Children at the formal operations stage begin to enjoy existential jokes about the meaning of life, as well as jokes that play with traditional joke structures and forms. Yalisove (1978), for instance, asked children to produce their favorite riddle. Children in 2nd through 7th grades provided riddles based on language ambiguity (e.g., “Why do birds fly south? It’s too far to walk”), whereas by 10th grade, children were more likely to report absurdity-based riddles (e.g., “How can you fit six elephants into a Volkswagen Beetle? Three in the front and three in the back”). Overall, then, the cognitive

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development of humor seems to correspond with the development of more sophisticated mental structures and cognitive abilities that allow one to engage in the perception and creation of playful incongruities.

The Role of Incongruity and Resolution in Children’s Humor Thomas Shultz and his colleagues conducted a number of early studies on the relationship between cognitive development and humor appreciation (for a review, see Shultz, 1976). They based their research on Shultz’s (1972) incongruity-resolution theory of humor (discussed in Chapter 2). This model is best illustrated by jokes, in which an incongruity in the punch line is typically resolved by reinterpreting some ambiguous information in the joke setup. These researchers were particularly interested in the relative contribution of incongruity and resolution to humor appreciation in children at different stages of cognitive development. As described in Chapter 2, Shultz and Horibe (1974) altered jokes to remove either incongruity or resolution, and presented the original jokes, the incongruity-removed jokes, or the resolution-removed jokes to children in grades 1, 3, 5, and 7. For example, one of the original jokes was the following: Woman: Call me a cab. Man: You’re a cab. The resolution-removed version of this joke was: Woman: Call a cab for me. Man: You’re a cab. The incongruity-removed version was: Woman: Call me a cab. Man: Yes, ma’am. The results of this study showed that children in 3rd, 5th, and 7th grades rated the original jokes funniest, followed by the jokes with resolution removed, and finally jokes with incongruity removed. Children in 1st grade, however, rated the original jokes and the jokes with the resolution removed as equally funny, and funnier than jokes with the incongruity removed. Shultz and Horibe interpreted these findings as an indication that younger children find humor in incongruity alone and do not require incongruity resolution. Further supporting this interpretation, children in 1st grade had great difficulty comprehending joke resolutions, particularly in identifying multiple meanings in the set-up of the jokes. Shultz and Horibe noted that the transition from enjoyment of incongruity alone to enjoyment of resolvable incongruity seems to occur at roughly the same age as when children typically progress from the preoperational to the concrete operational stage of cognitive development. This suggests that the increased mental abilities of this later stage are necessary for the child to appreciate and enjoy the resolution of humor. Thus, the transition from incongruity-only humor to incongruity-resolution humor corresponds to the beginning of McGhee’s fourth stage of humor development.

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A subsequent study by Diana Pien and Mary Rothbart (1976), however, cast some doubt on Shultz’s conclusions. Pien and Rothbart pointed out that the types of jokes used in these studies were based on linguistic ambiguities that may have been too difficult for 6year-old children to understand. The failure to appreciate resolution at this age, therefore, may simply have been due to comprehension difficulties with the particular stimuli used, rather than a reduced importance of resolution in humor generally. Indeed, these authors demonstrated that 4- and 5-year-old children were able to understand resolution of incongruity when simpler jokes and cartoons were used as stimuli and showed a preference for jokes containing resolution rather than incongruity alone (see also similar findings by A. J. Klein, 1985). Pien and Rothbart reasoned that these findings do not support Shultz’s view that children progress from a stage of enjoying incongruity alone to enjoying incongruity plus resolution. They argued instead that children of all ages view incongruity with or without resolution as humorous; this view seems to be consistent with more recent research findings. As we saw earlier, the “peek-a-boo” study by Parrott and Gleitman (1989) that included “trick” trials suggested that some degree of resolution may be important for humor, even in infancy. On the other hand, Ruch’s factor analytic studies of jokes and cartoons that were discussed in Chapter 4 (e.g., Ruch & Hehl, 1998) indicate that adults also can enjoy humor containing incongruity without resolution (i.e., nonsense humor). Thus, the presence or absence of resolution does not seem to be an important factor in humor development, but instead characterizes two different kinds of humor. Moreover, as Bernard Lefort (1992) pointed out, jokes, riddles, and cartoons are particular narrative forms that are used in a social context as a sort of game between the teller and the listener. What Shultz called “resolution” may be better viewed as a particular class of techniques used in the form of verbal humor to simultaneously activate incongruous multiple schemas (see also Attardo, 1997). In other forms of humor, such as spontaneous witticisms, these techniques may not be as necessary for incongruous schema activation. As children gain experience with jokes, they learn to organize their comprehension activity around this narrative framework, and internalize the traditional rules of the game. Thus, developmental research based on jokes and riddles, such as the studies by Shultz and colleagues, may tell us more about children’s developing understanding of the traditional incongruity-resolution type of joke structure, than about their experience of humor more generally.

Humor and Cognitive Mastery McGhee’s model of humor development suggests that once children have mastered particular cognitive abilities, they soon begin to create humor by playing with these abilities in incongruous ways. As McGhee (1983a, p. 115) put it, “once a child becomes confident of the normal relationship between stimulus elements or achieves a new level of understanding through acquisition of new cognitive skills, [they enjoy] distorting that knowledge or understanding in the guise of a joke.” Evidence from a number of children’s humor studies indicates that children particularly enjoy humor that plays with concepts that they have only recently mastered, rather than those with which they are very familiar

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(McGhee, 1974). Elena Hoicka (2016) argued that children as young as 2 years old understand humor from an intentional perspective. This is especially interesting given that children develop humor appreciation and understand intentions separately at earlier ages, but develop the ability to cognitively connect the two at a later age, leading to a richer experience of humor. In an early study of humor and cognitive development, Zigler, Levine, and Gould (1966) presented cartoons to children in the second, third, fourth, and fifth grades. The researchers noted the degree to which the children smiled and laughed in response to the cartoons, and also asked them to explain the meaning of each cartoon. Not surprisingly, the children showed an increasing comprehension of the cartoons across the four grades, with fifth-grade children exhibiting the greatest understanding of the humor. However, the pattern of smiling and laughter in response to the cartoons did not follow the same pattern. The frequency of smiling and laughing increased from the second to the fourth grade, paralleling the children’s increasing comprehension, but in the fifth grade there was a steep drop to the level shown by children in the second grade. This indicates that, although they understood the humor better, fifth-grade children did not find it nearly as funny as did those in preceding grades. At this age, the cartoons seemed to be too simple, and therefore no longer amusing. Zigler et al. proposed a “cognitive congruency” hypothesis to explain these findings, suggesting an inverted-U relationship between cognitive difficulty and enjoyment of humor (see Fig. 7.4). Children cannot understand and thus do not enjoy cartoons that make too great a cognitive demand; however, they also do not enjoy cartoons that make too little cognitive demand. Thus, children enjoy humorous stimuli to the extent they are congruent with the complexity of the child’s cognitive schemas. FIGURE 7.4 The inverted-U relationship between cognitive difficulty and enjoyment of humor. Source: From “Cognitive processes in the development of children’s appreciation of humor,” by E. Zigler et al., 1966, Child Development, p. 507. Copyright 1966 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

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McGhee (1976) provided additional support for this hypothesis. In McGhee’s first study, he assessed children of varying ages for their ability to understand conservation of mass. Conservation of mass refers to the recognition that objects, such as a piece of modeling clay, retain the same mass even when they change shape. He then presented children with a series of jokes like the following that were based on a humorous violation of conservation concepts: Mr. Jones went into a restaurant and ordered a whole pizza for dinner. When the waiter asked him if he wanted it cut into six or eight pieces, Mr. Jones said: “Oh, you’d better make it six! I could never eat eight!”

McGhee found a curvilinear relationship between funniness ratings of the jokes and acquisition of conservation skills. Children who had recently acquired conservation skills rated the jokes funniest; those who had not yet achieved conservation and older children who had attained the skill years earlier rated the jokes as less funny. McGhee (1976) found similar results in a second study in which he presented participants with jokes that violated the Piagetian concept of class inclusion (the ability to recognize that an object can be a member of more than one class at the same time). McGhee explained these findings in terms of the cognitive congruency hypothesis: children derive the greatest pleasure from humor that presents an optimal level of challenge to their cognitive structures. Humor that is too difficult or too easy to understand is not enjoyed as much. The cognitive congruency hypothesis was also supported by several studies examining associations between children’s cognitive development and their comprehension and enjoyment of humorous riddles (Park, 1977; Prentice & Fathman, 1975; Whitt & Prentice, 1977; Yalisove, 1978). Furthermore, several studies have indicated that the mastery of humor comprehension has a positive impact on the development of related cognitive structures, such as language and creativity. Morrison (2008) investigated the causal relationship between humor and language development among “gifted” children and children with special needs. The results indicated that the development of humor processing has a positive impact on language regardless of cognitive abilities. Researchers have found a similar relationship between humor and creative processes (Boyle & Stack, 2014; Humke & Schafer, 1996; Rouff, 1975). These results suggest that as one cognitive process or skill develops, it positively impacts the development of other skills and processes (Ghayas & Malik, 2013; Murdock & Ganim, 1993; Ziv, 1989).

Cognitive Development of Irony and Sarcasm Most early empirical research on the cognitive underpinnings of humor development focused on children’s comprehension and appreciation of “canned” forms of humor, such as jokes, cartoons, and riddles. As noted in earlier chapters, these forms of humor are context-free and portable, and are therefore quite easy to study in the laboratory. However, they represent a small part of the humor encountered by children and adults in everyday life (Bergen, 1998b; R. A. Martin & Kuiper, 1999). Most humor in childhood arises from spontaneous verbal and nonverbal behaviors during playful social interactions,

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such as wordplay, silly gestures and actions, incongruous fantasy play, teasing, irony, sarcasm, and practical jokes (Bergen, 1998a; Fabrizi & Pollio, 1987b; McGhee, 1980b). Investigation of these kinds of naturally occurring humor poses greater challenges to researchers, especially since they depend so heavily on the constantly changing social context. Nonetheless, there has been some research on the development of children’s comprehension of certain types of conversational humor in recent years, particularly irony and sarcasm (see Creusere, 1999, for a review). Irony is a humorous figure of speech that is used to indirectly communicate a message that is the opposite of the literal meaning. For example, someone who says, “What a beautiful day!” when the weather is cold and stormy actually intends to communicate, “what an awful day.” Irony is also closely related to sarcasm, which depends on “bitter, caustic, and other ironic language that is usually directed against an individual” for its effect (Gibbs, 1986, p. 3). For example, if someone says, “You’re so graceful” in response to someone tripping and falling, this is an ironic statement that may also be sarcastic. On the other hand, irony can also be used in making indirect compliments. For example, a highachieving student who receives an A on a test might be told by a classmate, “You’d better work harder next time!” In order to understand and appreciate irony and sarcasm, children must first develop the abilities to make several complex linguistic and social inferences. First, children need to recognize that the intended meaning of the ironic statement is not the surface meaning, and therefore learn to substitute the true meaning for the literal meaning. In addition, they need to recognize the pragmatic (i.e., social and communicative) functions of irony in speech. Researchers have identified two such functions. First, irony is used to tinge or mute implied criticism or praise, making the criticism less negative and the compliment less positive than they would be using literal language. Second, irony is used to convey humor based on the incongruity between the literal and implied meanings, and is therefore meant to be funny (Dews, Kaplan, & Winner, 1995). A number of studies have shown that children do not develop the ability to understand the intended meaning of ironic statements until about age 6 (e.g., Creusere, 2000; de Groot, Kaplan, Rosenblatt, Dews, & Winner, 1995; Winner et al., 1987). This comprehension ability appears to depend on the development of a “theory of mind”— the ability to infer a speaker’s beliefs or intentions. In particular, in order to understand that a statement is meant to be ironic, one needs to infer not only what the speaker actually intends, but also that the speaker believes that the listener also understands this implied meaning. Failure to make these inferences will lead to a misinterpretation of the irony as either a literally true statement or a lie. Sullivan, Winner, and Hopfield (1995) found that children between 5 and 8 years old could only distinguish between a lie and a humorous false statement in a story if they had already developed the theory-of-mind ability to attribute second-order ignorance (i.e., recognizing that one person in a story misperceives what another person is thinking). Interestingly, without this ability, children could not recognize that a joke was not intended as a lie even with the presence of different vocal intonations. However, children did not need the more difficult theory-of-mind ability to attribute second-order false belief to be able to distinguish between a lie and a joke, indicating that only some aspects of a theory of mind are necessary for irony comprehension (see also Winner & Leekam, 1991).

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FIGURE 7.5 Dews et al.’s (1996) funniness and meanness scales. Source: From “Children’s understanding of the meaning and functions of verbal irony,” by S. Dews et al., 1996, Child Development, 67, pp. 3071 3085. Copyright 2017 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Reprinted with permission.

Other researchers have investigated the development of children’s comprehension of the pragmatic functions of irony. Shelly Dews and her colleagues (1996) conducted two studies to investigate children’s understanding of the muting function and humorous nature of ironic insults. In the first study, they presented groups of 5- and 6-year-olds, 8and 9-year-olds, and college students with brief clips from television cartoons containing instances of ironic criticism, literal criticism, and literal compliments. They then tested participants’ understanding of the intended meanings of the statements, and asked them to rate the meanness and funniness of the statements (see Fig. 7.5). Consistent with previous research, Dews et al. found that children’s ability to understand the implied meaning of the ironic criticisms emerged between 5 and 6 years of age. Interestingly, as soon as they were able to understand the meaning of ironic criticism, children recognized that it was less mean or insulting than literal criticism, indicating an understanding of the muting function of irony. However, the understanding of the humorous nature of irony does not apparently develop until sometime later. It was not until children turned 8 or 9 that they began to perceive ironic insults as funnier than literal ones. Finally, the college students rated the ironic insults even funnier, suggesting that a full appreciation of the humorous aspects of irony may not develop until adolescence or early adulthood. Dews et al.’s second study extended these findings by manipulating the degree to which ironic criticisms were subtle or obvious, and the degree to which they were presented in a deadpan or sarcastic tone of voice. They found that participants of all ages considered subtle forms of indirect irony as more insulting than obvious, direct forms. Adults, however, perceived the subtler forms of irony funnier, while children found the more obvious forms funnier. Thus, the appreciation that a meaner remark can also be funnier appears to develop with age. The perceived meanness and funniness of the ironic insults were also influenced by voice intonation. At all ages, a sincere or deadpan intonation made the irony seem less insulting and funnier than a sarcastic intonation. A sarcastic tone of voice seems to convey annoyance, whereas a deadpan or sincere intonation signals playfulness and humor.

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More recently, Melanie Harris and Penny Pexman (2003) investigated the development of children’s understanding of the social functions of ironic compliments, as well as criticisms. Children aged 5 8 were presented with puppet shows depicting ironic criticisms, literal criticisms, and compliments. The results with ironic and literal criticisms generally replicated the findings of Dews et al. (1996), indicating that children recognize the muting function of ironic criticism as soon as they understand the implied meaning, but that the recognition of humor in ironic criticism does not begin until later. Indeed, even the older children in this sample did not perceive the ironic criticism as funny. With regard to ironic compliments, the results revealed that only a minority of children correctly interpreted the implied meaning, and the proportion of correct responses did not increase between ages 5 and 8. Thus, comprehension of ironic compliments seems to develop at a later age than comprehension of ironic criticisms. One possible explanation for this finding is that children may be more likely to encounter sarcasm than ironic compliments in their daily lives. Alternatively, it may be because ironic compliments involve a double negation, which is likely more difficult for children to understand. In addition, this study also revealed that children rated ironic compliments as less nice than literal compliments as soon as they were able to understand them, indicating that, as with ironic criticism, the muting function of irony is recognized early on. However, across all the age groups, there were no differences in the funniness ratings of ironic and literal compliments, both of which were rated as being serious. This indicates that children in this age range do not appreciate the humorous aspects of ironic compliments. Further research is needed to determine the age at which children begin to perceive this form of irony as humorous. In summary, by investigating the development of children’s comprehension of the meaning and pragmatic functions of irony and sarcasm, researchers are able to extend the study of cognitive aspects of humor development beyond canned jokes, cartoons, and riddles, and move into conversational forms of humor that frequently occur in everyday social interactions. These types of humor depend more on social context, and require understanding of a variety of linguistic and social factors, such as speaker intentions, theory of mind, vocal intonation, and so on. In addition to irony and sarcasm, further research is needed to explore the development of children’s ability to understand and appreciate other forms of verbal and nonverbal interpersonal humor. As well as furthering our understanding of children’s humor development, research in this area may yield interesting insights into the development of social cognition more generally.

Humor as Emotional Coping Developmental psychologists suggest that humor functions as a method for children to cope with emotionally arousing and threatening topics. By joking and laughing about issues that normally arouse feelings of anxiety and tension, children feel less threatened and gain a sense of mastery over these topics. As we saw in Chapter 2, Freud (1960 [1905]) suggested that jokes are a way of expressing taboo topics relating to sex and aggression in a socially acceptable manner, which allows the individual to release feelings of anxiety

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associated with these topics. Similarly, Levine (1977) extended the idea of humor as a form of cognitive mastery, and suggested that humor and laughter assert mastery in emotional and interpersonal, as well as cognitive, domains. In her psychoanalytically based case studies of humor in children, Wolfenstein (1954) noted that much of children’s humor relates to potentially painful, anxietyarousing, or guilt-inducing topics such as death, violence, destruction, punishment, illness, bodily functions, sexuality, and stupidity. By engaging in the playful fantasy of humor, the child transforms a threatening situation into something to be laughed at and enjoyed. Similarly, Sutton-Smith (2003) suggested that “play can be defined as behavioral parody of emotional vulnerability because it both mimics and inverts the primary emotions ironically” (p. 13). The essential function of play, he suggested, “is to make fun of the emotional vulnerabilities of anger, fear, shock, disgust, loneliness, and narcissism” (p. 13). Humor, as a form of mental play, presumably serves these functions as well. Loeb and Wood (1986) outlined a developmental model of humor based on Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development, and suggested that humor may be one method of dealing with conflicts arising from the successive developmental crises of trust versus mistrust, autonomy versus shame, initiative versus guilt, industry versus inferiority, and so on. Similary, McGhee (1979) noted that the topics children are most likely to make jokes and laugh about at different ages are ones commonly associated with tensions, conflicts, and anxieties at each stage of development. For young children going through the trials and tribulations of toilet training, when toilet-related activities and accidents increasingly become sources of emotional tension, a great deal of laughter is generated by scatological humor relating to defecation, urination, flatulence, and so on. The mere repetition of toilet-related words (“poo-poo,” “pee-pee,” “fart”) is enough to produce howls of laughter. As preschoolers become aware of and concerned about physical differences between the sexes, this also becomes a topic for joking. Throughout childhood and into adulthood, continuing feelings of conflict and tension about sexual activity contribute to the ongoing popularity of sexual jokes. The strong emphasis placed on intellectual achievement and rationality during the school years also produces anxieties about intellectual performance, leading to a great deal of joking about stupidity and irrational behavior. The popularity among children and adolescents of “sick” jokes, “dead baby” jokes, and “disgusting” or “gross-out” humor in movies and television programs depicting flatulence, projectile vomiting, and other bodily functions also reflects the use of humor to cope with potentially threatening topics (Herzog & Bush, 1994; Herzog & Karafa, 1998; Oppliger & Zillmann, 1997). Dowling (2014) studied the functions and preferences of children’s humor by conducting focus groups with elementary and middle school students. The interviews revealed some common coping-based themes. Children reported laughing at minor misfortunes of both others and themselves (i.e., “My dad stepped in dog pee. . . I’m still laughing.”). Some brought up less-minor misfortunes from when they were younger that they now reported as humorous (i.e., “One day I was playing football and I caught the ball when I was running, I tripped and I was playing on the hill and I rolled down the hill. And that was pretty funny.”). Other children brought up how humor can cheer

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them up when they are unhappy (i.e., “One time my brother was being a jerk and my sister came in and said a joke about him and that made me feel better.”), but also noted that they did not like when they were the target of jokes (i.e., “I was feeling all upset because of my sister. . . I saw my sister and then she starts making fun of me. And that made me feel worse”; “When someone makes a joke about you. . . it just gets you mad at them.”). In order to investigate the ways in which children use coping humor, Danish psychologist Martin Fu¨hr (2002) administered the Coping Humor Scale (CHS) along with a questionnaire about the uses of humor in coping to 960 children between the ages of 10 and 16 years. Factor analyses revealed three common factors: (1) the use of humor to cope with uncertainty and stress; (2) the use of aggressive humor to make fun of others; and (3) humor as a means of improving one’s mood. Boys were found to use more aggressive forms of humor in coping, whereas girls were more likely to report using humor as a mood booster. The use of humor for coping with uncertainty and stress increased with age for both boys and girls. Although a considerable amount of research has examined the role of humor in coping in adults (as we will see in Chapter 9), empirical research on children’s use of humor to emotionally cope is unfortunately very limited (R. A. Martin, 1989). Further research is therefore needed to examine the effectiveness of different types of humor in coping with various sources of emotional distress, as well as the developmental changes in the use of humor for coping beginning earlier in childhood.

SOCIAL UNDERPINNINGS OF HUMOR IN CHILDREN As we have seen, humor and laughter are social phenomena. Infants laugh in the context of interactions with their caregivers, and most of the laughter of preschool children occurs when they are with other children or adults. The predominantly social nature of humor is also apparent as children progress through the elementary and high school years. Simons, McCluskey-Fawcett, and Papini (1986) described a number of possible functions of humor in children’s social interactions from infancy through adolescence. For infants, humorous interactions with parents may play a role in the development of attachment relationships, which have an important impact on later social and emotional development (Ainsworth, Bell, & Stayton, 1991). Indeed, humor may be one way of coping with separation anxiety, asserting oneself, and gaining greater autonomy during toddlerhood. During middle childhood, it may be important for socialization, establishing and maintaining peer groups, communicating and enforcing norms, and influencing social status within groups. These functions continue into adolescence, where humor is also important in negotiating sexual relationships. These ideas remain largely speculative at present, however, as little research has been conducted on the social functions of humor in children or the way these functions develop through childhood and adolescence. Much of the early research on social aspects of humor focused on how the presence of other children influences a child’s perceptions of humor. More recently, research on teasing has addressed the destructive impact of aggressive humor. We consider such topics in the following sections.

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Social Influences on Humor Appreciation and Laughter Research suggests that the way children respond to humor stimuli (e.g., if they find it amusing, how much they smile or laugh) depends on the social context. Modeling, for instance, affects the way in which children experience humor. Brown, Wheeler, and Cash (1980) found that preschool children laughed more while listening to a humorous audiotape after watching another child laugh at the same tape versus watching another child that did not laugh at the tape. In a series of experiments, Antony Chapman examined the effects of social context on humorous laughter in children (for a review of this research, see Chapman, 1983). In one study (Chapman, 1973b), a group of 7-year-old children listened to a humorous audiotape on headphones either by themselves (“alone” condition), with a nonlistening companion of the same age and sex (“audience” condition), or with another child who also listened to the same tape (“coaction” condition). The participants in the coaction condition laughed and smiled more frequently and rated the tape as funnier than did those in the audience condition, who in turn displayed more mirth and higher funniness ratings than did those in the alone condition. These results indicate that the mere presence of another person is enough to facilitate the perception and enjoyment of humor; the presence of another person that shares the humor experience only serves to heighten the perception and enjoyment of humor even more. A subsequent study also showed that children exhibit more laughter when they listen to a humorous audiotape in the presence of a peer who shares their humor experience (Chapman & Wright, 1976). Other experiments revealed that children laugh and smile more frequently at humorous tapes when they sit closer to a companion (Chapman, 1975a), and when they sit face-to-face with a companion, rather than back-to-back (Chapman, 1976). Another experiment showed that children in small groups laugh and smile more at a humorous audiotape when their companions look at them while they laugh, as compared to when they look at someone else (Chapman, 1975b). These studies provide further evidence that laughter is primarily a form of social communication, and that sharing the social situation with others facilitates the enjoyment of humor.

Teasing Among Children Children become aware of the aggressive uses of humor at an early age. As early as age 3, the presence of aggressive verbal and nonverbal behavior affects children’s perceptions of humor (Sinnott & Ross, 1976), and aggression continues to be an important determinant of humor preferences throughout childhood (Pinderhughes & Zigler, 1985). For example, by age 3, boys show a preference for humor that disparages girls rather than boys (McGhee & Lloyd, 1981). As soon as children develop a strong, positive sense of racialethnic identity, between 3 and 6 years of age, they also enjoy humor that disparages members of other racial-ethnic groups (McGhee & Duffey, 1983). Children also learn at an early age about the coercive effects of humorous ridicule. By 6 years of age, children will avoid behaviors for which they observe others being ridiculed (Bryant, Brown, Parks, & Zillmann, 1983).

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Teasing is an aggressive form of humor that occurs frequently in childhood. According to Shapiro, Baumeister, and Kessler (1991), teasing comprises three components: aggression, humor, and ambiguity (see also Keltner et al., 2001). The humorous and ambiguous nature of teasing allows the source to say things that would be threatening and potentially unacceptable if communicated in a serious mode, since the source can always say, “I was just joking” if the communication is not well received by the target. The aggressive and humorous elements of teasing may be combined in different proportions. When the aggressive component predominates, the target may perceive teasing as more hostile and hurtful, whereas the target may perceive humorous teasing as more benign and enjoyable. Jeremy Shapiro and colleagues (1991) at the Child Guidance Center in Cleveland asked children in grades three, five, and eight to describe their personal experiences of teasing. The most commonly reported forms of teasing were making fun of an attribute or behavior (28%), calling the target humorous names (25%), and simply laughing at the target (11%). The most common topics of teasing were physical appearance (especially being fat), intellectual performance (especially stupidity, but also being too smart in school), and physical performance. The most common reasons given for teasing were retaliation (i.e., teasing in response to someone else’s teasing) and playing or joking around. In addition, 51% of the participants identified aggressive bullies as the most frequent teasers, whereas 23% identified popular, funny, lively children. The most frequent targets of teasing were timid, physically small “losers,” unpopular children, overweight children, and children with lower intelligence. Thus, it seems that socially dominant children tease others with less social status as a way of asserting and maintaining status within the peer group as well as censuring behaviors in others that violate group norms. Klein and Kuiper (2006) proposed that in addition to using aggressive humor to directly demean another child, bullies may use self-enhancing and affiliative humor to bolster their own self-esteem, appear more confident to peers, and emphasize their dominant social status. A limited amount of research has examined developmental changes in the content and form of teasing in childhood. Given the function of teasing as a way of enforcing social norms, it is not surprising that developmental changes in teasing tend to parallel changes in the types of norms that are most relevant at different ages, such as possessiveness and aggression during the preschool years, associations with members of the opposite sex during elementary school, fashion-related and dating behavior in puberty, and behaviors related to experimentation with sex and drug use during adolescence and early adulthood (Keltner et al., 2001; Warm, 1997). The style of teasing also changes over the course of development. In particular, teasing tends to become less blatantly aggressive, more humorous and playful, and more subtle as individuals move from late childhood into adolescence (Keltner et al., 2001; Warm, 1997). These changes may partly relate to developments in the comprehension of irony and sarcasm discussed earlier. Recognition of the humorous ironic language does not develop until late childhood and adolescence, even though the potential for using irony to convey indirect criticism is recognized by age 6. Younger children are therefore less able to use playful language cues such as the use of irony to mitigate the hostility of their teasing. As a result, their teasing tends to be more overtly hostile, hurtful, and insulting, humorous only to observers (Scambler, Harris, & Milich, 1998).

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Pexman, Glenwright, Krol, and James (2005) used puppet shows to investigate 7 10year-old children’s understanding of the teasing function of irony (teasing operationally defined as verbal irony directed at the performance or abilities of another person). In their scenario, a puppet attempted a backflip on a trampoline and landed either on her feet or flat on her back. Another puppet (identified as either a friend, stranger, or enemy of the first puppet) would then respond with either a literal criticism/ironic compliment (“Wow, you’re so clumsy”) or a literal compliment/ironic criticism (“Wow, you’re so graceful”). Each child watched 12 puppet shows, thus seeing the ironic criticisms, ironic compliments, literal criticisms, and literal compliments three times each, one time for each of the relationship conditions. Children then evaluated the puppets’ intent on a 3-point Teasing/ Real scale (see Fig. 7.6). The results showed that children recognize that ironic criticisms are intended to be funnier and more teasing than literal criticisms. Furthermore, children aged 9 10 years old showed significantly more appreciation of this intention than the 7 8-year-old children. These findings indicate that understanding teasing’s function in irony begins developing somewhere in this age range. These developmental changes in teasing are also reflected in children’s perceptions of the functions and effects of teasing. Although children of all ages emphasize the hurtful nature of teasing, older children and adolescents recognize that it can sometimes have positive functions and outcomes, as well, such as pointing out undesirable behaviors in a playful way and indirectly communicating acceptance and friendship (Shapiro et al., 1991; Warm, 1997). Some researchers have investigated how children respond to teasing, and have attempted to identify the types of responses that might be most effective in stopping teasing. As indicated by Shapiro et al.’s (1991) survey, children’s most common responses to teasing were: reciprocating teasing with a verbal comeback or teasing of their own (39%), ignoring the teasing (24%), laughing along (12%), fighting (10%), and reporting the teasing to an authority figure (4%). When teachers were asked what they considered to be the most effective response to teasing, 91% recommended simply ignoring the teaser. Scambler et al. (1998) showed participants between the ages of 8 and 11 one of three videos of a child being teased by others. Scambler et al. manipulated how the child responded to being teased. The child either (1) ignored the teasers, (2) responded with anger and hostility, or (3) responded with humor. Participants rated the humorous response as most likely to be effective, and the angry hostile response as least effective. Interestingly, the children rated both the teaser and the recipient of the teasing more positively in the humorous response condition. Thus, contrary to the belief of the teachers in the aforementioned survey (Shapiro et al., 1991), responding with humor may be even more effective than trying to ignore one’s oppressors, as it might defuse the conflict and potentially turn it into a prosocial interaction. Scambler et al. (1998) suggested that children who are frequent targets of teasing should be taught to practice light-hearted, FIGURE 7.6 Teasing/real scale. Source: Adapted from Pexman et al. (2005).

Teasing/real scale.

Teasing

Real

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humorous responses to use in such situations. Lightner, Bollmer, Harris, Milich, and Scambler (2000) found results in a study investigating empathic responding as well as ignoring, humorous, and hostile reactions to teasing. However, further research is needed to examine actual interactions, instead of artificial scenarios, to capture the emotional elements in teasing situations and examine the effectiveness of various responses with different types of teasing among children of different ages and personality characteristics.

INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES IN CHILDREN’S SENSE OF HUMOR So far, we have discussed developmental changes in humor that are characteristic of most children. However, children do not all develop a sense of humor to the same degree: individual differences in humor emerge in early childhood. Researchers have therefore also investigated the ways children differ from one another in the degree to which they initiate and appreciate humor. Why do some children (more than others) develop a tendency to laugh easily and frequently, a heightened enjoyment of humor, or an ability to tell jokes and make others laugh? To what extent do genetic and environmental factors influence the development of a sense of humor? How do parental behaviors and family environment contribute to humor development in children? What other personality characteristics and behaviors are associated with a sense of humor in children at various ages? These are some of the questions regarding individual differences in children’s humor that researchers have sought to answer.

Measuring Humor Styles in Children Psychologists typically develop measures of personality traits with a particular population in mind, most commonly adults. Accordingly, measures often fail to adequately represent underlying personality traits in other populations, such as children. The wording in a scale may hold no meaning to children, or may be interpreted differently. Other times, it is also possible that children have not yet developed the measure construct. Whatever the reason for the difference, using a scale on an unintended population often results in poor reliability and validity. The Humor Styles Questionnaire (discussed in Chapter 4; Martin et al., 2003) is one of the most widely used measures in humor research used to assess adaptive (self-enhancing and affiliative) and maladaptive (aggressive and self-defeating) humor styles. However, the HSQ has poor reliability in regards to children (Erickson & Feldstein, 2007). For this reason, Fox, Dean, and Lyford (2013) created the Child Humor Styles Questionnaire (child HSQ) with the same four factor structure as Martin’s HSQ (see sample items in Table 7.1). Fox and colleagues tested the child HSQ for both validity and reliability and found that, for children ages 11 16, it had acceptable levels of internal reliability, test retest reliability, and construct validity. Fox, Hunter, and Jones (2016) used cluster analysis to identify four different “humor types,” or common patterns of humor styles in the child HSQ: “interpersonal humorists” (scored high on affiliative and aggressive humor, but low on the other two styles),

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TABLE 7.1 Sample Items From the HSQ and Child HSQ HSQ (Martin et al., 2003)

Child HSQ (Fox et al., 2013)

Affiliative

I laugh and joke a lot with my friends.

My jokes and funny stories make other people laugh.

Self-enhancing

Even when I’m by myself, I’m often amused by the absurdities of life.

If I am feeling scared I find that it helps to laugh.

Aggressive

I do not like it when people use humor as a way of criticizing or putting someone down.

I don’t like it when people laugh at someone else to make them look silly.

Self-defeating

Letting others laugh at me is my way of keeping my friends and family in good spirits.

Letting others laugh at me is my way of keeping my friends and family happy.

“self-defeaters” (high on self-defeating humor, low on the other three styles), “humor endorsers” (high on all four styles), and “adaptive humorists” (high on affiliative and self-enhancing humor, low on the maladaptive styles). When correlated with measures of psychosocial adjustment, self-defeaters reported more depressive symptoms, loneliness, and lower self-esteem. Similarly, humor endorsers reported more loneliness than adaptive humorists and interpersonal humorists. The adaptive humorists scored highest on selfesteem compared to any of the other humor types. Furthermore, the difference between the self-defeaters and humor endorsers suggests that the detrimental effects of children’s self-defeating humor can be somewhat offset when accompanied by other humor styles. This research on the humor type framework opens up many opportunities for personality research in both children and adults (for more about humor types, see Galloway, 2010; Leist & Mu¨ller, 2013). However, the child HSQ was still unreliable for children aged 9 11 years old. Fox et al. detail a number of reasons. The large variance and skew evident in the younger children’s data might suggest that social desirability is at work (the tendency of individuals to answer questions in a way that will be viewed positively by others). Another explanation is that children may not understand how they themselves use humor, and thus a self-report measure would not be viable for this age group. Fox et al. heavily endorse the notion that children of this age range have not developed the self-enhancing and self-defeating humor styles, as they require self-knowledge that is still under development at that age. Supporting this, James and Fox (2016) conducted paired interviews with children ages 8 11 and asked them questions to determine whether they engaged in self-focused humor (e.g., for self-enhancing, “When you are feeling sad, do you ever think of something funny to cheer yourself up?”; for selfdefeating, “Do you think letting others laugh at you is a good way to make friends?”). The responses showed that only some of the children used or were even aware of these humor styles. Several children seemed especially confused as to why someone would engage in self-defeating humor at all. Future research is needed to identify how to measure humor styles for this age group in order to better understand the development of humor styles over childhood (Table 7.1, Text Box 7.1).

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BOX 7.1

A C O N V E R S AT I O N W I T H D R . C L A I R E F O X Dr Claire Fox is a Senior Lecturer within the School of Psychology at Keele University, UK. She is a social-developmental psychologist with an established national and international reputation in the fields of bullying in schools, teenage relationship abuse, and children’s humor. Supported by two research grants in 2009 (from the BPS and British Academy) Claire developed the humor styles questionnaire for children and young people, and, in 2012, completed a longitudinal study funded by the ESRC to examine the links between children’s humor styles and the problem of bullying in schools, in collaboration with Dr Simon Hunter at the University of Strathclyde and Dr Sian Jones at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Authors: When did you first become interested in humor as a topic for psychological inquiry? What was it about humor that you found appealing? Claire Fox: I read Klein and Kuiper’s (2006) excellent paper in which they theorized about the links between the four humor styles and children’s peer relationships. With my interest in researching children’s peer relationships, particularly bullying and peer victimization, what they said made a lot of sense, and it encouraged me to empirically test these associations. At the same time, from reading Rod Martin’s (2007) “The Psychology of Humor,” I became drawn to the humor styles approach as a way of understanding how we use humor in everyday life, particularly the social and emotional functions of humor in children. Authors: What got you interested in developing a measure of humor styles for children? How do you see the child HSQ contributing to the study of humor in developmental psychology? Claire Fox: To enable an empirical test of the associations between children’s humor styles and their peer relationships, it was necessary to adapt the HSQ for children and young people. The adult HSQ had been used previously with adolescents, but there were problems of low internal reliability for two of the subscales. Over two studies, which built on a fair bit of early pilot work, we did successfully adapt the HSQ for children aged 11 years and upwards. More recently, Lucy James has adapted it for use with younger children (James & Fox, 2016). These measures have enabled us to build on the extensive work with adults using the HSQ to gain great insight into how the four humor styles develop across childhood, their origins, as well as the implications for children, in terms of their psychological and social adjustment.

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BOX 7.1

(cont’d)

Authors: What do you see as the most significant challenges that developmental psychologists studying humor have to address in future research? Claire Fox: I think there are two key challenges. One is how to measure humor in children more broadly; the humor styles model is just one way of conceptualizing humor. Lucy James and I have been grappling with the question of how to measure humor appreciation/ comprehension and humor production, which has been a challenge for many years. The second challenge is a key issue for developmental psychologists more broadly, with the need for large-scale, longitudinal studies, using complex designs, and complex statistical techniques. This means that we need to keep abreast of these sorts of developments in the broader field, and it means that large research grants are often needed to enable us to address the sorts of research questions we want to. Authors: Do you have a favorite joke? Claire Fox: In a previous study Lucy James and I asked children for their favorite jokes, in an attempt to measure their humor production skills. This elicited a range of jokes, which we found very funny. We sometimes tell these jokes when we give presentations about our research, and, as expected, they receive a very mixed response. Perhaps because of my interest in children, as reflected in my role as a developmental psychologist, and as a mum of two children, my favorite jokes are very silly children’s jokes, ones that can be shared with and enjoyed by children. Many of these are a play on words and so I can’t really mention them here, since the readership of the book might not be familiar with British English, and so I would have to do too much postexplaining! Here is one that shouldn’t need explaining: Two snowmen are standing in a field. One turns to the other and says, “can you smell carrots?”

Genetic Influences on Sense of Humor In recent decades, numerous twin studies have provided evidence that genetic factors play a substantial role in individual differences in temperament and personality generally (Rowe, 1997). The general strategy in this research involves comparing correlations on a particular personality trait between pairs of monozygotic (i.e., identical) and dizygotic (i.e., fraternal) twins. A genetic contribution is indicated when higher correlations are found in identical than fraternal, twin pairs. However, through multivariate statistical modeling procedures, researchers can estimate the relative contribution of genetic as well as shared and nonshared environmental influences. Shared environmental influences are those that both members of a twin pair experience similarly, such as the general family environment. Conversely, nonshared influences are those that both members of twin pair experience differently, both within and outside the family. David Nias and Glenn Wilson (1977) at the Institute of Psychiatry in London used the classic twin study methodology to investigate individual differences in humor appreciation in 100 pairs of young adult identical and fraternal twins. The participants were asked to rate the funniness of 48 cartoons that had been classified as nonsense, satirical, aggressive,

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or sexual. The correlations between the pairs of twins for each category of humor averaged about 0.45, but did not differ between the fraternal and identical twins, indicating that individual differences in the appreciation of these humor categories do not appear to have a genetic basis. On the other hand, the sizable magnitude of the average correlations indicated that environmental influences shared by both members of a pair play a substantial role in the development of their humor preferences. Thus, shared environmental influences, such as the effects of being raised within a particular family, appear to play a more important role than genetic factors in the development of individuals’ appreciation of different types of humor. Wilson, Rust, and Kasriel (1977) conducted a more detailed analysis of the same data and came to a similar conclusion. In a twin study by Lynn Cherkas and colleagues (Cherkas, Hochberg, MacGregor, Snieder, & Spector, 2000), 127 pairs of female twins (71 monozygotic and 56 dizygotic) aged 20 75 rated the funniness of five Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson. As demonstrated in previous research, these rather bizarre, “off-the-wall” cartoons load on Ruch’s (1992) nonsense factor of humor appreciation, as opposed to the incongruity-resolution factor. The results replicated the earlier findings of Nias and Wilson (1977). They found significant correlations between the pairs of twins on the funniness ratings of each of the five cartoons, but the correlations did not differ between the fraternal and identical twins, indicating no genetic contribution to individual differences in the enjoyment of the cartoons. Accordingly, this study provided further evidence that sense of humor, when defined in terms of humor appreciation, develops primarily as a result of environmental influences both within and outside the family of origin. Expanding this line of research, Weber, Ruch, Riemann, Spinath, and Angleitner (2014) administered the 3 WD humor test (discussed in Chapter 4) to 135 pairs of identical twins and 60 pairs of fraternal twins. Overall, both shared and nonshared environmental influences best explained variations in humor appreciation between twins. However, only the funniness ratings of the content in sexual humor of the 3 WD’s scales showed genetic influence (explaining 35% of the variance in scores). Weber et al. argued that these results were to be expected, as genetics influence libido, which in turn affects responses to sexual humor. Appreciation of nonsense humor had no genetic influences, and appreciation of incongruity-resolution humor showed just a marginal genetic influence. These findings thus lend further support to the importance of environmental factors relative to genetic factors as determinants of humor appreciation. Besides humor appreciation, researchers have also conceptualized sense of humor as a temperament-based affective trait. Willibald Ruch and colleagues (e.g., Ruch & Ko¨hler, 1998) proposed that individual differences in humor may be conceptualized in terms of temperamental differences in cheerfulness. Temperament refers to relatively stable ways of responding to the environment, such as activity level, sociability, and emotionality, which are observed in infants as early as the first months of life (Buss & Plomin, 1984). In order to explore possible genetic and environmental factors in temperament, Goldsmith, Lemery, Buss, and Campos (1999) conducted a study of 302 pairs of 3 16-month-old infant twins (121 identical and 181 fraternal). They assessed several dimensions of temperament by means of maternal ratings on a standardized questionnaire, as well as laboratory observations. Factor analysis of the temperament variables revealed two main factors: (1) positive affectivity, composed of frequency of smiling and laughter, duration of orienting, and

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soothability; and (2) negative affectivity, composed of distress in response to limitations and novelty, and activity level. The positive affectivity factor seems to be most relevant to Ruch’s concept of trait cheerfulness and general sense of humor, whereas negative affectivity likely corresponds to neuroticism and Ruch’s concept of trait bad mood. Multivariate model-fitting analyses revealed that positive affectivity was best explained by a model that included additive genetic (40%), shared environment (34%), and nonshared environment effects (25%). Goldsmith et al. found similar results when they analyzed frequency of smiling and laughter separately. Thus, both genetic and environmental factors appear to influence the degree to which an infant tends to respond with smiling and laughter, as well as his or her overall positive emotionality. The shared environment component also indicates that shared family variables, such as maternal personality or attachment security, have a tendency to influence children’s positive affectivity. Similar findings of shared environment effects on positive emotionality have been found in other twin studies of infants, preschoolers, and adults (Goldsmith, Buss, & Lemery, 1997; Tellegen et al., 1988). On the other hand, negative affectivity was best explained by a model containing only additive genetic (64%) and nonshared environment effects (36%). Thus, both genetic and environmental factors appear to influence negative emotionality. However, environmental influences in this case are not those that are shared by all children within the same family, but instead are related to the ways in which children in the same family may have different experiences. In summary, this study indicates that both genetic and environmental factors influence sense of humor as an emotional temperament trait. In addition to research on humor appreciation and emotional temperament, two studies have used self-report measures to investigate genetic and environmental contributions to sense of humor. In an early twin study, identical and fraternal adolescent twins were asked to rate the degree to which they felt they had a good sense of humor on a 7-point scale (Loehlin & Nichols, 1976). A significantly larger correlation was found between identical versus fraternal twins, suggesting a genetic contribution to individual differences in self-rated humor. A very weak correlation for fraternal twins indicated that environmental influences are of the nonshared, rather than the shared, variety. The second study, conducted by Beth Manke (1998), examined individual differences in interpersonal humor expression in adolescents. Instead of using pairs of identical and fraternal twins, however, this study made use of pairs of adolescent siblings who had been raised in the same families, but were either nonadopted (sharing approximately 50% of their genes) or adopted at birth (not sharing any genes). A self-report questionnaire was used to assess the degree to which each participant typically engaged in humor and laughter (e.g., telling jokes and funny stories, laughing or joking about embarrassing or upsetting events, laughing at comedy movies and TV programs) in their relationships with their mother, their sibling, and their best friend. Multivariate model-fitting analyses revealed that genetic factors contributed to a significant proportion (over 25%) of the variance in humor use with mothers and siblings. In contrast, genetic factors were negligible for use of humor with best friends. Manke suggested that the lack of a genetic contribution to humor in interactions with friends may be due to the shorter duration of these relationships, and that genetic influences may become more apparent in longer-term relationships in which humor patterns have become

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more stabilized. In addition, the analyses revealed a sizable environmental influence on humor use with mothers, siblings, and friends (accounting for over 50% of the variance). These effects were “nonshared,” suggesting that growing up in the same family does not necessarily make siblings similar in their humor expression. More recently, researchers have conducted twin studies to investigate the relative contributions of genetics and environment in the development of the four humor styles described by Martin and colleagues (2003). Philip A. Vernon and colleagues administered the Humor Styles Questionnaire to a large sample of pairs of North American adult monozygotic and dizygotic twins (Vernon, Martin, Schermer, & Mackie, 2008). Their analyses revealed that the two positive styles of humor, affiliative and self-enhancing, are largely influenced by both genetic and nonshared environmental effects. In contrast, the two negative styles of humor, aggressive and self-defeating, showed very little genetic influence and were largely due to both shared and nonshared environmental factors. In a subsequent study by Vernon and colleagues, however, a different pattern of results was found with a large sample of adult British identical and fraternal twins who completed the Humor Styles Questionnaire (Vernon, Martin, Schermer, Cherkas, & Spector, 2008). This study found that all four of the humor styles were influenced by both genetic and nonshared environmental factors. The authors suggested that the differences in heritability of the negative humor styles between the North American and British samples may be due to cultural differences in sense of humor. For example, British citizens may have greater tolerance for types of humor that North Americans consider aggressively sarcastic or denigrating, as seen in highly popular British comedy television shows (e.g., Fawlty Towers, Blackadder). Thus, the contribution of environmental and genetic factors may differ from one culture to another. Overall, then, research suggests that sense of humor is a product of both genetics and environment, with their relative contributions varying with different components of sense of humor. When sense of humor is defined in terms of the appreciation of particular types of humorous material, genetic influences appear to be negligible, and most of the variance can be attributed to both shared and unshared environment effects. The types of things people laugh at are determined primarily by their past experiences within and outside their family of origin. When a temperament-based approach is taken, defining sense of humor in terms of positive emotionality and the tendency to laugh and smile frequently, genetic factors appear to play a more significant role, although both shared and unshared environmental influences are also important. Finally, self-report measures developed to assess overall sense of humor and the tendency to engage in humorous interactions with family members found sizable genetic contributions, as well as nonshared environmental influences. Interestingly, there seem to be differences in the degree to which genetic factors contribute to humor expression in different relationships, with humor in relating to peers showing less genetic contribution than with family members. Finally, research on humor styles indicates that genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of affiliative and selfenhancing humor, but there seem to be cultural differences in the degree to which these factors contribute to aggressive and self-defeating humor: only environmental factors seem to contribute to these negative humor styles in North Americans, whereas both environmental and genetic factors seem to play a role in British citizens. It is important to note that these studies allow for the estimation of the overall effects of genetic and environmental

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influences, but they are not able to identify the specific genes or environmental factors that are responsible for individual differences in humor. Further research is needed to address these questions.

Family Environment Factors in Sense of Humor Development These heritability studies suggest that although genetics play a role, environmental factors are also important in the development of most dimensions of sense of humor. One influential aspect of the environment is the family. Children likely learn to express and enjoy humor in the context of their early relationships with their parents and other family members. Thus, Manke (1998) proposed two competing hypotheses to explain the way interactions with parents may influence the development of a sense of humor, referred to as the modeling/reinforcement hypothesis and the stress and coping hypothesis. According to the modeling/reinforcement hypothesis, parents who enjoy humor themselves and who laugh and joke frequently serve as humorous role models and are likely to positively reinforce their children’s attempts at humor initiation, leading to greater humor and laughter in children (McGhee, Bell, & Duffey, 1986). On the other hand, the stress and coping hypothesis suggests that a sense of humor may develop in children as a way of coping with distress, conflict, and anxiety in an uncongenial family environment. For these children, humor may be a way of releasing hostile feelings or gaining attention and approval from parents who are otherwise rejecting and nonnurturant (McGhee, 1980b). There is some research evidence that supports both of these hypotheses. Paul McGhee (1980b) conducted a study with nursery and elementary school children at the Fels Research Institute in Ohio, in which observational ratings were obtained for the children’s frequency of laughter and behavioral and verbal attempts to initiate humor during peer interactions in free play sessions. Because these children were part of an ongoing longitudinal study, data were also available on a number of measures of antecedent maternal behaviors that had been assessed during their infancy and earlier childhood. In support of the stress and coping hypothesis, correlational analyses revealed that nursery school children who showed greater amounts of humor tended to have mothers who babied and overprotected them, but showed little affection and closeness. Among both boys and girls at the elementary school age, results indicated that greater humor expression was associated with a greater tendency of mothers to leave the children to solve problems on their own, even when assistance would be appropriate. Greater humor in elementary school girls was also related to a lack of maternal protectiveness and a home environment characterized by conflict, unpleasantness, repression, and insecurity. Thus, the development of sense of humor in children seems to be associated with rather uncongenial parental behaviors toward the children. No relation was found between children’s humor behaviors and their mothers’ own tendency to engage in humor during interactions with the child, casting doubt on the modeling/reinforcement hypothesis. Prasinos and Tittler (1981) provided further support for the stress and coping hypothesis. Using a peer nomination technique, they divided adolescent male participants into humor-oriented, moderately humor-oriented, and nonhumor-oriented groups. Participants in the humor-oriented group reported significantly less cohesion and greater conflict in

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their families and significantly greater distance from their fathers compared to participants in the other conditions (see also Fisher and Fisher, 1981). Overall, then, research supports the idea that children develop a sense of humor as a way of coping with feelings of anger and anxiety, and as a means of gaining attention and approval from parents who are otherwise distant and unsupportive. On the other hand, McGhee et al. (1986) found support for the modeling/reinforcement hypothesis. Male and female university students and a group of elderly women completed a self-report measure of humor initiation, as well as a questionnaire regarding their parents’ tendency to engage in humor when they were growing up. Among male students, humor initiation was positively correlated with father’s humor, whereas female students showed a positive correlation between laughter responsiveness and mother’s humor. Among the elderly women, those with higher scores on humor initiation and laughter responsiveness reported that their mothers engaged in higher levels of joking, clowning, and playful teasing when the participants were growing up. No significant correlations were found between participants’ humor scores and the modeling of humor by the opposite-sex parent. These findings suggest that the greatest early modeling influences on humor development may come from the same-sex parent. However, these findings should be viewed as rather tentative, since they were based on recall data that may be subject to memory biases. Overall, the existing research lends stronger support to the stress and coping hypothesis than to the modeling/reinforcement hypothesis. However, a more thorough investigation is necessary in order to draw firm conclusions. Most of the evidence to date is based on studies with small sample sizes, and the modeling/reinforcement hypothesis in particular has not been adequately investigated. Future research should examine possible effects of family environment and parental behaviors on a broader range of aspects of children’s sense of humor; the possibility of curvilinear relationships should also be examined. In the end, there seems to be some validity to both the modeling/reinforcement and the stress and coping hypotheses. Some children raised in uncongenial family environments develop a sense of humor to cope and gain acceptance, especially if they learn that their humorous behaviors are positively reinforced by attention and approval from parents who are otherwise harsh and unaffectionate. Other children, who are raised in more secure and nurturing environments, develop a sense of humor as a consequence of parental modeling and reinforcement. As we have seen in previous chapters, humor serves a variety of different social functions, so there are likely to be several different pathways in the development of individual differences in humor. Yet another weakness of this research is that it does not control for possible genetic confounds in the observed relations. Any associations found between parents’ behavior and their children’s later sense of humor may be due to shared genes, rather than to causal effects of the parental behavior on the child’s sense of humor. One way to test for this possibility is to compare the associations between family environment and children’s sense of humor in adoptive and nonadoptive families. If a stronger relation is found for nonadoptive than for adoptive children, this would suggest that the effect is at least partially mediated by the greater genetic similarity between parents and nonadopted children.

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This approach was taken in a study reported by Beth Manke (1998) which investigated the relation between family environment variables and interpersonal humor expression in male and female adolescents who were either raised by their biological parents or were adopted at birth. In this longitudinal study (part of which was described in the previous section), the mothers of children aged 9 11 completed several questionnaires assessing general family environment and maternal parenting practices. The data analyses revealed only a few significant correlations between the family environment measures and measures of interpersonal humor that were completed several years later by the adolescent participants. The results provided weak, and somewhat contradictory, support for the stress and coping hypothesis. Of particular interest to the present discussion, however, was that any significant associations that did emerge occurred only with the nonadopted children, and not with the adopted children. This finding suggests that associations between the family environment and the development of children’s sense of humor is genetically mediated, rather than a direct causal effect. In other words, certain combinations of genes (which are passed from parents to their biological children) may contribute to particular parenting practices and to the development of a sense of humor in children, whereas these parenting practices alone might not directly influence sense of humor development. These conclusions are only tentative, however, since this is the only study of its kind conducted so far, the sample size was fairly small, and the parenting behaviors were assessed only during middle childhood. Further research using a variety of approaches to measure sense of humor in children, and broader, more objective assessments of parental behaviors and family environment at an earlier age in the children’s development is necessary. Additionally, research should apply an alternative method of controlling for the confounding effects of genetics in studying effects of parenting on children’s sense of humor. A possible method is the “children of twins” design, which compares parent child associations in identical versus fraternal twins and their offspring (D’Onofrio et al., 2003).

Personality and Behavioral Correlates of Children’s Sense of Humor What personality traits, abilities, and behaviors correlate with children’s sense of humor? Once again, that depends in part on the definition of sense of humor. Conceptualizing sense of humor in terms of humor production, researchers have examined the association between children’s tendency to initiate humor and various behaviors, traits, and abilities. Carson, Skarpness, Schultz, and McGhee (1986), for instance, found that among 4- and 5-year-old nursery school children, those whom teachers had rated as most likely to initiate humor with peers also exhibited more advanced language skills. Moreover, their mothers rated them as having a temperament characterized by greater activity and approach, rather than social withdrawal. In Paul McGhee’s (1980b) longitudinal study discussed earlier, he examined the relationship between preschool children’s interpersonal behavior and the degree to which they initiated humor and laughter with their peers later during nursery school and elementary school. Among nursery-school-aged children, those who engaged in more

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frequent laughter and humor initiation also perpetrated more unprovoked verbal and physical aggression and retaliation to aggression with their peers. More humorous children also tended to be taller and heavier and exhibited greater mastery of gross motor skills involved in physical, athletic play. Furthermore, they exerted less effort on intellectual activities and exhibited less mastery of fine motor skills needed for writing, art, and other academic activities. Finally, children who initiated more verbal humor also developed better language skills at an earlier age. Overall, these findings suggest nurseryschool-aged children that initiate more humor in peer interactions also tend to be physically large, aggressive, active (with better gross motor skills than fine motor skills), and socially dominant with good language skills. McGhee observed similar patterns in elementary school children. Among both boys and girls, children who initiated more verbal and nonverbal humor and had a greater sense of humor (as rated by observers), tended to be those who were previously rated as more physically and verbally aggressive, more dominant, and possessing greater gross rather than fine motor skills. The majority of such children also had more precocious speech development and better language skills, and were rated by observers as more creative at an early age (McGhee, 1980a). In addition, they were rated as more likely to seek help, attention, and affection from adults, and to engage in imitation during play. By elementary school, greater humor no longer associates with weight or height, although it still relates to greater social dominance. Sandra Damico and William Purkey (1978) examined personality traits of 96 eighthgrade children in 10 different junior high schools identified by classmates as “class clowns” (i.e., students who “joke and clown around a lot” and “make others laugh”). Teachers rated the class clowns as higher in social assertiveness, cheerfulness, and leadership, but also more unruly and attention-seeking, and less likely to complete their academic work than a randomly selected group of nonclown classmates. Class clowns also described themselves as leaders, vocal in expressing ideas and opinions, confident about speaking up in class, satisfied with themselves, and self-confident. Interestingly, they also rated themselves as being less understood by their parents, and displayed more negative attitudes toward their teachers and principal. Although humorous children are often perceived by their teachers as unruly and disruptive, other studies indicate that they tend to be very popular with their classmates. Lawrence Sherman (1988) had fourth-grade children rate the sense of humor of other children in their class, and the degree to which they liked them. Sherman used the mean liking ratings for each child as a measure of popularity. Sherman found a strong correlation between the mean humor ratings and popularity, indicating that children who were perceived to have a better sense of humor were more well-liked by their peers. This association between perceived humor and popularity was stronger among same-sex peers than among opposite-sex classmates. Warners-Kleverlaan, Oppenheimer, and Sherman (1996) replicated these findings in a study using classes of 9-, 12-, and 15-year-old children. Among the 12- and 15-year-olds, the association between sense of humor and popularity became equally strong for crossgender and within-gender ratings. Thus, as children enter adolescence and take a stronger interest in members of the opposite sex, a sense of humor seems to be an important determinant of popularity with both sexes. This study also indicated that preadolescent

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children define a sense of humor in terms of funny actions and joke-telling, whereas adolescents define it more in terms of witty verbal skills. Additional research suggests that the pattern of behavioral and personality correlates of humor initiation with peers may change as individuals progress into adolescence. Michael Fabrizi and Howard Pollio (1987b) coded how frequently children in 3rd, 7th, and 11th grades initiated humor and made other children laugh. They found that boys and girls initiated humor equally often. Among children in 3rd grade, the frequency of humor initiation was unrelated to the children’s general classroom behavior or interactions with their teachers. However, by 7th grade, children who engaged in more frequent humor initiation exhibited more disruptive behaviors (e.g., speaking out of turn, leaving their seats), interacted more with their peers, and spent less time doing their school work. Although the pattern of correlations was similar for children in 11th grade, humor in older children seemed marginally less disruptive. Fabrizi and Pollio concluded that whereas humor initiation in 7th grade seemed to be part of a constellation of acting-out behaviors, by 11th grade it was associated with popularity and overall social skills. In a subsequent study, Fabrizi and Pollio (1987a) found that 7th grade children who initiated and were regarded by their peers as “the funniest in the class,” also tended to have lower self-esteem. By 11th grade, however, there was no association between humor initiation and self-esteem. These findings, particularly among 7th graders, seem inconsistent with the positive self-ratings that Aamico and Purkey (1978) found among class clowns. Further research is needed to delineate possible variables that moderate the relationship between humor initiation and self-esteem. Given that Favrizi and Pollio considered the funniest children in the class, it is possible that a curvilinear relationship exists between humor initiation and self-esteem such that children who initiate more humor tend to evaluate themselves more positively; however, those who “go overboard” in their tendency to initiate humor also have lower self-esteem. Perhaps such children initiate humor as a means of gaining much needed approval from others. Fabrizi and Pollio found no correlation between humor initiation and creativity among children in 7th grade. Among 11th graders, humor initiation correlated with originality, mental flexibility, and elaboration on a test of creative thinking, as well as higher teacher ratings of creativity. These findings suggest that humor initiation with peers is associated with different behaviors and personality characteristics at different ages. During early adolescence (7th grade), making peers laugh is associated with going against authority, acting out, being silly, and having low self-esteem. In later stages of adolescence (11th grade), making one’s peers laugh is less strongly related to disruptive behavior and low selfesteem, and more strongly related to creativity and popularity. Although this correlational research does not permit conclusions about causality, these studies, taken together, provide some indication of the possible developmental trajectory of children who possess a greater sense of humor defined as a tendency to initiate humor and make others laugh. Temperamentally outgoing and active preschoolers who are verbally and physically aggressive learn at an early age that aggressive behavior is likely to meet with disapproval from adults, as well as rejection from peers. Children with strong verbal skills or gross motor abilities may learn that a more acceptable way of gaining acceptance from peers and minimizing disapproval from adults is to channel these abilities into verbal and physical humor that generates laughter. In elementary and junior high school, the ability to make others laugh leads to increased popularity and a position of dominance and leadership THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

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among peers, but it also increasingly brings the child into conflict with classroom demands, resulting in conflicted relationships with authority figures. By high school, humorous children continue to be socially dominant and assertive, but somewhat less disruptive and, as they hone their humor abilities, more creative. This description of the hypothesized course of humor development seems consistent with existing data. However, because most of the research to date has used cross-sectional designs, we do not know for certain if the children who are most humorous in kindergarten are the same ones who make their friends laugh in high school, or whether different children take on this humorous role at different age levels. Longitudinal research is needed to examine the stability of humor initiation across childhood and adolescence. Besides defining sense of humor in terms of humor initiation during peer interactions, researchers have also examined individual differences in children’s humor appreciation and their ability to comprehend and produce humor using jokes and cartoons. Ann Masten (1986) assessed sense of humor of children in grades five to eight using measures of humor appreciation (funniness ratings of cartoons), amount of laughter and smiling in response to the cartoons, humor comprehension (ability to explain the point of the cartoons), and humor production ability (ability to generate witty cartoon captions). She also assessed children’s social competence by means of teacher and peer ratings on a standardized questionnaire, as well as their academic competence using intelligence and achievement tests. Regarding social competence, children with higher levels of humor comprehension and production ability were rated by their peers as higher on sociability and leadership, and lower on emotional sensitivity and social isolation. Teachers also rated more humorous children as more cooperative, attentive, and resourceful. Correlations with amount of laughter and funniness ratings of cartoons showed similar, although somewhat weaker, patterns. Regarding academic competence, children who displayed more laughter in response to cartoons, humor comprehension, and humor production ability had higher IQ and academic achievement scores. None of the humor measures significantly correlated with peer or teacher ratings of aggressiveness, oppositional behavior, or classroom disruptiveness. Using the same humor measures as in the Masten (1986) study, Pellegrini, Masten, Garmezy, & Ferrarese (1987) found a similar pattern of findings in an investigation of social and academic competence among 9 14-year-olds. Factor analyses of a variety of social and cognitive competence measures revealed that the amount of laughter in response to cartoons, humor appreciation, comprehension, and production ability measures all loaded on a “social comprehension” factor, along with measures of interpersonal understanding and means ends problem-solving. Thus, these measures formed part of a social cognition dimension involving maturity of understanding about the social world, as well as the ability to achieve social goals and solve interpersonal problems. This dimension in turn was positively related to teacher and peer ratings of social competence, popularity, friendliness, and leadership. It was also significantly related to academic achievement. In addition, humor comprehension and production ability both loaded on a factor of divergent thinking, along with measures of creativity and cognitive reflectivity and accuracy (cf. Brodzinsky, 1975, 1977). Overall, the findings from Masten (1986) and Pellegrini et al. (1987) suggest that when sense of humor is defined in terms of humor production ability, and comprehension and

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appreciation of cartoons, it positively correlates with social competence and maturity, sociability, cooperative behaviors, academic achievement, and intellectual abilities. It does not relate to aggressiveness and disruptive classroom behavior. These findings are quite different from the pattern of correlations found in studies described earlier that conceptualized sense of humor in terms of children’s tendency to make their peers laugh. In that research, humor initiation was related to a history of aggressiveness, disruptive classroom behavior, inattention to schoolwork, and a generally conflicted relationship with authority figures. Thus, correlations between sense of humor and particular personality traits, competencies, and behaviors may be quite different, depending on the way sense of humor is defined and measured.

HUMOR AND AGING How does the sense of humor change as people progress through adulthood into old age? Up to this point, our discussion of humor development has focused particularly on the period from infancy to adolescence. However, further developments in the production, comprehension, enjoyment, and social functions of humor likely occur throughout the lifespan, as people experience changes in cognitive abilities, psychosocial needs, social relationships, and coping strategies. Because only a few studies have investigated humor in older adults, however, our knowledge in this area is very limited (for a review, see Greengross, 2013). One problem with studies designed to address these questions relates to ambiguity about how to interpret findings. That is, observed differences between older versus younger adults could reflect developmental changes associated with aging or they could reflect “cohort effects”—differences due to variables such as cultural norms, educational levels, region of residence, etc. Thus, longitudinal research, following individuals over many years, is needed to investigate changes in humor over the course of people’s lives. Since no studies of this kind have, understandably, been conducted, we must be cautious in our interpretation of the existing cross-sectional research. Some research suggests that the decline of cognitive abilities in the elderly may be associated with reduced humor comprehension. Schaier and Cicirelli (1976) found that, among participants between 50 and 80 years old, older people exhibited lower comprehension but greater appreciation of jokes. In addition, older participants who had a reduced understanding of standard Piagetian conservation of volume tasks also showed lower comprehension and less appreciation of jokes involving violations of conservation, but not nonconservation-related jokes (see also Mak and Carpenter, 2007). Schaier and Cicirelli concluded that these findings support the cognitive congruency hypothesis (discussed earlier). In the first part of life, increases in cognitive abilities enable children to understand and appreciate more cognitively challenging forms of humor; however, as their abilities increase and a joke becomes too simple, their appreciation decreases. In the later part of life, as cognitive abilities decline, joke comprehension also declines. This leads to an increased appreciation of the humor as the joke places more cognitive demands on the individual. However, when the individual reaches the point where they no longer understand the joke, appreciation declines. Shammi and Stuss (2003) found that elderly participants (mean age 5 73 years) made more errors in selecting the humorous punch line on a joke completion test and in THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

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selecting the funnier cartoon when presented with pairs of nonverbal cartoon drawings than younger participants (mean age 5 29 years). Interestingly, the elderly and younger participants performed equally well on a nonhumorous story completion task, indicating an equal ability to understand narrative language. However, elderly participants’ performance on the verbal joke test correlated with performance on neuropsychological tests of working memory and verbal abstract ability. Their performance on the nonverbal cartoon test correlated with working memory, speed of visual scanning, mental flexibility, and visual perceptual abilities. All of these abilities originate in the frontal lobes and thus are indicative of frontal lobe functioning. Indeed, elderly participants’ performance deficits on the verbal and nonverbal humor tests were much less severe compared to those of patients with right frontal lobe brain damage. With regard to humor appreciation, Shammi and Stuss found that elderly participants rated humorous materials as funnier than their younger counterparts. Drawing on findings from previous brain research on humor comprehension (discussed in Chapter 6), Shammi and Stuss concluded that subtle declines in frontal lobe functioning in the elderly may lead to impairment in cognitive processing of humor, while leaving the affective enjoyment of humor intact. In order to further investigate age differences in humor appreciation in adults, Willibald Ruch and colleagues (1990) examined correlations between age and humor appreciation on the 3WD humor test in a sample of more than 4000 German participants ranging in age from 14 to 66 years. Enjoyment of incongruity-resolution (INC-RES) humor increases with age; enjoyment of nonsense (NON) humor decreases with age. This pattern of results appears to have been due to the positive relationship between age and conservatism: greater preferences for INC-RES humor over NON humor are related to more conservative social attitudes. Thus, the more conservative attitudes of older adults are reflected in the kind of humor that they enjoy. In particular, older people enjoy humor in which incongruity is resolved (as in most “canned” jokes) more than off-beat types of humor containing unresolved incongruity. Of course, as with all of this cross-sectional research, we do not know whether the older participants became increasingly conservative and had corresponding changes in their humor appreciation over the course of their lifetime, or whether they were always more conservative and always enjoyed INC-RES humor more than did the group born at a later time. Research has also compared younger and older adults’ scores on self-report humor measures. Thorson and Powell (1996) found no relationship between age and scores on the Multidimensional Sense of Humor Scale (MSHS). Older participants, however, reported that they initiated humor more, appreciated humor more, and used humor more to cope with stress than younger participants. Ironically, they also reported more negative attitudes toward humorous people. Martin et al. (2003) also examined age differences in scores on the Humor Styles Questionnaire (HSQ) in more than 1000 participants ranging in age from 14 to 87 years. Older adults had significantly lower scores than younger adults on both affiliative and aggressive humor, indicating that older people are less likely to engage in friendly joking and laughing with others, and are also less likely to use humor to disparage, ridicule, or manipulate others. On the other hand, older women (but not men) had higher scores than younger women on self-enhancing humor, indicating a generally more humorous outlook THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

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on life and greater use of perspective-taking and coping humor. They found no relationship between age and self-defeating humor. Taken together, these findings suggest that humor serves different functions for adults at different periods of the lifespan. In younger people, humor may be more important for expressing aggression in socially acceptable ways, establishing relationships, and testing one’s social standing in the peer group. Conversely, humor in older people (especially women) may relate more to coping with stress and maintaining a humorous outlook on life. These findings suggest potentially interesting avenues for future longitudinal research exploring changes in humor abilities, enjoyment, and functions over the lifespan.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION Laughter emerges in infants around 4 months of age, and typically occurs in response to perceptions of incongruity in a playful, safe context. Right from its inception, laughter functions as a form of social communication. The incongruous tactile stimuli, actions, sounds, and facial expressions that trigger laughter in infants gradually develop into an internalized sense of humor, as emerging schemas enable the child to manipulate mental representations of concepts and language in incongruous ways. Much research has examined associations between humor development and the development of cognitive abilities throughout childhood. As cognitive capacities develop, children perceive and enjoy more sophisticated forms of playful incongruity. Humor appreciation signals mastery of concepts, as humor that playfully violates recently acquired knowledge is funnier than humor that is either cognitively too difficult or too simple. Children’s ability to understand and enjoy conversational forms of humor, such as irony and sarcasm, also depends on their level of cognitive development. Individual differences in sense of humor also emerge in early childhood. The relative proportion of genetic and environmental influences on sense of humor differs depending on the definition and measurement of humor. With regard to familial influences on the development of sense of humor, research supports the stress and coping hypothesis, although evidence has also been found for the modeling/reinforcement hypothesis. As such, some children may develop a strong sense of humor as a way of coping with a dysfunctional family environment and to gain attention and approval from otherwise nonnurturing parents. Conversely, other children may develop a sense of humor as a result of growing up in a well-functioning family in which humor is valued and modeled. Sense of humor defined as a tendency to initiate humor and amuse one’s peers is associated with physical activity, social dominance, aggression, and precocious language abilities in the preschool years, and disruptive classroom behavior during elementary school, but also popularity among peers and creativity in high school. Sense of humor defined as the ability to comprehend and produce humor is associated with social competence, cooperativeness, initiative, and leadership. In the later part of the life span, declining cognitive abilities are associated with a reduction in humor comprehension, but not humor appreciation and enjoyment. The more conservative attitudes in older adults could be responsible for their greater enjoyment of incongruity-resolution humor and reduced enjoyment of nonsense humor. Older adults THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

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tend to use humor in less aggressive and affiliative ways, but their greater breadth of life experience may enable them to have a generally more humorous outlook on life and a greater ability to use humor in coping with life stress. The study of humor development in childhood and across the life span offers many interesting research opportunities. Although many studies have examined the role of cognitive development in the comprehension and appreciation of “canned” jokes, cartoons, and riddles, only a limited amount of research has examined cognitive developmental aspects of more spontaneous forms of verbal and nonverbal humor that occur in everyday social interactions. Further research is also needed on the social functions of humor in infancy and childhood, and changes in these functions through childhood and adolescence. With regard to individual differences in sense of humor, our knowledge of familial and other social environmental influences on humor development is still very limited, as research requires methodologies that enable researchers to control for possible genetic confounds. Finally, further research is needed on changes in various components of sense of humor in later life, as well as changes in the social and emotional functions of humor in the elderly. In all these areas, longitudinal research designs are needed to augment the findings of cross-sectional research. Thus, although the existing research has provided a great deal of interesting information about the development of humor, many questions remain to be answered.

KEY CONCEPTS • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Humor and play Reality assimilation Fantasy assimilation McGhee’s Four-Stage Model of Humor Development Incongruous actions toward objects Incongruous labeling of objects and events Conceptual incongruity Incongruity and resolution in children’s humor Inverted-U relationship between cognitive difficulty and humor appreciation Cognitive congruency hypothesis Multiple meanings Theory-of-mind Child Humor Styles Questionnaire Interpersonal humorists Self-defeaters Humor endorsers Adaptive humorists Genetic influences on sense of humor Modeling/reinforcement hypothesis Stress and coping hypothesis Correlates of children’s sense of humor Relationship between aging and humor comprehension Relationship between aging and humor appreciation

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CRITICAL THINKING 1. Explain why there is a need for longitudinal research to further explore changes in humor across the lifespan. What are the limitations of cross-sectional research? 2. Regarding the cognitive-perceptual processes in humor, what is reality assimilation? What is fantasy assimilation? How do these two perceptions affect the way in which a situation is interpreted? How would fantasy assimilation cause a situation to be perceived as humorous? 3. One contentious line of research discussed in this chapter focused on the stress and coping hypothesis and the modeling/reinforcement hypothesis. Describe each of these two hypotheses and discuss research supporting each. What could be done in future research to overcome some of the limitations of current studies designed to test these hypotheses? 4. When sense of humor is defined as a tendency to frequently initiate humor and amuse one’s peers, it is associated with physical activity, social dominance, aggression, and precocious language abilities in the preschool years, and disruptive classroom behavior during elementary school, but also popularity among peers and creativity in high school. However, when sense of humor is defined as the ability to comprehend and produce humor, it is associated with social competence, cooperativeness, initiative, and leadership. How do you reconcile (make sense of) these apparent inconsistencies? 5. As people age they lose the ability to comprehend humor but not the ability to appreciate humor. Extrapolating from research discussed in Chapter 6, what parts of the brain are likely to be affected by aging to greater or lesser degrees to account for this finding?

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C H A P T E R

8 The Social Psychology of Humor

In Chapter 2, Classic Theories of Humor and Chapter 3, Contemporary Theories of Humor, we addressed classic and contemporary theories about the origins of humor. In

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both chapters, we also presented grand theories that attempt to “dissect” humor in an effort to understand its inner workings and answer the important question, “what makes something funny?” In contrast, a social psychological approach to the study of humor addresses questions about how people use humor and to what effects. That is, social psychologists develop theories and conduct empirical research to better understand the social functions and consequences of humor in daily life. In 1939, Kurt Lewin, who is widely known as the father of social psychology, proposed that behavior is determined by the interaction between one’s personal characteristics (personality, motivations, attitudes, and emotions) and one’s perception of social influences or “forces” originating from a situation. Lewin represented this person situation interaction in his formula: B 5 f (P [person] 3 E [environment]), where “B” equals the outcome behavior. Reflecting Lewin’s view of the person situation interaction, Gordon Allport (1954) defined social psychology as the scientific attempt to explain how the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others (p. 5). Importantly, by “imagined or implied presence of others,” Allport suggested that people experience the influence of others even when they are alone. Thus, those rare occasions when we do laugh by ourselves typically involve “pseudo-social” situations, such as reading a book, watching television, or recalling an amusing experience with other people. Accordingly, social psychology considers all the dynamic relationships between individuals and the people with whom they interact, including family members and friends, people who belong to the same group or competing groups, acquaintances, strangers, people we know only through the internet, people we see on television, people we remember, and even people we merely imagine (Stangor, 2011). Social psychology is unique among other subfields of psychology. As Baumeister and Finkel (2010) noted, it is not limited by a particular focus (e.g., on brain processes, on cognition, on mental illness). Social psychologists study anything that contributes to our understanding of how people affect one another’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Baumeister & Finkel, 2010). Because of its breadth, it is useful to organize social psychological topics based on their emphasis on micro (individual) to broader, macro (group) “levels of analysis” (Stangor, 2011). Therefore, in this chapter we address the social psychology of humor at four levels of analysis moving from (1) individual social psychological processes (e.g., attitudes, persuasion, social perception), to (2) interpersonal relationships, to (3) group processes, and finally to (4) intergroup relations. As we have mentioned throughout this book, humor is different from other forms of discourse. Humor represents a paradox, as it simultaneously communicates two conflicting messages. It communicates both an explicit message, along with an implicit message, or meta-message (Attardo, 1993), that the explicit message is not real. Humor thus creates an inherent ambiguity about the underlying intentions of a message. Because of this inherent paradox, humor can function as a “double-edged sword,” capable of having both beneficial and detrimental social consequences (Meyer, 2000). Sociologist William Martineau (1972) proposed that humor can function as either a “lubricant” or as an “abrasive” in social settings. For instance, partners in a close relationship might use humor and playful teasing in a positive way to communicate differences of opinion. Through humor, the couple can simultaneously express and make light of their differences, and thus avoid the escalation of resentment and bitterness that often accompanies conflict. Conversely, people

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can use humor in a negative way to disguise expressions of prejudice in a cloak of fun and frivolity, allowing them to avert the standard challenges or opposition that nonhumorous disparagement likely would incur (Bill & Naus, 1992; Johnson, 1990). Importantly, much social psychological theory and research on the functions and consequences of humor at each level of analysis is predicated on this unique paradox of ambiguity.

INDIVIDUAL SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGICAL PROCESSES Social psychological theory and research on individual psychological processes, the person (P), in the B 5 f (P 3 E) equation, began when social psychologists developed techniques to measure attitudes in the late 1920s and early 1930s (e.g., Likert, 1932; Thurstone, 1929). Indeed, Gordon Allport (1935) called the attitude construct the most distinctive and indispensable concept in contemporary social psychology. During World War II, social psychologists expanded their long-held interest in attitudes to address questions about attitude change or persuasion. Beginning with the work of Carl Hovland (e.g., Hovland, Lumsdaine, & Sheffield, 1949), social psychologists have studied the variables that make a persuasive message most effective. Research on persuasion dominated the field for several years and remains a central topic even today. In the 1970s, a new discipline within social psychology emerged called social cognition. Relying heavily on theoretical and methodological advances in cognitive psychology, social cognition represents the study of how people perceive or make sense of other people and themselves (Fiske & Taylor, 2008; Jones, 1990). Thus, social cognition researchers address a fundamental question regarding individual psychological processes: “In everyday life, how do people make sense of one another’s behavior and come to know what they are really like?” In the following sections, we will explore the role that humor plays in these central issues of historical and contemporary importance in social psychology. Specifically, we address the ways that humor affects how people evaluate a persuasive message, and how humor influences the process by which we form impressions of others.

Humor and Persuasion Is a humorous message more persuasive than a serious one? The widespread use of humor in television and print media advertisements suggests that advertisers believe humor is instrumental in persuading people to buy their products. Indeed, Beard (2005) reported that as much as 24% of television advertisements contain humor appeals, and that advertisers use humor to a comparable degree in other media. Quoting Roman and Maas (1976, p. 25) Beard noted that, “Everyone likes funny commercials. Creative people like creating them. Advertisers are pleased to be running them. The consumer enjoys them.” In addition to advertising, humor is prevalent in political campaigns. Politicians frequently sprinkle humor in their speeches, presumably believing it will help persuade people to vote for them. Surprisingly, though, research on humor in advertising and in persuasion more generally suggests that humor does not have a consistent effect on persuasion (for reviews see Eisend, 2009, 2011; Gulas & Weinberger, 2006; Weinberger &

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Gulas, 1992). Weinberger and Gulas (1992), for instance, reported that five studies showed a positive effect of humor on persuasion, eight studies indicated mixed results or no effect, and one showed that humorous advertisements were less persuasive than serious ones. Outside the context of advertising (e.g., persuasive speeches or essays), they found that none of the studies demonstrated an overall persuasive advantage of humorous over nonhumorous messages, seven studies revealed neutral or mixed results, and one study showed a negative effect of humor on persuasiveness. Thus, it appears that merely making a message humorous does not necessarily make it more persuasive. Dorothy Markiewicz (1974) argued that the effect of humor on persuasion is not simple or unconditional; rather it is complex and dependent on potentially many different moderator variables. For instance, she found that humor increased the persuasiveness of a low-intensity, “soft-sell” advertisement, but decreased the persuasiveness of a high-intensity, “hard-sell” advertisement. In another study, Chattopadhyay (1990) found that humorous advertisements were more persuasive than nonhumorous ones for viewers who had a positive attitude toward the product. In contrast, humor did not increase the persuasiveness of an advertisement for viewers who had a negative preexisting attitude. Richard Petty and John Cacioppo’s (1986) Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of persuasion provides a theoretical framework for understanding the complex role that humor plays in persuasion. According to ELM, persuasion might occur through two routes: a central route and a peripheral route. Central route persuasion involves deliberate and effortful consideration of the content of a message. We are persuaded by thoughts that we generate in response to the content of a message. Persuasion through the central route, then, depends on what is said. Specifically, we experience persuasion to the extent we evaluate the quality of a message positively (i.e., generate positive, agreeable, supportive thoughts or “proarguments” in response to the message). We experience resistance to persuasion to the extent we evaluate the quality of a message negatively (i.e., generate negative, critical disagreeable thoughts or “counter-arguments” in response to the message). Importantly, central route processing takes a great deal of cognitive work. Thus, we engage in central route processing to the extent we are motivated (and able) to think carefully about the message content, such as when we find the message personally relevant or when we have preexisting ideas and beliefs about the issue (Petty, Cacioppo, & Schumann, 1983). In contrast, the model argues that peripheral route persuasion involves little careful scrutiny of the message itself. Instead, it involves less thought-out reliance on heuristic cues (“conventional wisdom”) about what makes something persuasive, such as the likeability, expertise, or attractiveness of the communicator. Essentially, when persuaded through the peripheral route, we rely on heuristic cues such as liking for the communicator (Petty & Cacioppo, 1984) as a substitute for thinking critically about the quality of the message. We tend to engage in peripheral route processing when we’re less invested in the message and thus unmotivated to think deeply about it, or when our cognitive resources are taxed, reducing our ability to engage in effortful processing (Petty & Cacioppo, 1979). Humor, whether paired with a separate persuasive message or appearing as part of a persuasive message, requires the recipient to engage in two types of cognitive processing: (1) processing aimed at comprehending and appreciating the humor, and (2) processing aimed at message scrutiny (Young, 2008). The elaborate cognitive processing that humor requires, along with the positive affect that it induces, can encourage peripheral route,

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rather than central route, processing through a number of mechanisms (e.g., Lyttle, 2001; Young, 2008). First, humor can distract recipients from thinking about message arguments (e.g., Jones, 2005). Second, it can usurp recipients’ ability to engage in effortful central route scrutiny of message arguments (Moyer-Guse, Mahood, & Brookes, 2011), and third, it can decrease recipients’ motivation to engage in central route processing of message arguments (Young, 2008). It follows from ELM that by encouraging peripheral route processing, humor should affect persuasion differently depending, in part, on how the participant evaluates heuristic cues, such as liking for the communicator (Berk & Nanda, 2006; Matarazzo, Durik, & Delaney, 2010) and the degree to which arguments naturally elicit supportive, agreeable proarguments or critical, disagreeable counter-arguments (Cline & Kellaris, 1999; Smith, 1993; Young, 2008). If a message contains strong arguments, arguments that elicit supportive, agreeable proarguments that result in persuasion, humor should reduce persuasion by decreasing the number of proarguments the recipient generates in response to the message. On the other hand, if the message contains weak arguments, arguments that elicit critical, disagreeable, counter-arguments that result in resistance to persuasion, humor should increase persuasion by decreasing the number of counterarguments the recipient generates in response to the message (see Fig. 8.1). The classic and contemporary cognitive models of humor comprehension and appreciation described in Chapter 2, Classic Theories of Humor and Chapter 3, Contemporary Theories of Humor, each detailed a set of complex cognitive/perceptual processes required to initially interpret a humorous event and then to reinterpret the event in a sensible way that also produces mirth. Consistent with the argument that humor requires elaborate cognitive processing, research in advertising and psychology has shown that people generally pay more attention to and show better memory for humorous versus nonhumorous messages (Cline & Kellaris, 2007; Schmidt, 2002). In fact, selective attention and memory for humor can usurp attentional resources for encoding serious parts of a persuasive message (Gulas & Weinberger, 2006; Strick, Holland, van Baaren, & van Knippenberg, 2010). Also, the research we discussed in Chapter 6, The Physiological Psychology of Humor and Laughter, on physiology further reveals that humor processing requires extensive cognitive demands. Given that humor requires cognitive resources to Humor-induced peripheral route processing

Distraction, reduced ability or motivation to process message content

Message arguments

Strong

Weak

Cognitive response

Fewer proarguments

Fewer counterarguments

Persuasion outcome

Less persuasion

Greater persuasion

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FIGURE 8.1 Flow chart describing humor-induced peripheral route processing of a persuasive message.

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engage in elaborate processing, people should process a humorous message less extensively than a nonhumorous message. Supporting this hypothesis, Moyer-Guse et al. (2011) found that participants generated fewer counter-arguments in response to a humorous versus a nonhumorous message warning of the unwanted consequences of having unprotected sex. In addition to taxing one’s ability, humor can reduce one’s motivation to scrutinize message arguments. First, exposure to humor enhances positive mood and decreases anxiety and negative affect more generally (e.g., Berk & Nanda, 2006; Eisend, 2011; Ford et al., 2012; Moran, 1996; Szabo, Ainsworth, & Danks, 2005). Furthermore, a considerable amount of research has shown that we engage in more heuristic rather than systematic, effortful processing when we’re in a good mood (e.g., Bless, 2001; Bless & Schwarz, 1999; Gasper, 2004; Mackie & Worth, 1989, 1991). It appears that positive mood reduces the motivation to carefully scrutinize message arguments for fear that it might ruin the good mood (Worth & Mackie, 1987). Diane Mackie and Leila Worth (1989), for instance, put participants in either a good mood by having them watch a humorous videotape (a comedy segment from Saturday Night Live (SNL)) or in a neutral mood by having them watch a documentary film about wine. They then exposed participants to a persuasive message about gun control (advocating a position contrary to their original views) that contained either strong or weak arguments, and that was delivered by either an expert or a nonexpert source. Participants who had been exposed to the humorous video were equally likely to change their attitudes following the weak and strong arguments, but were more strongly influenced by the expert source than by the nonexpert source. This finding suggests that participants engaged in peripheral rather than central route processing, attending to heuristic cues (communicator expertise) rather than the strength of the message arguments. In contrast, those who had watched the nonhumorous video were more strongly influenced by the strong versus the weak arguments, and they were equally persuaded by the expert and nonexpert sources. Thus, they engaged in central route processing, focusing on the strength of the message arguments, rather than heuristic cues such as communicator credibility. Humor might also reduce motivation to scrutinize message arguments through a second mechanism, apart from the positive mood it elicits. As we discussed in Chapter 2, Classic Theories of Humor, people interpret humorous communications in a playful, nonliteral “humor mindset,” abandoning the usual serious ways of thinking (Mulkay, 1988). Accordingly, Nabi, Moyer-Guse, and Byrne (2007) suggested that humor in the context of a persuasive message can function as a “discounting cue,” prompting the recipient to consider critical thought of a persuasive message as unnecessary or inappropriate. Supporting this hypothesis, Young (2008) found that participants engaged in critical thinking about the premises of both humorous versus nonhumorous messages. The effect of humor on message elaboration, however, was attenuated when controlling for participants’ funniness ratings of the messages. That is, participants who rated the humorous message as funny generated significantly fewer negative message-relevant thoughts than those who interpreted the message more seriously. Because humor encourages peripheral route processing, it could be particularly effective in persuading people who are motivated to avoid thinking too much about an issue, for instance, people who are high in the personality trait of masculinity. Masculinity

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(a trait that can apply to both men and women) consists of an assertive, instrumental orientation characterized by being independent, forceful, and dominant. Previous research has shown that high-masculinity people are particularly averse to feelings of distress, and avoid thinking about threatening topics by engaging in distraction, denial, or a focus on the positive (Conway, DiFazio, & Bonneville, 1991; Conway, Giannopoulos & Stiefenhofer, 1990). Accordingly, Conway and Dube (2002) presented participants who varied in trait masculinity with either a humorous or nonhumorous appeal promoting preventive health behaviors related to the use of sunscreen to prevent skin cancer, and the use of condoms to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. As predicted, the humorous appeal was more persuasive than the nonhumorous appeal for high-masculinity participants; low-masculinity participants were equally persuaded by both appeals. Conway and Dube argued that the humorous messages are more persuasive for high-masculinity participants because they match their distress-avoidant response to threat by allowing them to engage in peripheral (heuristic), rather than central (elaborative), processing of the persuasive message. As we have seen, humor has an important impact on persuasion by reducing one’s ability and motivation to engage in central route processing, or scrutiny of message arguments. In addition to encouraging peripheral processing of a persuasive message, it appears that by inducing positive affect, humor might actually affect the way people scrutinize message arguments when they are so motivated and able to engage in central route processing (Blanc & Brigaud, 2013; Eisend, 2011). Research has shown that when people are in a good mood, they are less likely to disagree with a persuasive message (Freedman, Sears, & Carlsmith, 1978). It appears that positive affect induced by a humorous message leads the recipient to generate affectively congruent thoughts about the message, thereby increasing the number of proarguments and decreasing the number of counter-arguments the recipient generates in response to a message (Eisend, 2011). By encouraging affectively consistent proarguments, humor leads the recipient to evaluate a message more favorably, and thus increase persuasion. Blanc and Brigaud (2013) tested this hypothesis by presenting participants with humorous or nonhumorous messages related to different health topics. For instance, one message presented a picture of a bottle of beer along with one of the following messages: Humorous: “Drinking can cause memory loss, or worse, memory loss.” Nonhumorous: “Alcohol is responsible for around 1,000 cancer deaths.”

Participants exhibited greater memory for the humorous versus nonhumorous messages and rated the humorous messages as more convincing than the nonhumorous messages. Blanc and Brigaud argued that participants attended to and processed the content of both the humorous and nonhumorous messages, but that they engaged in central route processing of the humorous message. They found the humorous message more persuasive because they generated fewer counter-arguments when they thought about it as compared to the nonhumorous message. Although Blanc and Brigaud’s study supports the hypothesis that positive affect induced by a humorous message affects the way people scrutinize message arguments, further research is necessary to directly measure the number of positive and negative message-relevant thoughts people generate in response to a humorous

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versus nonhumorous message, and to demonstrate that the number of positive messagerelevant thoughts mediates the effect of the humorous message on persuasion. In summary, the relationship between humor and persuasion is complex and dependent on a number of moderating variables. It is clear, however, that humor encourages one to engage in peripheral route processing of heuristic cues, rather than central route processing of the underlying message arguments. Humor encourages peripheral route processing by usurping cognitive capacity to process message arguments, and by reducing motivation to process message arguments through two different mechanisms: by eliciting positive affect, and by discounting the seriousness of the message and thus the need to think carefully about it. Finally, it appears that humor can also influence the nature of central route processing that people perform on message arguments, provided they are otherwise sufficiently motivated and able to think carefully about them. Specifically, humor appears to lead recipients to generate proarguments when they think about a persuasive message, leading to greater persuasion (Text Box 8.1).

BOX 8.1

P O L I T I C A L H U M O R A N D AT T I T U D E S Political psychology is an applied field of research in which psychological theory and methods aid to understand how people engage in the political process. While the field pulls from many schools of psychology and sociology, it is influenced largely by social and personality psychology, as well as political science. Some major topics of interest in the field include political ideology, political persuasion, and voting behavior (for an overview of political psychology, see Stone et al., 2014). Over the last decade, researchers have increasingly investigated the role of political humor—disparagement humor or ridicule directed at politicians—on people’s attitudes. Political humor certainly is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, it likely has existed in one form or another for as long as there have been politicians. However, with more media outlets now than ever before, political humor has become more widely and constantly accessible to the general public. For instance, late-night talk shows such as

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and The Flipside with Michael Loftus, built around political humor, have become immensely popular among partisan viewers. In addition, political humor consistently appears in television shows such as South Park and Veep, stand-up comedy like that of Dennis Miller, Lewis Black, and the late George Carlin, in written articles on satirical websites like The Onion, and even in popular party games like Cards Against Humanity. In fact, SNL has been lampooning politicians since the show began in 1975, both Republicans and Democrats. Given the ubiquity of political humor, it’s no wonder political psychologists investigate its impacts on people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Baumgartner, Morris, and Walth (2012) coined the term, “Fey Effect,” to describe the marked decrease in Sarah Palin’s 2008 polling numbers following Tina Fey’s spoofs of Palin on SNL. Baumgartner et al. conducted a longitudinal study assessing

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BOX 8.1 disapproval of Palin and likelihood of voting for John McCain just after Fey’s first parody of Palin as an uninformed political novice in the US vice-presidential debate and again in the week leading up to the election (by which time SNL aired six Palin sketches). Of those who reported watching SNL, 75.7% disapproved of Palin being McCain’s running mate, while, only 60.1% of those who reported not watching SNL disapproved of Palin’s nomination. When asked if Palin’s name on the Republican ticket affected their likelihood of voting for McCain, 45.4% of people who watched SNL said Palin made them less likely to vote for McCain, compared to only 34% of people who saw coverage of the debate through other media. Further, they found that Republicans who watched SNL reported more disapproval of Palin, but were not less likely to vote for McCain compared to those who did not watch SNL. In another study, Becker (2012) compared the effects of political humor, selfdeprecating humor, and nonhumorous disparagement on attitudes toward John McCain during the 2008 presidential election. Participants watched either (1) a political humor clip featuring satirist Stephen

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(cont’d) Colbert portraying an extreme caricature of John McCain on The Colbert Report, (2) a self-deprecating humor clip featuring John McCain poking fun at himself on SNL (targeting his age and his sinking campaign operations), (3) a nonhumorous compilation of attack ads against McCain, or (4) a nonhostile, nonhumorous report on the projections of McCain’s campaign. While both the attack ads and the Colbert clip negatively affected participants’ attitudes toward McCain, the humorous Colbert clip had a stronger effect than the serious attack ads, suggesting that derogation framed in humor had a stronger persuasive effect than straight-forward political attacks. Also, exposure to McCain’s selfdeprecating skit on SNL did not affect participants’ attitudes relative to the control condition, showing that while he did not benefit from the humanizing effect expected from past research (Baumgartner, 2007), his self-directed humor also did not negatively affect people’s evaluations of him. In sum, it appears that political humor can function as a powerful tool of persuasion, effectively discrediting politicians and negatively affecting people’s attitudes toward them.

Humor and Social Perception When we meet other people for the first time, we quickly “size them up” and form coherent impressions of them based on social categorical variables (e.g., whether they are male or female, White or Hispanic, etc.), personal characteristics (e.g., whether they are tall or short, attractive or unattractive, intelligent or dull, etc.; Fiske & Neuberg, 1990; Jones, 1990; Kunda & Thagard, 1996). One personal characteristic that affects our initial impression of others is the way they express humor.

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As discussed in Chapter 4, The Personality Psychology of Humor, people value sense of humor and typically admire others perceived to have a good sense of humor. The way we perceive another person’s sense of humor when forming first impressions, however, could depend on our previous expectations about that person. In a classic study on the role of humor in person perception, Mettee (1971) asked undergraduate students to evaluate a professor after watching a videotaped lecture in which he either did or did not tell a joke. Furthermore, Mettee manipulated participants’ expectations of the professor by giving them a profile of his personality characteristics. For half of the participants, the profile described the professor as aloof and humorless. For the other half, the profile described him as somewhat “clownish” and prone to using silly humor. Mettee found that participants liked the professor better when he told a joke than when he did not, regardless of whether they expected him to be aloof or clownish. Importantly, though, the professor’s use of humor affected how participants perceived him differently depending on their expectations. The professor’s joke led participants to perceive him as more competent when they expected him to be aloof, but not when they expected him to be clownish. Our perceptions of other people seem to be influenced by the type of humor they use, the responses of others to their humor, and the social context in which it is used. Peter Derks and Jack Berkowitz (1989) asked male and female participants to read a vignette in which a person tells a joke. They altered the vignettes to manipulate five variables: (1) the sex of the joke teller (male or female), (2) the type of joke (dirty or cute), (3) the recipients of the joke (friends or strangers), (4) the context in which the person told the joke (at a party or at work), and finally (5) people’s response to the joke (everyone laughed or nobody laughed). After reading the vignette, participants gave their impressions of the joke-teller on multiple dimensions. Overall, participants rated the joke-teller who told a dirty joke as less sincere, less friendly, less intelligent, more thoughtless, and more obnoxious than the joke-teller who told a cute joke. Participants viewed joke-tellers who told the dirty joke particularly negatively when they told the joke to strangers compared to friends, and when the joke-teller was male versus female. These findings suggest that telling dirty jokes is not a good way to make a positive first impression. Also, regardless of which type of joke, participants perceived the joke-teller as more attractive, but less sincere, if others laughed at the joke. Male participants rated the joke-tellers as particularly attractive if they made people laugh at work; female participants rated the joke-tellers as more attractive if they made people laugh at a party. Finally, participants rated joke-tellers as friendlier if they told jokes at work versus at a party. This latter finding is consistent with attribution theories (Jones & Davis, 1965; Kelley, 1972) suggesting that a person’s behavior (e.g., telling a joke) is more informative about corresponding dispositions (e.g., friendliness) when the behavior is unexpected given the context. Since people typically tell jokes at parties more frequently than at work, we’re more likely to infer that a person’s joke at work reflects a stable personality trait or disposition of friendliness. Derks and his colleagues (Derks, 1995) extended these findings, showing that when others do not laugh at a person’s joke, people tend to perceive the joke-teller as more aggressive and less affiliative than when others do laugh at the joke. Overall, then, the effect of humor on social perception depends on a variety of factors, including the type of humor, the social context, and the degree to which other people find the person amusing.

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INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS Research suggests that humor plays an important and complex role at different stages of an interpersonal relationship (Caird & Martin, 2014). First, it affects the initial interpersonal attraction between people, and thus their decision to pursue a relationship. Second, it affects people’s satisfaction with established, long-term romantic relationships.

Interpersonal Attraction As discussed in Chapter 4, The Personality Psychology of Humor, a good sense of humor is a highly desirable and valued trait (e.g., Anderson, 1968; Craik, Lampert, & Nelson, 1996). Sprecher and Regan (2002), for instance, surveyed 700 men and women about their preferences for a number of attributes in either a casual sex partner, dating partner, marriage partner, same-sex friend, or opposite-sex friend. Across these different relationships, participants rated a good sense of humor as one of the most highly preferred attributes, along with warmth and openness. People regard a good sense of humor as a particularly important trait for a romantic partner (e.g., Buss, 1988; Feingold, 1992; Goodwin & Tang, 1991; McGee & Shevlin, 2009; Murstein & Brust, 1985; Sprecher & Regan, 2002; Wilbur & Campbell, 2011). For instance, Elizabeth McGee and Mark Shevlin (2009) conducted an experiment in which they asked male and female college students to rate the attractiveness and suitability for romantic relationship of an opposite-sex “target person” (James, Chloe) described in a brief vignette. McGee and Shevlin manipulated the target person’s sense of humor by including the following statements at the end of each vignette: Good Sense of Humor: One person who knows James [Chloe] well said, “I have known James [Chloe] for a long time and he [she] has a great sense of humor.” Average Sense of Humor: One person who knows James [Chloe] well said, “I have known James [Chloe] for a long time and I wouldn’t say he [she] has either a great or poor sense of humor. He’s [She’s] kind of average.” No Sense of Humor: One person who knows James [Chloe] well said, “I have known James [Chloe] for a long time and I can say in relation to his [her] sense of humor—he [she] doesn’t have one.” (pp. 70 71).

Both male and female participants rated the opposite-sex target person as more attractive and more suitable for a relationship when they were described as having a great sense of humor, compared to an average or no sense of humor. Participants rated the target person with an average and no sense of humor equally attractive and suitable for a romantic relationship (see Fig. 8.2). Psychologists have offered several explanations or hypotheses for why sense of humor enhances interpersonal attraction of a potential romantic partner. 1. Humor Stereotype Hypothesis. A good sense of humor appears to be stereotypically associated with other positive qualities that relate to an immediate goal of attaining enjoyment or happiness from a relationship, and to higher-order goals related to attaining a satisfying long-term relationship (Murstein & Brust, 1985). Specifically, we

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FIGURE 8.2 Mean ratings of an opposite-sex target person’s attractiveness and suitability for a romantic relationship as a function of the sense of humor manipulation in McGee and Shevlin’s (2009) experiment. Source: Adapted from “Effect of humor on interpersonal attraction and mate selection,” by E. McGee and M. Shevlin, 2009, The Journal of Psychology.

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might initially like funny people more than others because we implicitly (or explicitly) expect them to be better at providing immediate happiness, enjoyment, or amusement (McGee & Shevlin, 2009). In addition, we tend to expect people with a good sense of humor to also have other desirable characteristics that contribute to satisfying long-term relationships such as agreeableness (Cann & Calhoun, 2001) and sociability (Wanzer, Booth-Butterfield, & Booth-Butterfield, 1996). 2. Similarity Hypothesis. People tend to like others they perceive as similar to themselves (Byrne, 1961; Feingold, 1988; Montoya, Horton, & Kirchner, 2008; Newcomb, 1961). Consistent with the false uniqueness bias described in Text Box 4.1, people believe that they themselves have a good sense of humor, and thus perceive others with a good sense of humor as more similar to themselves than others with a poor sense of humor.

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Supporting the similarity hypothesis, Barelds and Barelds-Dijkstra (2010) found that couples in a long-term romantic relationship exhibited similar responses to humor stimuli and told similar types of jokes. Contrary to the similarity hypothesis, however, similarity in sense of humor did not relate to relationship satisfaction (see Antonovici, Turliuc, & Muraru, 2016 for a review). 3. Evolutionary Hypothesis. As discussed in Chapter 6, The Physiological Psychology of Humor and Laughter, Miller’s (1998, 2000, 2007) theory of mental fitness indicators holds that sense of humor, particularly the ability to be funny, increases a man’s ability to attract a mate. Like other desirable traits, being funny is thought to require complex cognitive functions that resist mutations, and thus signals good mental fitness and good genetic make-up. Men produce humor, then, as a way of showing their genetic fitness to women who are particularly attuned to such cues because of their greater investment in parenting (Buss, 1988). Supporting the evolutionary hypothesis, research has shown that women do tend to favor men with good humor ability as potential romantic partners (e.g., Bressler et al., 2006; Lundy et al., 1998). Other research, however, has produced findings that are not consistent with the evolutionary hypothesis (Li et al., 2009). 4. Social Connection Hypothesis. Some scholars reject the evolutionary hypothesis that humor ability is a trait that has evolved through natural selection processes in men as a means to attract women. Instead, they argue that members of both sexes use humor as a way to initiate and maintain all forms of social connections (e.g., Fraley & Aron, 2004; Kashdan, Yarbro, McKnight, & Nezlek, 2014; Li et al., 2009; Storey, 2003; Treger, Sprecher, & Erber, 2013). Consistent with the social connection hypothesis, Fraley and Aron (2004) found that same-sex pairs of strangers that worked on humorous laboratory tasks together reported feeling closer or more connected to one another compared to participants that worked on nonhumorous tasks. In a series of two experiments, Treger et al. (2013) demonstrated that participants liked and felt closer to a platonic research partner to the extent they perceived the partner as humorous. In a second experiment, participants reported greater romantic attraction and closeness for a partner in the experiment after working on humorous versus nonhumorous tasks. These findings suggest that humor enhances the perceived social bond (both platonic and romantic) that people feel with one another. Furthermore, Treger et al. demonstrated that two mechanisms underlie the effect of humor on interpersonal attraction and social bonding. First, people perceive that another person’s use of humor during social interaction signals reciprocal liking. Second, people enjoy humorous interactions with others, which in turn enhances interpersonal attraction and bonding. Finally, Kasdan et al. (2014) found that sharing humor with others influences the likelihood of rewarding interactions in the future, adding further evidence that humor is an important social bonding mechanism rather than a specific tool that men use to attract women (e.g., Bressler & Balshine, 2006; Wilbur & Campbell, 2011).

Relationship Satisfaction Research has demonstrated that humor can positively affect people’s satisfaction with long-term romantic relationships. In one of the earliest studies on humor in long-term THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HUMOR

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relationships, Avner Ziv (1988) interviewed married couples about the use of humor in their relationships. Over 90% of the couples reported that humor had a positive impact on their marriages. Similarly, Lauer, Lauer, and Kerr (1990) examined the relationship between humor and relationship satisfaction among couples who had been happily married for at least 45 years. Both husbands and wives reported that sharing humor with one another strongly contributed to their marital satisfaction and relationship longevity. To further investigate how the use of humor relates to marital satisfaction, Ziv and Gadish (1989) administered self-report questionnaires assessing humor production, humor appreciation, and relationship satisfaction to 50 married couples. They found that, for both men and women, the perception that one’s partner has a good sense of humor strongly predicted marital satisfaction. More recently, De Koning and Weiss (2002) also found that the perception of one’s partner’s use of humor related more strongly to marital satisfaction than did one’s own use of humor. Taken together, these results suggest that, for both men and women, the appreciation of a partner’s sense of humor contributes to satisfaction with long-term romantic relationships. Although humor can contribute to satisfying long-term relationships, we have seen in previous chapters that it is not an exclusively positive unitary construct. The ways that couples habitually use humor with one another can have either a beneficial or a detrimental effect on relationship satisfaction (e.g., Alberts, 1990; Butzer & Kuiper, 2008; Caird & Martin, 2014; Cann et al., 2011; De Koning & Weiss, 2002; Saroglou, Lacour, & Demeure, 2010). In general, affiliative and self-enhancing humor styles positively relate to relationship satisfaction, whereas self-defeating and aggressive humor styles negatively relate to relationship satisfaction (Campbell et al., 2008; Cann, Zapata, & Davis, 2009; Cann et al., 2011; Saroglou et al., 2010). It also appears that the other-directed humor styles, affiliative and aggressive humor, relate particularly strongly (but in opposite ways) to relationship satisfaction (Cann et al., 2009, 2011), and that perceptions of one’s partner’s humor style predicts relationship satisfaction more than does one’s own humor style. Indeed, Cann et al. (2011) asked dating couples to characterize their own and their partner’s humor styles using Martin et al.’s (2003) Humor Styles Questionnaire, and to complete measures of relationship satisfaction. They found that ratings of one’s partner as high in affiliative humor most strongly predicted high relationship satisfaction; ratings of one’s partner as high in aggressive humor most strongly predicted low relationship satisfaction. Caird and Martin (2014) addressed the role of humor styles in relationship satisfaction by investigating how people use humor on a day-to-day basis with their relationship partners. Couples in their study completed a modified HSQ that measured the degree to which participants and their partners used each of the four humor styles in the context of their relationship (e.g., affiliative humor: “I told my boyfriend/girlfriend a joke or said something funny to make him/her laugh”). Caird and Martin found that affiliative humor most strongly predicted relationship satisfaction on a day-to-day basis. That is, on days when people (and their partners) reported having engaged in more affiliative joking and laughing with their partners, they evaluated their relationships more positively. Participants’ own use of aggressive humor did not predict less relationship satisfaction. However, consistent with Cann et al. (2011) participants reported less satisfaction on days when their partner used aggressive humor: when their partner aggressively teased or

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ridiculed them using humor. Consistent with these findings, Alberts (1990) found that people sometimes use hostile or aggressive forms of humor to provoke their relationship partner because it allows them to conceal their hostile intentions behind the ruse that “I was only joking.” De Koning and Weiss (2002) similarly reported that married couples sometimes use aggressive humor to provoke and manipulate their partner. Besides enhancing positive feelings and bonding in relationships, the use of positive humor and avoidance of negative humor also can serve to stabilize a relationship during times of disagreement or conflict (Butzer & Kuiper, 2008; Campbell et al., 2008; De Koning & Weiss, 2002). Campbell et al. (2008) asked a sample of 98 couples who had been dating for at least 3 months to consider the most serious conflict they had during the prior 14 days that they had not completely resolved. They then gave the couples 7 minutes to discuss the conflict while being videotaped. After the discussion, each partner separately and privately reported the degree to which the problem had been resolved, how distressed they felt, and how close they felt to their partner. Campbell et al. found that participants whose partners exhibited more affiliative humor and less aggressive humor during the discussion felt that the problem had been more fully resolved, and reported feeling closer to their partner and more satisfied with their relationship.

GROUP PROCESSES In his seminal chapter, “A Model of Social Functions of Humor,” sociologist William Martineau (1972) presented a model describing the different functions that humor could serve in group settings. He proposed that humor shapes social interactions in intragroup and intergroup settings. Intragroup humor occurs exclusively among people who belong to a common in-group, whereas intergroup humor is humor directed by members of one group at members of a different group. Martineau further proposed that humor functions as either a “lubricant” or as an “abrasive” for social interaction in both intra- and intergroup settings. Martineau used an analogy to elaborate on his point stating that on the one hand, humor “serves as oil pumped from an oil can. . .to keep the machinery of interaction operating smoothly and freely.” On the other hand, humor can constitute a “measure of sand” that causes interpersonal friction (p. 103). Giselinde Kuipers (2006) added that humor can serve multiple lubricating and abrasive functions simultaneously. In this section, we consider the lubricating and abrasive functions of humor for group processes in intragroup settings.

Social Control Theorists have proposed that people use humor, particularly ridicule, in intragroup settings coercively to exert social influence, i.e., to enforce conformity to social norms and to punish nonconformity (Bergson, 1911; Long & Graesser, 1988; Martineau, 1972; Wilson, 1979). Ridicule is a form of disparaging humor intended to make fun of something about an individual’s behavior, personality, or appearance (Janes & Olson, 2000). Through ridicule, members of a group can communicate implicit expectations and rules about

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acceptable behavior and intimidate group members into conforming to those rules. Ridicule thus functions as a means of establishing or maintaining control over others through embarrassment or humiliation (Sharkey, 1997, 1992). Indeed, Bergson (1911) suggested that laughter (ridicule) in intragroup settings functions to “humiliate, and consequently to correct” those who violate the rules of the group by behaving in some deviant manner (p. 42). Ridicule presents a particularly insidious means of social control because of the humor paradox. The humiliation of ridicule serves as a social corrective, while the humor of ridicule creates ambiguity about underlying intentions. Thus, if one challenges ridicule, he or she risks further castigation for “not having a sense of humor” or “not being able to take a joke.” Leslie Janes and James Olson (2000) extended the focus of ridicule as a mechanism of social control by examining how ridicule affects those who observe others experiencing it. They proposed that ridicule can actually function as a form of social influence for those who observe it. Deutsch and Gerard (1955) distinguished between two types of social influence: normative and informational. Normative influence, commonly referred to as “peer pressure,” occurs when a person fears rejection or disapproval from other group members for behaving in a deviant manner, and thus motivates one to outwardly conform to group norms. Janes and Olson reasoned that merely observing ridicule can make people fear rejection and disapproval, and thus motivate outward conformity to group norms lest they stand out and become targets of ridicule, too. Ridicule, then, essentially creates normative influence or peer pressure. Accordingly, Janes and Olson coined the term “jeer pressure” to refer to the social influence that a group exerts upon observers of ridicule to behave in conventional ways and abide by group norms (p. 475). Janes and Olson demonstrated the social influence power of jeer pressure on an individual’s behavior in two experiments. In both experiments, university students watched a video of a male, amateur stand-up comedian telling jokes. They manipulated the jokes to create three experimental conditions. In the other-ridicule condition, the comedian directed disparaging jokes at another person (e.g., “His acne was so bad as a teenager we used to call him ‘pizza face’”). In the self-ridicule condition, the comedian directed the same disparaging jokes at himself (e.g., “My acne was so bad as a teenager they used to call me ‘pizza face’”). In the no-ridicule condition, the comedian told nondisparaging jokes (e.g., “What has two gills, scales, and warns us about the dangers of smoking? The Sturgeon General!”). Following these videos, participants were asked to complete several tasks that were designed to test their level of conformity to group norms and fear of social rejection. In both studies, participants in the other-ridicule condition exhibited greater conformity to others’ opinions compared to participants in the other two conditions. They also exhibited less willingness to take risks for fear of failure that could result in their own ridicule. And finally, they exhibited greater accessibility of rejection-related words on a lexical decision task, indicating greater fear of social rejection. The strength of these effects is quite remarkable, given that participants merely watched a video of a comedian ridiculing an unknown person, precluding the risk of being ridiculed themselves for deviant behavior. Overall, these studies demonstrate that ridicule can function as a mechanism of social control by activating fears of social rejection and disapproval among observers (as well as targets themselves), and thus motivate people to take preventive actions.

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McCallus, Ford, Goodwin, and Schnerre (2017) further investigated how an important variable in intragroup settings could accentuate or minimize the impact of jeer pressure on an individual’s behavior. According to Latane´’s (1981) social impact theory, people with higher status in a group exert greater normative social influence. Therefore, they hypothesized that people with high status in a group could exert greater jeer pressure, and thus induce greater outward conformity than those with lower status. They tested their hypothesis by asking participants to imagine they were attending a board meeting at their workplace, a web-based comedy company that generates personalized comedy profiles for subscribers. In this imagined group context, they manipulated the status of the person that ridicules another group member. In the high-status jeer condition, the “jeer perpetrator” was the participant’s supervisor. Accordingly, participants read the following description of the board meeting: This meeting will be led by your manager, Linda, and attended by all members of your research division. You walk in and quickly find a seat next to your co-worker, Alyssa. Her hair is particularly windblown from driving her convertible to work this morning. Linda is the last to arrive and upon walking in the room, she glances around at the employees, pausing when she spots Alyssa and exclaiming: “Wow Alyssa, I didn’t know it was retro day today. . .the 80s called, they want their hair back!” Your coworkers chuckle under their breath and Alyssa turns a rather bright shade of pink. Laughing, Linda tosses one more zinger: “You look like a chia pet in a pantsuit!”

The low-status jeer condition was essentially the same except that the jeer perpetrator was a new intern from the community college named Tiffany. Finally, McCallus et al. included a no-jeer control condition in which Linda simply calls the meeting to order upon her arrival. After the jeer manipulation, participants imagined that Linda had called the meeting to order and explained that the group needed to rate the funniness of six memes to determine which ones were most humorous to feature on the homepage of the company’s website. McCallus et al. then presented participants with three “funny” memes (determined by pilot testing to be funny) and three “not funny” memes (determined by pilot testing to be not funny). In addition, they presented participants with the names and funniness ratings from the six other members of the research division. Importantly, the six other group members had given the funny memes low funniness ratings and the not funny memes high funniness ratings. McCallus et al. found that participants conformed their own ratings of the memes to the group ratings more in the high-status jeer condition than in the other two. However, participants did not exhibit more conformity in the low-status jeer condition than in the no-jeer control condition. These findings expanded on Janes and Olson’s (2000) studies by showing that the impact of observed ridicule or jeer pressure on an individual’s behavior in a group setting depends on the status of the perpetrator. Ridicule can exert stronger jeer pressure on an observer in a group setting to the extent it is perpetrated by a high-status member of the group.

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Status and Hierarchy Maintenance Early classic studies on the functions of humor in group settings revealed that people initiate humor to establish and reinforce their dominant status over others (Coser, 1960; Radcliffe-Brown, 1940). For instance, sociologist Rose Laub Coser (1960) observed the use of humor during staff meetings in a psychiatric hospital. She found that staff members used humor in this context to reinforce hierarchical relationships. Higher-status senior staff (psychiatrists) used humor more than lower-status staff members (psychiatric residents and nurses). Also, senior staff members frequently directed humor at junior staff members in a way that conveyed a critical or corrective message. In contrast, lower-status staff members refrained from directing humor at senior staff, but instead used it either in a self-deprecating manner or as a way of making fun of outsiders. Coser concluded that humor helps to “overcome the contradictions and ambiguities inherent in the complex social structure, and thereby to contribute to its maintenance” (p. 95). Sayre (2001) replicated these findings in another study of humor among staff members in a psychiatric unit. Dawn Robinson and Lynn Smith-Lovin (2001) analyzed the use of humor during 29 conversations among six-person groups working together to solve a problem. Overall, they found that people use humor in group settings to establish and maintain status. Specifically, they found that group members who more frequently interrupted others in conversation (a behavior that indicates higher status) also initiated more humor and made others laugh more often. Conversely, those who experienced more interruptions by others (reflecting their lower status) also initiated less humor. Additionally, they found that people used humor particularly in the initial stages of group interaction as a means to establish status. Also, in mixed-sex groups, men (who tended to be more dominant in a variety of ways) initiated humor more than women, and made others laugh more. The status differences in traditional male and female gender roles might explain the findings of many studies showing that men produce humor more than women, whereas women tend to laugh more in response to men’s humor (e.g., Crawford, 1991; Lampert, 1998; Kuiper & Martin, 1999). James Spradley and Brenda Mann (1975) also found that people use humor in group settings to establish and maintain dominance in an ethnographic study of interactions between bartenders and waitresses in a bar. Male bartenders initiated most of the humor in this setting, which frequently consisted of ridicule, sexual insults, and lewd comments directed at the waitresses. Spradley and Mann described this humor as a way of relieving tensions resulting from structurally created conflict in the relationships. Mulkay (1988), however, pointed out that this type of humor caused distress for the waitresses, rather than relieving tension. Mulkay further suggested that the male bartenders deliberately used the belittling humor as a means of establishing dominance.

Group Identity and Cohesion Although people use humor in group settings for socially abrasive functions of social control and reinforcement of hierarchal social structures, they also use positive or “affiliative” humor as a way of enhancing cohesion and a sense of group identity (e.g., Collinson, 1988; Duncan & Feisal, 1989; Francis, 1994; Lynch, 2010; Norrick, 1993; Vinton, 1989). For

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instance, in a field study of humor among employees in a small, family-owned business, Karen Vinton (1989) observed that humor exchanged among employees created stronger bonds or sense of belonging among them, which in turn facilitated productivity. Gary Alan Fine (1977) suggested that positive forms of humor create group cohesion by contributing to the “idioculture” of the group. Fine defined “idioculture” as the system of knowledge, beliefs, and customs by which a small group of people defines itself and allows its members to share a sense of belonging and cohesion. He suggested that humor, in the form of friendly teasing, funny nicknames, shared “in-jokes,” and slang terms, contributes to the idioculture of a group, providing a way for members to construct a shared reality and sense of meaning that strengthens their feelings of cohesion. Consistent with Fine’s notion of how humor contributes to a group’s idioculture, Scott Patrick Murphy (2017) conducted a naturalistic observation study of older men who met regularly at a donut shop. Murphy found that men used friendly banter and light-hearted putdowns to maintain a sense of solidarity and connectedness to one another. Similarly, Coser (1959) described humor shared in group settings as “expressions of collective experience” (p. 173). As Gockel and Kerr (2015) noted, humor transforms individual experiences into collective or shared group experiences (Pogebrin & Poole, 1988). The recognition of collective experience contributes to feelings of closeness and connectedness among individual group members (Fine & DeSoucey, 2005). Aggressive forms of humor also can enhance cohesion and solidarity among members of a group by disparaging members of a relevant out-group (e.g., Pogrebin and Poole, 1988). Jenepher Terrion and Blake Ashforth (2002), for instance, examined the role of “putdown” humor in an observational study of a 6-week executive development course for senior police officers at the Canadian Police College in Ottawa. They concluded that, rather than having a disruptive effect, putdown humor “played a prominent role in melding this temporary group into a more or less cohesive unit” (p. 80). They observed a progression in the targets of humor over the 6 weeks, from putdowns of oneself to putdowns of shared identities, external out-groups, and, finally, other in-group members. Terrion and Ashforth suggested that this sequence of putdown humor signaled the development of trust among group members and helped to create cohesion and a sense of common identity. According to superiority theories of humor (see Chapter 2: Classic Theories of Humor for a review), aggressive, disparagement humor can function as a social lubricant by serving self-enhancement motives. Social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986) extends superiority theories by explaining the self-enhancement resulting from disparagement humor in terms of one’s social group membership, thus addressing more fully the psychological mechanisms by which disparagement humor enhances group cohesion (Abrams, Bippus, & McGaughey, 2015; Ferguson & Ford, 2008; Thomae & Pina, 2015). Social identity refers to the part of an individual’s self-concept that is based on social group membership (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). One’s social identity becomes salient in intergroup settings where people categorize themselves and others according to salient social group memberships. A central tenet of social identity theory is that, in intergroup settings, people are motivated to achieve or maintain a positive social identity, i.e., to feel pride in belonging to the in-group (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). Consequently, people try to distinguish their in-group as superior to relevant out-groups. Disparagement humor directed at people outside the group provides such a positive distinction. Indeed,

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Bourhis, Gadfield, Giles, and Tajfel (1977) proposed that ‘‘antiout-group humour can, through out-group devaluation and denigration, be a creative and potent way of asserting in-group pride and distinctiveness from a dominant out-group’’ (p. 261). People enjoy out-group disparagement humor in group settings, then, because it enhances social identity or in-group pride (e.g., Abrams et al., 2015; Bourhis et al., 1977; Ferguson & Ford, 2008; Thomae & Pina, 2015), and thus functions as a social lubricant enhancing in-group cohesion (Lyman, 1987). Consistent with this hypothesis, people initiate disparagement humor when they experience a threat to their social identity: when they perceive that their in-group is at risk of being judged as inferior to a relevant out-group (Angelone, Hirschman, Suniga, Armey, & Armelie, 2005; Hunt & Gonsalkorale, 2014; Siebler, Sabelus, & Bohner, 2008). Hunt and Gonsalkorale (2014), for instance, found that men were more likely to send sexist jokes to a female confederate in a computer-simulated interaction following a threat to their gender identity. Building on Hunt and Gonsalkorale (2014), Emma O’Connor, Thomas Ford, and Noely Banos (2017) also examined men’s enjoyment of sexist (and antigay) humor following a threat to their masculinity. According to Vandello, Boson, Cohen, Burnaford, and Weaver’s (2008) Precarious Manhood Theory, men differ in the degree to which they hold precarious manhood beliefs (PMB)—beliefs that masculinity is based on conformity to traditional gender roles, that it is tenuous and vulnerable to invalidation, and that it requires reaffirmation in response to invalidation threats. Two experiments revealed that men higher in PMB express amusement with sexist and antigay humor (but not anti-Muslim or neutral humor) in response to masculinity threat (i.e., false feedback that the results of a personality inventory indicated that they possessed a more feminine personality than most other men). They also demonstrated that men’s expressed amusement with sexist and antigay jokes uniquely served a restorative function in response to masculinity threat. Men higher in PMB expressed amusement with sexist and antigay humor in response to a masculinity threat because they believed it would reaffirm an important (masculine) social identity. It appears, then, that by showing amusement with sexist and antigay humor, men higher in PMB can distance themselves from the traits they want to disconfirm in themselves. As described above, out-group disparagement humor can function as a social lubricant by enhancing social identity. It can, however, have the opposite abrasive effect on people who belong to targeted groups (e.g., Breeden & Ford, 2017; Ford, Woodzicka, Petit, Richardson, & Lappi, 2015; Argu¨ello, Carretero-Dios, Willis, & Moya, 2017). Disparagement humor targeting one’s in-group negatively distinguishes the in-group from relevant out-groups, and thus threatens one’s social identity. Accordingly, empirical research has demonstrated that sexist humor can create a social identity threat for women in the form of selfobjectification (Ford et al., 2015). Objectification theory proposes that Western societies sexually objectify women through media images and other cultural portrayals of feminine beauty (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). Exposure to such messages encourages women to self-objectify, to view themselves as mere social objects meant for judgment based on physical appearance (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) proposed that women could experience self-objectification as a stable personality trait or as an emotional state. Trait self-objectification refers to the extent to which individuals chronically view themselves as objects from a third-person perspective across situations. In contrast, state self-objectification refers to a temporary response to contextual cues

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(Calogero & Pina, 2011; Fredrickson, Roberts, Noll, Quinn, & Twenge, 1998). Importantly, it appears that sexist humor can trigger state self-objectification. Ford et al. (2015) found that women (but not men) reported greater state self-objectification and engaged in more self-monitoring of their appearance following exposure to sexist comedy clips than neutral comedy clips. Women viewed themselves as social objects through the demeaning and trivializing lens of the sexist humor. In this context, sexist humor functioned as a social abrasive communicating to women that they are devalued for being women. Christopher Breeden and Thomas Ford (2017) further addressed whether identity threat triggered by sexist humor is experienced “intrinsically”—as a threat to one’s stable definition of self, or “contextually”—as a threat to one’s definition of self in the context of a specific relationship or setting (Brown, 1998). Following Brown’s (1998) procedures, female participants imagined they had enrolled in a college course. Then they watched a video in which a male teaching assistant (TA) either did or did not make humorous sexist remarks as he described his teaching style. Finally, participants believed they were assigned to the TA depicted in the video or to a different one. Breeden and Ford found that participants perceived themselves more negatively (e.g., less qualified, less competent, less confident) when the TA told sexist versus neutral jokes, but only when they believed they were assigned to the TA who told the sexist jokes. It appears that sexist humor did not threaten women’s self-concepts in general; it only threatened their self-concepts in the context of the specific relationship in which they were diminished by sexist humor.

INTERGROUP RELATIONS In this section, we turn our attention from the functions of humor in intragroup settings to the ways it impacts intergroup relations, specifically the interactions between members of different groups. In this section, we explore the complex relationship between disparagement humor and prejudice against the targeted group. To introduce this section, imagine the following scenario: A group of four guys are sitting together at a restaurant or a bar where they encounter sexist humor. Maybe they watch a sexist comedy routine on the ever-present television screen, or perhaps they tell a few sexist jokes. Furthermore, imagine that a couple of the guys have sexist attitudes toward women, whereas the other two do not.

In this section, we address questions like, “Will watching a sexist comedy skit or telling a few raunchy jokes affect the way these guys think about and behave toward women?” “Will the experience make the nonsexist guys turn into sexist chauvinists like the other two?” “Or, will nothing happen?” In addressing such questions, we first consider the possibility that disparagement humor serves an abrasive function as an initiator of prejudice, making people more prejudiced than they were beforehand. We also address the possibility that disparagement humor functions as a “releaser” of prejudice among those who are already prejudiced. Finally, we discuss the potential lubricating function of disparagement humor for subverting or undermining prejudice.

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Disparagement Humor as an Initiator of Prejudice Does exposure to disparagement humor make people more prejudiced? Scholars historically have argued that disparagement humor creates and reinforces prejudice that individuals hold against the targeted group (e.g., Berger, 1993; Freud, 1905/1960; La Fave & Mannell, 1976; Meyer, 2000; Stephenson, 1951; Zenner, 1970). By affecting individuals, disparagement humor is thought to have an impact on prejudice at a broader, societal level. Husband (1977), for instance, proposed that watching racist humor depicted on television reinforces people’s stereotypes and prejudice, and therefore functions to perpetuate a racist society. Similarly, Montemurro (2003) argued that sexist humor depicted in television shows strengthens a social system that trivializes women and promotes sexism. Sev’er and Ungar (1997) likewise suggested that sexist humor perpetuates power imbalances between men and women. Consistent with such theoretical positions, perpetrating disparagement humor can have a negative effect on one’s attitudes and stereotypes of the targeted group. Hobden and Olson (1994), for instance, asked participants individually to recite a number of antilawyer jokes under conditions of either high or low free choice. Participants who freely chose to recite the antilawyer jokes reported more negative attitudes toward lawyers. They suggested that cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957) could explain these findings. Participants adopted more negative attitudes toward lawyers as a means of reducing cognitive dissonance associated with telling disparaging jokes. In another experiment, Maio, Olson, and Bush (1997) had participants recite jokes that disparaged Newfoundlanders, a relatively disadvantaged group in Canada, or nondisparaging jokes. In a supposedly unrelated study, the participants were then asked to complete a measure of their stereotypes and attitudes toward Newfoundlanders. The results indicated that those who recited disparaging humor subsequently reported more negative stereotypes (e.g., perceptions of Newfoundlanders as having low intelligence) than did those who recited nondisparaging jokes. Maio et al. suggested that reciting jokes that disparaged Newfoundlanders made participants feel that it was more acceptable to express their negative stereotypes of Newfoundlanders. However, the participants’ evaluative attitudes toward Newfoundlanders (e.g., ratings of good/bad, likable/unlikable) were not affected by the manipulation. Collectively, the studies by Hobden and Olson (1994) and Maio et al. (1997) suggest that reciting disparagement humor can function to initiate prejudice and negative stereotypes. However, it is not clear from these studies whether humor, as a medium of communication, uniquely initiates prejudice and negative stereotypes apart from disparaging content more generally. Researchers also have investigated the prejudice-initiating effects of exposure to disparagement humor, which has revealed more complex and counterintuitive findings. Initial studies by Weston and Thomsen (1993) and Ford (1997) suggested that exposing individuals to disparagement humor activates negative stereotypes, leading to biases in social judgment. Weston and Thomsen (1993) found that participants made more stereotypical evaluations of men and women after watching sexist comedy skits than after watching neutral comedy skits. Neither of these studies, however, included a nonhumorous control

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condition necessary to discern the unique effects of humor as a medium for communicating disparagement. Indeed, both Weston and Thomsen (1993) and Ford (1997) suggested that in their respective studies, disparaging humor simply functioned as any other disparaging stimulus might: to prime negative group stereotypes. Addressing this limitation, Olson, Maio, and Hobden (1999) conducted three experiments that were better designed to test the unique effects of exposure to disparagement humor on attitudes and stereotypes toward the targeted group. In one experiment, individual female participants read either cartoons that disparaged men, nondisparaging cartoons, nonhumorous statements that disparaged men, or nothing at all. They found no effects of their manipulation on the accessibility of participants’ attitudes toward men, or the degree to which participants made stereotype-based judgments of men. In a conceptual replication, Olson et al. exposed male and female participants to antilawyer jokes, nonhumorous antilawyer statements, nondisparaging jokes, or nondisparaging statements. Again, they found no effects of their manipulation on the extremity or accessibility of participants’ attitudes toward and stereotypes of lawyers. In fact, across the three experiments, a total of 83 analyses yielded only one significant difference in the predicted direction. A limitation of Olson et al.’s (1999) studies, however, is that the disparaged groups in these studies (men and lawyers) are relatively advantaged in the culture. Accordingly, different results might have been found if the jokes had targeted more disadvantaged groups. Ford, Wentzel, and Lorion (2001) addressed this possibility. Ford et al. (2001) investigated the effect of sexist humor on men’s stereotypes about women. Participants read sexist jokes, neutral (nonsexist) jokes, or sexist statements. They found that even men high in “hostile sexism”—antagonism against women (Glick & Fiske, 1996)—did not report more negative stereotypes of women following exposure to sexist jokes versus neutral jokes or nonhumorous sexist statements. Taken together, then, the studies by Olson et al. (1999) and Ford et al. (2001) provide no evidence that exposure to disparagement humor uniquely introduces or fosters a negative disposition (stereotypes or prejudice) toward the targeted group. Hodson, Rush, and MacInnis (2010) contributed to this line of research by addressing personality characteristics other than level of prejudice that might make people more vulnerable to prejudice-reinforcing effects of disparagement humor. Specifically, Hodson et al. (2010) examined the effect of exposure to disparagement humor from the perspective of social dominance theory (SDT). According to SDT, societies inevitably are structured hierarchically so that there exists an imbalance in power and resources among high- versus low-status groups (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999). Further, individuals differ in their social dominance orientation (SDO), i.e., the degree to which they support the status quo of existing hierarchies and power imbalances. People high in SDO express greater intergroup bias toward lower-status groups because they possess “legitimizing myths”—beliefs that validate the status quo of inequality and mistreatment (Sidanius & Pratto, 1999, p. 45). Hodson et al. (2010) proposed that “cavalier humor beliefs” (CHB) represent a legitimizing myth. People high in CHB strongly endorse the viewpoint that a disparaging joke is “just a joke,” and that any disparagement of a group or an individual merits a “pass” or pardon if it is intended to be humorous.

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Hodson et al. (2010) hypothesized that people high in SDO would become even more prejudiced against a low-status out-group upon exposure to disparagement humor because of their cavalier beliefs about the humor. Hodson et al. tested their hypothesis in a pre post experimental design. First, they measured Canadian participants’ attitudes toward Mexicans (pretest), SDO, and degree of endorsement of CHB. Then, they exposed participants to jokes that disparaged Mexicans or nondisparaging “neutral” jokes. Finally, they measured participants’ reactions to the jokes and their attitudes toward Mexicans (posttest). They found that individuals higher in SDO reported more prejudiced attitudes toward Mexicans following exposure to antiMexican jokes. This effect was mediated by CHB in a two-stage sequence. First, because participants high in SDO and CHB view disparagement humor in general as benign “horseplay,” and they interpreted the anti-Mexican jokes in a nonserious humor mindset, they therefore tacitly accepted the underlying message that it is okay to make light of prejudice against Mexicans. In turn, their trivialization of the anti-Mexican prejudice intensified their prejudiced attitudes. These findings suggest that CHB are responsible for a circular relationship between exposure to disparagement humor (targeting a low-status group) and prejudice: people high in SDO and prejudice tend to appreciate disparagement humor (because of their CHB), which further fuels their prejudice (see Fig. 8.3). In summary, recent empirical research has not supported the hypothesis that disparagement humor uniquely initiates prejudice. However, disparagement humor can intensify existing prejudice by appealing to social dominance motives. Relating to our bar scenario at the beginning of this section, it appears that watching a sexist comedy skit on television or listening to others tell sexist jokes will not likely lead the two nonsexist men to develop more sexist attitudes; it could however, intensify the negative attitudes of the sexist men by appealing to social dominance motives.

Social dominance orientation

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FIGURE 8.3 The relationship between exposure to disparagement humor (targeting a low-status group) and prejudice: People high in SDO and prejudice tend to appreciate disparagement humor (because of their CHB), which further fuels their prejudice. Source: Adapted from “Derogating humor as a delegitimization strategy in intergroup contexts,” by G. Hodson et al., 2016, Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 2, pp. 63 74. Copyright 2016 by APA. Adapted with permission.

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Disparagement Humor as a “Releaser” of Prejudice In addition to investigating the effects of disparagement humor on intergroup attitudes and stereotypes, researchers have recently begun to consider how exposure to disparagement humor can have a less obvious, but still harmful, social consequence for intergroup relations. Specifically, exposure to disparagement humor could affect people’s understanding of a social setting in ways that foster the expression or release of prejudice. That is, rather than initiating or intensifying prejudice, disparagement humor could function as a situational event that allows people to express their existing prejudice without fears of social reprisal. For instance, Ford (2000, Exp. 1) exposed male and female participants to sexist jokes, sexist statements, or neutral jokes in an imagined group context. Participants then read a vignette in which a male supervisor treated a new female employee in a patronizing manner and addressed her using a pet name, which suggests a level of romantic intimacy that is inappropriate and potentially threatening in the workplace. Participants high in hostile sexism—antagonism against women (Glick & Fiske, 1996)—reported greater tolerance of the supervisor’s gender-harassing behavior after exposure to sexist jokes as compared to neutral jokes or comparable nonhumorous disparagement. Mallett, Ford, and Woodzicka (2016) likewise found that women higher in hostile sexism reported greater tolerance of an individual sexist incident, as well as sexual harassment in general, following exposure to sexist humor. Ford and Ferguson’s (2004) prejudiced norm theory explains these findings by proposing that disparagement humor can affect people’s understanding of an intergroup setting in ways that foster the expression or release of existing prejudice. The theory is grounded in research on the way people manage the conflict between their prejudice against a social group and external nonprejudiced norms. Highly prejudiced people tend to respond to targets of prejudice in accordance with prevailing social norms (Plant & Devine, 1998). They suppress prejudice when the norms in a given context dictate restraint; they express prejudice when the norms communicate approval to do so (Crandall & Eshleman, 2003; Dovidio, 2001; Paluck, 2011; Pearson, Dovidio, & Gaertner, 2009; Wittenbrink & Henly, 1996). Crandall and Eshleman (2003) refer to events that socially sanction or justify the expression of prejudice as “releasers” of prejudice. According to prejudiced norm theory, then, disparagement humor acts as a releaser of prejudice. Prejudiced norm theory consists of four propositions related to the interpretation of disparagement humor, emergent social norms about the acceptability of prejudice against the targeted group, and personal expressions of prejudice against the targeted group. First, as described in Chapter 2, Classic Theories of Humor, humor invites us to respond playfully and noncritically to its underlying message, rather than literally and critically (e.g., Attardo, 1993; Berlyne, 1972; Mannell, 1977; Mulkay, 1988; Zillmann, 1983, 2000). As Mulkay (1988) suggested, humor encourages us to abandon the usual (serious) ways of thinking. Disparagement humor, then, invites us to think about denigration of the target as something that can be trivialized and treated as play (Gollob & Levine, 1967; Greenwood & Isbell, 2002; Montemurro, 2003; Mutuma, La Fave, Mannell, & Guilmette, 1977). Second, by approving of disparagement humor, i.e., by switching to a noncritical humor mindset to interpret it, recipients tacitly assent to a shared agreement with the joke-teller

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to suspend the usual serious ways of thinking about the underlying derision in the immediate context (Emerson, 1969; Fine, 1983; Kane et al., 1977; Khoury, 1985). The humor and subsequent approval thus creates an emergent norm that it is acceptable in this context to make light of discrimination without fears of social reprisal. In other words, disparagement humor and recipient approval together expand the bounds of acceptable behavior in the immediate context to include discriminatory responses that recipients otherwise would consider wrong or inappropriate. See Fig. 8.4 for an illustration of how sexist humor alters perceptions of the norms of appropriate behavior in the immediate social context. Imagine that the rubber band represents social norms about acceptable and unacceptable ways of treating women. Everything on the inside is socially acceptable; everything on the outside socially unacceptable. In the context of expanded normative acceptability created by sexist humor and recipient approval of it, sexist recipients can feel freer to express their antagonism in a variety of ways without the risk of violating social norms and facing social reprisals. Supporting these first two propositions, Bill and Naus (1992) found that men viewed incidents of sex discrimination as harmless and acceptable insofar as they perceived them as humorous. Also, Ford (2000, Exp. 3) found that men higher in hostile sexism expressed greater tolerance of workplace gender harassment (described above) after reading sexist versus neutral jokes. This effect was attenuated when participants intentionally interpreted the sexist jokes as they would serious, nonhumorous messages. Third, like vicarious superiority theory (La Fave et al., 1996 [1976]) and disposition theory (Zillmann & Cantor, 1996 [1976]), prejudiced norm theory proposes that people spontaneously interpret disparagement humor in a nonserious humor mindset to the extent they are prejudiced against the disparaged group. Finally, because prejudiced people are more inclined to interpret disparagement humor in a noncritical humor mindset, they should be particularly likely to perceive and assent to an emergent prejudiced norm in the immediate context, and use that norm to guide their own responses toward members of the targeted group. That is, upon exposure to disparagement humor, prejudiced people should perceive the immediate context as more tolerant of prejudice and thus feel comfortable expressing or “releasing” their own prejudice.

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FIGURE 8.4 Disparagement humor “stretches” the bounds of acceptable behavior to include responses that would otherwise be considered wrong or inappropriate.

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A growing body of empirical research supports these propositions, showing that exposure to disparagement humor fosters a social climate that allows prejudiced people to freely and openly express their prejudice against the targeted group. Replicating the findings of Ford (2000), Ford et al. (2001) found that men higher in hostile sexism reported greater tolerance of an instance of workplace gender harassment upon exposure to sexist humor (versus neutral humor or sexist statements). This effect was mediated by an emergent prejudiced norm—the perception that others in the immediate context viewed the sexist event as acceptable in the sexist humor condition. Similarly, Ford, McCreight, and Richardson (2014, Exp. 1) examined whether exposure to anti-Muslim jokes promotes greater tolerance of discrimination against Muslims, and whether that effect is mediated by perceptions of a prejudiced norm against Muslims. Participants imagined that they were a manager of a retail store who discriminated against a new Muslim employee, Afiyah, by prohibiting her from waiting on customers because she was wearing a burqa. Furthermore, the manager asked Afiyah to, “please try to dress more American, not so. . .ethnic.” Participants reported feeling less badly about themselves for their imagined discrimination after reading anti-Muslim jokes (i.e., “How can you recognize a well-balanced Muslim? He has a chip on both shoulders!” and “Did you hear the one about the Muslim strip club? It features full facial nudity!”) versus neutral jokes or nonhumorous anti-Muslim statements (i.e., “I know this is controversial, but I think Islam is a hostile religion. Muslims tend to hate a lot of people,” and “I agree with you guys about Muslims. Islam is a very dated and archaic religion regarding its views toward women and sexuality.”) exchanged among (non-Muslim) employees in a small work group setting. Furthermore, this effect was mediated by a perception that others in the immediate context approved of the manager’s discrimination against Afiyah. Recent research has expanded these investigations, showing that disparagement humor frees people to express their approval of broader, societal-level discrimination against the targeted group. In a study by Ford, Woodzicka, Triplett, and Kochersberger (2013) male participants read either a series of sexist jokes, sexist statements that communicated the content of the sexist jokes, but in a nonhumorous manner, or neutral jokes. Then, they completed Jost and Kay’s (2005) measure of gender-specific system justification (e.g., “In general, relations between men and women are fair,” p. 501) under the guise of a survey about the current state of gender relations. The results showed that men higher in hostile sexism reported greater tolerance of societal sexism (acceptance of the gender status quo) after reading sexist jokes versus neutral jokes or nonhumorous sexist statements. In addition, disparagement humor appears to affect prejudiced people’s willingness to actually discriminate against the targeted group (e.g., Ford, Boxer, Armstrong, & Edel, 2008; Ford et al., 2014; Romero-Sa´nchez, Dura´n, Carretero-Dios, Megı´as, & Moya, 2010; Thomae & Viki, 2013; Viki, Thomae, Cullen, & Fernandez, 2007). Ford et al. (2008) examined the effect of sexist humor on men’s willingness to discriminate against women by presenting either sexist or neutral comedy skits to small groups of male participants. The sexist comedy skits derived humor by depicting women in demeaning, stereotyped roles (e.g., sex objects, subservient housewives, angry feminists). In one skit, for instance, women were humorously portrayed in “wife school,” where they learned how to “keep quiet,” “stop spending money,” and “put their husbands’ needs first.” The skit included humorous testimonials from both husbands and wives.

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After watching the comedy skits, participants completed a second, allegedly unrelated project designed to determine how the student population believes the university should allocate funding cuts to selected student organizations on campus. Participants read that the overall budget for student organizations last year was $120,000 allocated across the following five student organizations: 1. Jewish Cultural Collective

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Their task was to allocate budget cuts across the organizations however they saw fit so that the overall budget was reduced by 20% ($24,000). Ford et al. found that hostile sexism predicted subsequent discrimination against women in the sexist comedy skit condition. As shown in Fig. 8.5, men higher in hostile sexism cut more money from the budget of a women’s organization relative to the other four student organizations upon exposure to sexist comedy skits, but not neutral comedy skits. Further, a perceived norm of approval of funding cuts for the women’s organization among other men in that context mediated the effect; sexist humor created a social norm in which hostile sexist men felt comfortable expressing their prejudice against women. Ford et al. (2014) further demonstrated that social groups are differentially vulnerable to the prejudice-releasing effects of disparagement humor depending on the position they occupy in society. According to Crandall, Ferguson, and Bahns (2013), some groups occupy a unique social position of “shifting acceptability,” characterized by a state change FIGURE 8.5 The percentage of the total budget cuts allocated to the women’s organization as a function of humor condition and standardized hostile sexism scores. Source: Adapted from “More than ‘just a joke’: The prejudice-releasing function of sexist humor,” by T. E. Ford et al., 2008, Personality and Social Psychological Bulletin, 34, p. 159. Copyright 2008 by Sage publications.

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in the way society views discrimination against them. Prejudice against these groups is shifting from being completely justified to being completely unjustified. Although society is becoming increasingly accepting of these groups, many people still have mixed feelings about them. Ford et al. found that disparagement humor fosters discrimination against groups that occupy this social position of shifting acceptability, but not groups for whom prejudice is already socially acceptable or justified. In their study, disparagement humor promoted discrimination against Muslim people and gay men. However, it did not foster discrimination against two “justified prejudice” groups: terrorists and racists. Expressions of prejudice against those groups did not depend on disparagement humor for justification. An important implication of these findings is that some instances of disparagement humor are more detrimental than others because of the social position occupied by the groups they target. Movies, television programs, or YouTube comedy clips that humorously disparage groups such as gay people, Muslim people, or women can potentially foster discrimination and social injustice, whereas those that target groups such as racists will have little social consequence. A number of studies have extended the application of prejudiced norm theory by showing that sexist humor stretches the boundaries of acceptable conduct to include not only mild or subtle expressions of sexism, but also the propensity to commit violence against women (Romero-Sa´nchez et al., 2010; Ryan & Kanjorski, 1998; Thomae & Pina, 2015; Thomae & Viki, 2013; Viki et al., 2007). Ryan and Kanjorski (1998) first established a link between sexist humor and rape proclivity, men’s self-reported inclination to rape a woman under circumstances in which they could not be discovered (Malamuth, 1981). Ryan and Kanjorski found a positive correlation between men’s enjoyment of sexist jokes and rape supportive beliefs (e.g., acceptance of rape myths, acceptance of violence against women) and self-reported willingness to rape a woman provided they could not get caught. More recent research has built upon Ryan and Kanjorski’s (1998) correlational findings by experimentally investigating the causal effect of sexist humor on men’s selfreported rape proclivity and the variables that moderate that effect. Romero-Sa´nchez et al. (2010) asked male participants to read either four sexist jokes or four neutral jokes taken from Carretero-Dios et al.’s (2010) Humor Appreciation Scale (see Chapter 4: The Personality Psychology of Humor for a description of the scale). Participants then completed a measure of rape proclivity developed by Bohner et al. (1998) that consists of five fictitious scenarios involving a man and a woman that end in rape. The scenarios vary in their descriptions of the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. For instance, in one scenario, the perpetrator and victim were dating partners, and in another, they were strangers. The scenarios also varied in the degree to which the perpetrator used physical aggression or violence to rape the victim. For each scenario, participants indicated the degree to which they would have behaved like the male character. Romero-Sa´nchez et al. (2010) found that participants exposed to sexist jokes reported greater rape proclivity than those exposed to neutral jokes. Furthermore, this effect was moderated by the perceived aversiveness (offensiveness) of the sexist jokes. Participants who expressed less aversion to the sexist jokes reported greater rape proclivity than those

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FIGURE 8.6 The relationship between hostile sexism and rape proclivity among men in the sexist and neutral joke conditions in Thomae and Viki (2013 Study 2). Source: From “Why did the woman cross the road? The effect of sexist humor on men’s rape proclivity,” by M. Thomae and G. T. Viki, 2013. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 7, pp. 250 269. Copyright 2016 by APA. Reprinted with permission.

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who expressed a high degree of aversion. Taken together, the results of Ryan and Kanjorski (1998) and Romero-Sa´nchez et al. are consistent with prejudiced norm theory, suggesting that sexist humor functioned as a releaser of prejudice against women to the extent that men interpreted the humor in a nonserious, humor mindset. Finally, Thomae and Viki (2013) demonstrated that men’s level of hostile sexism (Glick & Fiske, 1996) moderates the effect of sexist jokes on self-reported rape proclivity. In two experiments, Thomae and Viki exposed male participants to sexist or nonsexist (neutral) jokes, and then asked them to complete Bohner et al.’s (1998) rape proclivity measure. In both studies, they found a significant relationship between hostile sexism and rape proclivity upon exposure to sexist jokes, but not neutral jokes (see Fig. 8.6). In keeping with prejudiced norm theory, Thomae and Viki suggested that a local norm implied by sexist jokes made sexist men feel comfortable expressing their antagonism toward women in the form of sexual aggression. In sum, research on the effect of sexist humor on rape proclivity shows that sexist humor initiates a local norm of tolerance of sexism that frees sexist men to express sexism against women, even in the form of sexual violence. Finally, Woodzicka, Mallett, Hendricks, and Pruitt (2015) and Mallett et al. (2016) expanded this line of research to address confrontation of sexist humor. Woodzicka et al. (2015) found that people are less likely to label disparaging jokes as discrimination compared to serious statements communicating the same underlying message. Consequently, people are less likely to deem humorous disparagement as “confrontation-worthy.” Mallett et al. (2016) further demonstrated that people do not confront sexist jokes because they do not ascribe sexist motives to the joke-teller. By communicating that sexist sentiments should not be taken seriously, sexist humor makes the intention of the joketeller ambiguous (e.g., “Was that an expression of sexism or just an attempt to be funny?”), making the appropriateness of confrontation uncertain. Mallett et al. (2016) further demonstrated that people do not confront sexist jokes because of the “humor paradox.” Indeed, participants were less likely to ascribe sexist motives when a person told sexist jokes versus nonhumorous sexist remarks (Box 8.2).

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BOX 8.2

A C O N V E R S AT I O N W I T H D R . M A N U E L A T H O M A E Dr Manuela Thomae is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Winchester in the United Kingdom. She teaches a number of topics, including social psychology, individual differences, evolutionary psychology, and media psychology. Dr Thomae’s work focuses on the effects that sexist humor can have on both women and men. Beyond humor research, she investigates prejudice and discrimination, and the different ways in which both manifest in social interactions. Dr Thomae researches ways to encourage positive intergroup relations and to promote tolerance. She is further interested in the challenges of replicability and reproducibility of psychological research. Dr Thomae lives in Southampton, UK, with her partner Jason (her main target for banter and teasing) as well as three (usually humorfree) cats.

Authors: When did you first become interested in humor as a topic for social psychological inquiry? What was it about humor that you found interesting? Manuela Thomae: In 2003 2004 I studied for an MSc in Social and Applied Psychology at the University of Kent at Canterbury (UK) and hadn’t fully decided where I wanted my future career to go—research or practice, social or forensic psychology. When it came to choosing my MSc dissertation topic my supervisor suggested a compromise: To study the impact of sexist humor on men’s inclination to perpetrate acts of sexual violence against women. At the time I wasn’t familiar with social psychological humor research and I don’t think humor was a frequently taught topic within mainstream social psychology. Therefore I was surprised to learn how much damage a supposedly positive social behavior can cause and became interested in the mechanisms (e.g., preexisting prejudice) by which disparagement humor releases prejudiced behavior and discrimination. Authors: What would you say have been the most important developments in the social psychological study of humor that you have seen in recent years? Manuela Thomae: When I joined the field of social psychological humor research, a fair amount of work was being published on how disparagement humor impacted on the ways a historically privileged group (the humor source and/or audience) treated a historically disadvantaged group (the humor target). At the time, the most studied intergroup context was on gender relations, i.e., many colleagues in the field investigated the negative effects of sexist humor on men’s behavior toward women. In recent years, we have widened this focus to other historically disadvantaged groups in Western societies, including the LGBT and Muslim communities. We have also started looking at the psychological responses humor targets have to disparagement humor.

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(cont’d)

The really important development for me here is the idea that the standard of whom it is acceptable to disparage by using humor is a moving target (i.e., shifting acceptability; Ford, Woodzicka, Triplett, Kochersberger & Holden, 2014). It gives me hope for the future that hostile jokes that were acceptable only a few years ago are not acceptable today. Authors: What do you see as the most significant challenges that social psychologists studying humor have to address in future research? Manuela Thomae: Ecological validity. Humor is an inherently social behavior but much social psychological humor research, including my own work, is conducted online or in a laboratory cubicle. In essence, this often means that participants respond to humor stimuli in social isolation. This (usually) experimental approach is important for establishing the social and psychological mechanisms via which humor and the human psyche interact. My hope for the future is that we will be able to take today’s research findings into the “real world” of tomorrow and that we will be able to replicate and extend our knowledge of the effects of humorous interactions in less artificial settings. I also see challenges in the generalizability of our current research findings. In 2015 the Reproducibility Project: Psychology (Open Science Collaboration, 2015) found that many psychological findings do not replicate well and these replication problems particularly affected social psychological (as opposed to cognitive psychological) research. These differences in replication rates between social and cognitive psychology are plausible since social psychology has the impact of the social context on human experiences and behavior at its very center. As a result, as researchers interested in the social psychology of humor, we need to be aware that the results we see in WEIRD contexts (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic; Henrich, Heine & Norenzayan, 2010) are unlikely to be human universals and hence may be unlikely to fully or partly generalize across cultural and social contexts. Authors: Do you have a favorite joke? Manuela Thomae: I have been thinking long and hard about how to answer this question but my answer is still “no.” I believe I have a good sense of humor, it just manifests much more as banter and (hopefully!) good natured teasing than in telling jokes.

Disparagement Humor as Subversion of Prejudice As our discussion thus far suggests, disparagement humor can have detrimental effects on intergroup relations by reinforcing and releasing prejudice. However, if initiated with the positive intention to expose the absurdity and ugliness of prejudice, disparagement humor could ironically have beneficial intergroup consequences (e.g., Rappoport, 2005; Saucier, O’Dea, & Strain, 2016; Strain, Martens, & Saucier, 2016). Members of oppressed groups “appropriate” disparagement humor in service of a number of positive intergroup functions: to dissociate the in-group from the derogatory content of the humor

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(Bianchi, 2014), to affirm in-group pride or solidarity (e.g., Bianchi, 2014; Boskin & Dorinson, 2016; Hom, 2008), to take a critical stance against the usual derogatory uses of stereotypes and slurs (Hom, 2008; Hornsby, 2001), and to remind people of the status quo of inequality and discrimination (Hom, 2008). Holmes and Marra (2002) referred to disparagement humor that has such constructive, status-quo-challenging social consequences as subversive humor. Believing it has the potential to expose and subvert prejudice, many comedians (e.g., Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory, Richard Pryor, Wanda Sykes, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, and Russell Peters) have incorporated subversive disparagement humor into their routines. Russell Peters, for instance, impersonates accents of different racial groups and pokes fun at racial stereotypes. His goal is not to offend members of targeted groups, but to “raise them up” through humor (Stewart, 2016). Chris Rock similarly uses subversive disparagement humor to challenge the status quo of racial inequality and hierarchical race relations in the United States (Strain et al., 2016). The following excerpt from his opening monologue for the 2016 Academy Awards illustrates how he used humor to call attention to racism in the film industry and hierarchical race relations more generally: I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards. You realize if they nominated hosts, I wouldn’t even get this job. So y’all would be watching Neil Patrick Harris right now. It’s the 88th Academy Awards. It’s the 88th Academy Awards, which means this whole no black nominees thing has happened at least 71 other times. O.K.? You gotta figure that it happened in the 50s, in the 60s—you know, in the 60s, one of those years Sidney didn’t put out a movie. I’m sure there were no black nominees some of those years. Say ‘62 or ‘63, and black people did not protest. Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time, you know? We had real things to protest; you know, we’re too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer. You know, when your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about best documentary foreign short.

The problem is that in order for subversive humor to realize its goal of undermining prejudice, the audience must understand and appreciate its true intention, and there is no guarantee that they will (Saucier et al., 2016). The following excerpt from comedian Dave Chappelle’s interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2006 illustrates the “interpretation problem” with subversive humor. Chappelle discussed a skit about a pixie (played by Dave), which appeared in black face: “There was a good-spirited intention behind it,” Dave says. “So then when I’m on the set, and we’re finally taping the sketch, somebody on the set [who] was white laughed in such a way—I know the difference of people laughing with me and people laughing at me—and it was the first time I had ever gotten a laugh that I was uncomfortable with. Not just uncomfortable, but like, should I fire this person?” Dave says some people understood exactly what he was trying to say with his racially charged comedy. . .while others got the wrong idea (http://www.oprah.com/ oprahshow/chappelles-story#ixzz4HFUHcnHg). Vidmar and Rokeach (1974) found that people higher in prejudice are particularly prone to misinterpret subversive humor. Vidmar and Rokeach studied amusement with the television show All in the Family, which focused on the bigoted character, Archie Bunker. They found that low-prejudiced people perceived All in the Family as a satire on bigotry

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and that Archie Bunker was the target of the humor. They “got” the true subversive intent of the show. In contrast, high-prejudiced people enjoyed the show for satirizing the targets of Archie’s prejudice. Thus, for high-prejudice people, the subversive disparagement humor of the show backfired. Rather than calling attention to the absurdity of prejudice, the show communicated an implicit prejudiced norm, a norm of tolerance of discrimination.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION Social psychologists study anything that contributes to our understanding of how people affect one another’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, focusing on four “levels” of analysis: (1) individual social psychological processes, (2) interpersonal relationships, (3) group processes, and (4) intergroup relations. Thus, the social psychological study of humor addresses questions about how people use humor and to what effects at each of these four levels of analysis. Importantly, much social psychological theory and research on the functions and consequences of humor at each level of analysis is predicated on a unique “humor paradox.” That is, humor creates an inherent ambiguity about the underlying intentions of a message. Because of this inherent paradox, humor can function as a “double-edged sword” capable of having both beneficial and detrimental social consequences. We first reviewed theory and empirical research on the role that humor plays in two central topics relating to individual social psychological processes: persuasion and social perception. Petty and Cacioppo’s (1986) Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) of persuasion provided a theoretical framework for considering the relationship between humor and persuasion. Empirical research indicates that the effect of humor on persuasion is complex and dependent on a number of moderating variables. Humor encourages one to engage in peripheral route processing of heuristic cues rather than central route processing of the underlying message arguments, by reducing motivation and capacity to carefully scrutinize the content of message arguments. Humor also affects the nature of central route processing that people perform on message arguments provided they are otherwise sufficiently motivated and able to think carefully about them. Similarly, the effect of humor on social perception depends on a variety of factors such as the type of humor people use, and the social context in which we encounter them using humor. Second, we reviewed research on the complex role that humor plays at different stages of an interpersonal relationship. We focused specifically on the effect of humor on initial interpersonal attraction between people, and then on people’s satisfaction with long-term romantic relationships. Research supports the hypothesis that we initially like people more insofar as they are funny and have a good sense of humor. One explanation for this effect is that humor enhances the perceived social bond (both platonic and romantic) that people feel with one another. Humor also positively affects people’s satisfaction with long-term romantic relationships. Indeed, happily married couples report that humor has a positive impact on their marriage. Next, we borrowed from Martineau’s (1972) model to address the potentially positive and negative ways that humor could function in intragroup settings, noting that groups can use humor as a means of enforcing conformity to group norms, and that individuals

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use humor as a means of establishing and maintaining status in a group. Finally, groups use humor, particularly out-group disparagement humor, as a way to enhance cohesion or a sense of connectedness among members of a group. Lastly, we considered the ways that out-group disparagement humor shapes intergroup relations, the ways we think about and behave toward members of targeted groups. Interestingly, empirical research has not supported the hypothesis that disparagement humor uniquely initiates prejudice. However, it can possibly intensify existing prejudice by appealing to social dominance motives. In addition, disparagement humor appears to be related to prejudice in a different way. Rather than acting as an “intensifier” of prejudice, disparagement humor appears to function as a “releaser” of prejudice. According to Ford and Ferguson’s (2004) prejudiced norm theory, prejudiced people tend to approve of disparagement humor, and thus assent to an emergent norm in the immediate context that it is acceptable to make light of or trivialize discrimination against the targeted group. In that context, they can feel comfortable expressing their own prejudice against the targeted group without fears of social reprisal. Empirical research supports prejudiced norm theory in the context of sexist humor, indicating that sexist men exposed to sexist jokes or comedy skits versus other stimuli (e.g., sexist statements, neutral jokes, neutral comedy skits) reported greater: (1) tolerance of sexist events (Ford, 2000; Ford et al., 2001), (2) acceptance of societal sexism (Ford et al., 2013), (3) willingness to discriminate against women (Ford et al., 2008), and even (4) rape proclivity (Thomae & Viki, 2013). Research also shows that disparagement humor signals freedom to release prejudice against other groups that occupy a social position of shifting acceptability such as Muslim people and gay men, but not groups for whom prejudice is seen as justified, such as terrorists and racists.

KEY CONCEPTS • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

Humor paradox Humor and persuasion Elaboration Likelihood Model Central route Peripheral route Proarguments Counter-arguments Political humor Humor and social perception Humor and interpersonal attraction Humor and close relationships The humor stereotype Similarity hypothesis Evolutionary hypothesis Social connection hypothesis Humor and relationship satisfaction Intragroup settings Humor and social control

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Ridicule Jeer pressure Normative influence Humor and status in group settings Humor and group cohesion Social Identity Theory Social lubricant Social abrasive Disparagement humor as an initiator of prejudice Social Dominance Theory Cavalier humor beliefs Disparagement humor as a releaser of prejudice Prejudice Norm Theory Disparagement humor and subversion of prejudice

CRITICAL THINKING 1. A politician is considering whether or not to incorporate humor into a speech she will give at a town hall meeting to persuade local residents to support a new ordinance. Polling results suggest that most residents oppose the ordinance, and thus would likely be critical of the politician’s message. Given our discussion about humor and persuasion, do you think humor would make the politician’s speech more or less persuasive to her audience? From the framework of Petty and Cacioppo’s (1986) Elaboration Likelihood Model, what is the underlying mechanism or process by which humor would affect the persuasiveness of the politician’s speech? 2. Sense of humor enhances attraction for a potential romantic partner. Discuss the four explanations or hypotheses that psychologists have offered to explain this effect, describing research that either supports or fails to support each one. 3. Sociologist William Martineau (1972) proposed that humor functions as either a “lubricant” or as an “abrasive” for social interaction in both intra- and intergroup settings. What is meant by intragroup humor and what are some ways that humor is used as a social lubricant and as a social abrasive in intragroup settings? From the framework of Social Identity Theory, how does out-group disparagement humor affect cohesion among members of an in-group? 4. Regarding the role of humor in shaping intergroup relations, Ford and Ferguson’s (2004) Prejudice Norm Theory proposes that disparagement humor functions as a “releaser” of prejudice, rather than as an initiator of prejudice. According to the theory, how does disparagement function as a releaser of prejudice? Describe the findings of relevant research to support your answer.

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Would watching a funny movie affect your mood? Could it reduce anxiety and depression? Does having a good sense of humor help people cope with the stressors and adversities of life? Does it contribute to overall happiness and a sense of wellbeing? These are the kinds of questions about humor that clinical psychologists address. Clinical psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with the study, assessment, and treatment of psychological disorders, as well as the study and promotion of factors that contribute to positive mental health and wellbeing (Seligman & Peterson, 2003). Clinical psychology is both a research discipline and an applied profession. As researchers, clinical psychologists use scientific methods to generate new knowledge about psychopathology and the effectiveness of interventions. As clinicians or practitioners, clinical psychologists treat people with debilitating psychological disorders, such as those related to depression and anxiety. They also work with people to help them overcome addictions, improve their relationships, and cope with stressful situations and other problems. Accordingly, we divide this chapter into two units. In the first we focus on clinical research and on the relationship between humor and psychological wellbeing. In the second, we consider the applications of humor to the clinical practice of psychotherapy.

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HUMOR AND PSYCHOLOGICAL WELLBEING Historically, psychologists have defined mental health in terms of the degree to which people experience psychological disorder or emotional distress. However, as we discussed in Chapter 1, Introduction to the Psychology of Humor, positive psychology defines mental health in terms of the degree to which people lead happy and fulfilling lives (Gable & Haidt, 2005; Weiss et al., 2008; McGhee, 2010). Thus, positive psychology focuses on understanding how variables relating to personality, interpersonal relationships, and the broader social environment affect one’s psychological wellbeing. Thus, we review research on three general ways that humor might affect psychological wellbeing. First, it appears to directly relate to self-reported psychological wellbeing. Second, it affects psychological wellbeing by helping people cope with stressful events. Third, humor relates to psychological wellbeing by facilitating healthy interpersonal relationships.

Humor Directly Relates to More Positive Psychological Wellbeing In this section, we review (1) experimental, (2) clinical, and (3) correlational research demonstrating that humor predisposes people to experience positive emotions that influence self-reported psychological wellbeing. Humor

Psychological Wellbeing

Experimental Research A number of laboratory experiments have demonstrated that exposure to humorous stimuli can induce positive emotions (e.g., Dienstbier, 1995; Ruch, 1997; Vilaythong, Arnau,

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Rosen, & Mascaro, 2003). Ruch (1997), for instance, had participants interact with a clowning experimenter or watch comedy videotapes. He coded the frequency, intensity, and duration of participants’ smiles and laughter using the criteria for the Duchenne display, which, as we saw in Chapter 6, The Physiological Psychology of Humor, indicates genuine amusement. The more the participants displayed smiles and laughter of genuine amusement, the more they reported experiencing cheerfulness (a state of happiness and optimism). Similarly, in a study by Vilaythong et al. (2003), participants wrote about a stressful event they had recently experienced. Then, participants completed Snyder et al.’s (1996) State Hope Scale to indicate how hopeful they would feel in the context of the stressful experience they wrote about. Next, participants either watched a humorous or a nonhumorous video for 15 minutes and then completed the State Hope Scale again. Participants that watched the humorous video reported greater feelings of hopefulness than did those who watched the nonhumorous video. Exposure to humorous stimuli also can diminish the experience of negative emotions. Using a standard laboratory mood-induction technique, Amy Danzer and her colleagues (1990) induced depressed moods in female undergraduate students and then randomly assigned them to either humorous audiotape (stand-up comedy), nonhumorous audiotape (an interesting but not funny geography lecture), or no tape conditions. Participants in all three conditions showed significant increases in self-reported depressed moods following the mood induction, but only those in the humor condition showed a significant posttreatment reduction in depression back to baseline levels, showing that humor counteracted the depressed mood. Similarly, Moran (1996) found that participants reported experiencing less state anxiety compared to a baseline after watching a 4-minute humorous video. The effect of watching the humorous video on depression ratings was a little less straightforward. Moran found that it decreased depression ratings only if participants perceived the video as funny. Also, it decreased depression ratings more for participants who had a higher baseline level of depression than those with a lower baseline level. Thus, for humor material to counteract depressed moods it appears funnier is better and that the effects might be limited to those experiencing higher levels of depression. Attila Szabo at Lora´nd University, Budapest, Hungary, has conducted a program of research to investigate the psychological benefits of exposure to humor stimuli and aerobic exercise on both positive and negative emotions (Snowball & Szabo, 1999; Szabo, 2003, 2007; Szabo et al., 2005). Szabo (2003) compared the psychological benefits of watching a 20-minute video of a famous stand-up comedian, running or jogging on a track at one’s own pace for 20 minutes, and watching a 20-minute nonhumorous documentary. Participants completed measures of psychological wellbeing 5 minutes before and 5 minutes after each treatment. We have depicted the results of the experiment in Fig. 9.1. As you can see in Fig. 9.1, the control (documentary) condition did not significantly affect state anxiety, positive wellbeing, or psychological distress. In contrast, both humor and aerobic exercise reduced psychological distress and improved ratings of positive wellbeing. Interestingly, humor exerted a greater mitigating effect on anxiety than did exercise. Szabo et al. (2005) found similar results using different procedures, manipulations, and measures. Taken together, these findings suggest that humor produces positive short-term emotional changes that are at least comparable, if not superior, to the effects of physical exercise.

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FIGURE 9.1 Mean percent changes

Changes in anxiety and affect 30

Percent (%) change

20 10 0 –10 –20 –30 Anxiety Exercise

Wellbeing Humor

Distress

Fatigue

from pre- (line at 0) to posttreatment in state anxiety, positive wellbeing, psychological distress, and physical fatigue across the three experimental conditions in Szabo’s (2003) experiment. Source: Reprinted from Szabo (2003). Copyright 1997 2017 National Recreation and Park Association. All contents of the NRPA Web Site are the property of NRPA and/or its suppliers. All rights reserved. This document may be reprinted and distributed for noncommercial and educational purposes only, and not for resale. No resale use may be made of material on this web site at any time. All other rights reserved.

Documentary

In 2007, Szabo conducted a study that combined a laboratory experiment with a field study to compare the magnitude and duration of the psychological benefits of humor versus aerobic exercise. Participants experienced one of two interventions in a laboratory: they either rode a cycling ergometer (exercise machine) for 20 minutes at 60% maximal heart rate or watched a humorous 20-minute episode of the television sitcom, Friends. As in Szabo’s previous studies, participants completed measures related to positive and negative affect 5 minutes before the treatment and 5 minutes afterwards. In addition, after participants had left the laboratory, they completed the affect measures 30, 90, and 180 minutes later. Replicating findings from previous research, Szabo found that after 5 minutes, watching the humorous sitcom had a similar positive psychological effect as engaging in aerobic exercise. This study also revealed that the positive effects (ratings of increased positive affect and decreased negative affect) remained 30 and 90 minutes later in the exercise condition, but not in the humor condition: the psychological benefits lasted longer in the exercise versus humor condition. Szabo proposed that the psychological benefits of exercise and humor occur through different mechanisms that might account for this difference in duration. He suggested that exercise produces physiological changes, including enhanced circulation and decreased muscle tension, that causes one to feel invigorated for a period of time until total recovery occurs. In contrast, he suggested that the benefits of humor are driven by a cognitive mechanism—distraction from momentary concerns. Strick, Holland, van Baaren, and van Knippenberg (2009) directly tested the hypothesis that humor diminishes the experience of negative emotions through cognitive distraction. Strongly negative stimuli usurp more cognitive resources (elicit more negative thoughts) and induce negative feelings more than the mildly negative stimuli (Schimmack, 2005). Therefore, Strick et al. reasoned that if humor diminishes negative feelings by distracting people from negative thoughts, it should have a greater effect following exposure to strongly negative stimuli than mildly negative stimuli.

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Participants viewed a series of pictures on the computer that elicited strong negative feelings, mildly negative feelings, or neutral feelings. After viewing each picture, participants saw a humorous joke or cartoon, or a nonhumorous, affectively positive statement. Next, participants rated how unpleasant they felt at that moment. Supporting Strick et al.’s hypothesis, participants reported less negative feelings in response to both mildly and strongly negative pictures that were followed by humorous as compared to nonhumorous stimuli. Also, the humorous stimuli diminished negative feelings relative to the nonhumorous stimuli more after the strongly negative than mildly negative pictures. Extrapolating from these findings, it appears that humor fosters positive and diminishes negative emotional reactions to the challenges of life by inhibiting negative thoughts in favor of positive ones (see also Martin, 1996). Clinical Research: The Effectiveness of Humor Interventions The preceding experiments have provided consistent evidence that exposure to humorous stimuli positively affects psychological wellbeing. On the basis of these findings, one might expect that exposing people to humorous stimuli repeatedly over a period of time also would positively benefit psychological wellbeing. However, research on the effects of humor as an on-going clinical intervention have turned up mixed results. Several early studies have found minimal or no benefit of humor interventions (e.g., Adams & McGuire, 1986; Gelkopf, Kreitler, & Sigal, 1993; Rotton & Shats, 1996; White & Camerena, 1989). Gelkopf et al. (1993), for instance, showed patients with chronic schizophrenia in a psychiatric hospital 70 comedy movies or 70 nonhumorous dramatic movies over a 3-month period. After the treatment period, Gelkopf et al. compared the two groups on 21 measures relating to staff-rated and self-rated moods, psychiatric symptoms, physical health symptoms, physiological variables, and cognitive functioning. They found significant benefits of humor on only six measures, most of which involved perceptions of the patients by hospital staff. In particular, members of the staff rated patients in the humor condition as having lower levels of verbal hostility, anxiety/depression, and tension. Also, patients in the humor condition reported having greater social support from the staff. Gelkopf et al. acknowledged that these findings might reflect changes in the way staff members perceive patients, but not actual changes in the patients. Rotton and Shats (1996) found even fewer psychological benefits of humor. In their study, patients recovering from orthopedic surgery watched either four feature-length comedy movies, four dramatic but nonhumorous movies, or no movies over 2 days while recovering in the hospital. Rotton and Shats found no differences among patients in the humorous and nonhumorous movie conditions in levels of self-rated emotional distress and pain over the 2 days. However, participants in both movie conditions reported less distress and pain compared to those in the no-movie control condition, indicating a beneficial effect of watching movies of any kind, but no particular benefit of humor. More recently, a number of clinical studies, particularly in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, have shown that humor and laughter therapy protocols significantly improve psychological wellbeing by reducing depression and anxiety, and increasing positive mood, self-esteem, and perceived quality of life among elderly people (e.g., Chia-Jung, Chang, Tsai, & Wu, 2015; Ko & Youn, 2011; Mathieu, 2008; Suk, Min, & Heeok, 2013) and cancer patients (e.g., Demir, 2015; Cho & Oh, 2011; Kim, Kim, & Kim, 2015).

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In one study, for instance, Ko and Youn (2011) recruited 200 elderly participants (65 years or older) through a community center in Kaegu, South Korea. They randomly assigned 100 participants to a “Laughter Therapy” group and the other 100 to a “No Therapy” control group. The Laughter Therapy group received one hour of laughter therapy per week for four weeks consisting of the following protocol: Week 1: Participants watched a short video explaining laughter therapy. The moderator coached them to relax their facial muscles, clap their hands, say hello to one another, and laugh aloud while clapping their hands. The session ended with “laughter meditation.” Week 2: Participants engaged in singing and dancing that elicited laughter. Then they engaged in Kegel exercises to train pelvic muscles. Next, they watched the laughter therapy video again, laughed aloud while clapping their hands, and finally sang a song while dancing. Week 3: Participants started with singing a song. The moderator then taught them about the benefits of positive thinking. Next, participants watched the laughter therapy video again and then laughed aloud while clapping their hands. The session ended with laughter meditation. Week 4: Participants started by singing a song, and then laughed aloud while trying to pronounce “AhE-I-Oh-Woo.” The moderator taught them how to laugh heartily and how to produce laughs that sound like various animals. Next, they massaged each other’s shoulders and said “I love you” to one another. They finished the session by singing, laughing, and lastly, by meditating.

The results show that the Laughter Therapy protocol had a meaningful positive impact on participants’ psychological wellbeing over the 4 weeks. Participants in the Laughter Therapy condition experienced a significant reduction in depression and emotional problems and a significant increase in perceptions of both mental and physical health. Participants in the control condition experienced no such benefits over the 4 weeks. Kim et al. (2015) found similar benefits of a comparable 60-minute laughter therapy intervention administered to cancer patients once a day over 3 days. Participants experienced significant increases in positive mood states and self-esteem after completing the therapy; participants in the control group did not. From a researcher’s perspective, the studies by Ko and Youn (2011), Kim et al. (2015), and the other recent studies cited above present an important problem. It is impossible to ascertain the unique benefits of humor and laughter apart from the many other activities included in the therapy protocols. It is simply not clear how much humor and laughter contributed to the beneficial outcomes. Thus, as researchers, we cannot draw conclusions about the effects of humor and laughter on psychological wellbeing, specifically, from these studies. From a practitioner’s point of view, however, these studies reveal new and promising findings that have important clinical implications. They suggest that clinicians can use laughter and humor therapy protocols in a variety of settings as effective, practical interventions that have positive therapeutic outcomes. Furthermore, perhaps the therapeutic success of humor and laughter therapy reported in recent studies compared to earlier studies (e.g., Gelkopf et al., 1993; Rotton & Shatts, 1996) points to the importance of integrating humor and laughter into people’s daily routines and on-going interpersonal relationships. A test of Paul McGhee’s (1996, 2010) “Seven Humor Habits Program” could more clearly illuminate the effect of a clinical humor intervention (apart from other activities independent of humor) on psychological wellbeing. Paul McGhee (1996, 2010) developed

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his “Seven Humor Habits Program” (7HHP) to train people to sharpen their sense of humor by learning and practicing seven specific humor habits and skills ordered by difficulty from easiest to hardest: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

Adopting a playful attitude; Laughing more often; Laughing more heartily; Creating verbal humor; Looking for humor in everyday life; Laughing at yourself; Finding humor in the midst of stress.

People either use a manual to complete the program on their own or they complete the program in a group setting led by an instructor. McGhee proposed that the training program should positively affect psychological wellbeing. Specifically, it should (1) increase the frequency of positive emotions, (2) decrease the frequency of negative emotions, and (3) increase emotional resilience or the ability to cope with stress (Ruch & McGhee, 2014). A number of recent studies have tested the effectiveness of the program with healthy adults (Crawford & Caltabiano, 2011; Ruch, 2018) or clinically depressed patients (Falkenberg, Buchkremer, Bartels, & Wild, 2011). These different studies converge in showing that people who complete the 7HHP experience a number of positive psychological outcomes compared to those assigned to a control group. First, the program has resulted in long-term improvements in sense of humor as indicated by self-report and peer ratings (Ruch, 2018). Second, it has resulted in improvements in positive emotions like playfulness, cheerfulness, and mood (Falkenberg et al., 2011; Ruch, 2018), as well as optimism and self-efficacy (Crawford et al., 2011). Similarly, participants who completed the 7HHP showed decreases in negative emotions such as bad mood, depression (Crawford et al., 2011; Falkenberg et al., 2011; Ruch, 2018), anxiety, and perceived stress (Crawford et al., 2011). In summary, experimental investigations indicate that humor and laughter have beneficial short-term effects on psychological wellbeing. In addition, research on the effectiveness of humor interventions suggests that people can learn to better use humor in the course of their daily lives with a number of positive outcomes related to psychological wellbeing. Moreover, it appears that humor and laughter training can function as components of more comprehensive therapy programs. More research, however, is needed to determine the magnitude and duration of the benefits of humor interventions in clinical and nonclinical settings. Correlational Research Global sense of humor and psychological wellbeing. If engaging in humor in a given context benefits short-term psychological wellbeing, then it follows that people who more habitually engage in humor in their daily lives (i.e., those with a greater sense of humor) would experience more positive long-term psychological wellbeing. For instance, they should report feeling less depressed, anxious, and pessimistic, less likely to experience burnout and to develop psychiatric disorders, and they should have greater self-esteem, optimism, and overall feelings of wellbeing. Researchers have investigated these

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hypotheses by examining correlations between people’s scores on various measures of sense of humor and measures of psychological wellbeing. Overall, they have found equivocal results. Some studies on university students found that people who scored higher on a variety of different measures of sense of humor described in Chapter 4, The Personality Psychology of Humor, experienced less depression (Anderson & Arnoult, 1989; Nezu et al., 1988; Overholser, 1992; Porterfield, 1987; Safranek & Schill, 1982), mood disturbance (Labott & Martin, 1987; Lefcourt et al., 1995), and emotional burnout (Fry, 1995; Tumkaya, 2007), and greater self-esteem (Deaner & McConatha, 1993; Kuiper & Borowicz-Sibenik, 2005; Kuiper & Martin, 1993). Other studies, however, found no simple correlation between sense of humor and anxiety (Nezu et al., 1988), mood disturbance (R. A. Martin & Lefcourt, 1983), or positive mood (Kuiper, Martin, & Dance, 1992). Celso, Ebener, and Burkhead (2003) found that elderly residents reported higher levels of emotional health, positive mood, and zest for life to the extent they scored high on the Coping Humor Scale (CHS). Also, Simon (1990) found that noninstitutionalized elderly women and men scoring higher on the Situational Humor Response Questionnaire (SHRQ) and CHS experienced better morale, but not greater life satisfaction overall. In addition, a study of the relationship between humor and burnout among instructors in a nursing school found that higher scores on the CHS were related to significantly lower levels of depersonalization and higher levels of perceived personal accomplishment, but were unrelated to emotional exhaustion (Talbot & Lumden, 2000). Also, research involving large samples of adults in three different countries revealed that humor, measured as a character strength, was positively related to life satisfaction and psychological wellbeing (Peterson, Ruch, Beermann, Park, & Seligman, 2007; Ruch, Proyer, Harzer, Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2010). Whereas the preceding research was conducted with nonclinical samples, a few studies have also investigated whether psychiatric patients have lower sense of humor scores, on average, than do people without diagnosed psychiatric disorders. Freiheit, Overholser, and Lehnert (1998), for instance, compared a group of hospitalized adolescent psychiatric patients to a group of nonpsychiatric adolescents and found no differences in their average scores on the CHS or measures of humor creation ability and humor appreciation, casting some doubt on the benefits of humor for mental health (Freiheit et al., 1998). Similarly, a study of defensive styles in clinically depressed patients found no difference in coping humor between those who had recently attempted suicide and those who had not (Corruble, Bronnec, Falissard, & Hardy, 2004). Overall, then, there is little evidence that people with a better sense of humor are less likely to suffer psychological disorders. Indeed, some clinicians have pointed out that clinically depressed people do not necessarily display less humor than others, but their humor tends to be rather black, cynical, hostile, and excessively self-disparaging (e.g., Kantor, 1992). Among people diagnosed with clinical depression, those scoring lower on sense of humor measures tend to report greater emotional disturbance. In Freiheit et al.’s (1998) study, for instance, psychiatric patients scoring higher on the CHS experienced less depression and higher self-esteem. Finally, Kuiper, Martin, Olinger, Kazarian, and Jette (1998) found that clinically depressed adult psychiatric patients reported more positive moods to the extent they scored higher on sense of humor measures; sense of humor,

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however, did not relate to mood disturbance among schizophrenic patients (see also Gelkopf & Sigal, 1995). Overall, correlational evidence that sense of humor has mental health benefits is not overwhelming. Some correlations have been found between sense of humor and various measures of psychological wellbeing, but the associations tend to be weak and the findings have been somewhat inconsistent across studies. The sometimes weak and inconsistent associations between measures of sense of humor and psychological wellbeing can perhaps be explained by how psychological wellbeing and sense of humor relate to the two general personality dimensions, extraversion and neuroticism. Extraversion is defined by the general tendency to experience positive emotions, as well as by traits such as sociable, lively, and active. Neuroticism, which is unrelated to extraversion, involves emotional instability, moodiness, irritability, and the tendency to experience negative emotions, such as depression, anxiety, and hostility. Researchers have identified both extraversion and neuroticism, two dimensions of the Five Factor Model of Personality, as particularly important correlates of psychological wellbeing (e.g., Costa & McCrae, 1980; Diener & Lucas, 1999; Diener, Sandvik, Pavot, & Fujita, 1992; Gutie´rrez, Jimenez, Hernandez, & Puente, 2005; Hayes & Joseph, 2003). Hayes and Joseph (2003), for instance, reported that extraversion and neuroticism were the best predictors of scores on the Oxford Happiness Inventory. As discussed in Chapter 4, The Personality Psychology of Humor, however, most measures of sense of humor relate strongly to extraversion, but not so much to neuroticism. It is possible then, that the measures of sense of humor do not consistently relate to measures of psychological wellbeing because they do not reflect the characteristics of neuroticism, an important antecedent of psychological wellbeing. This raises the possibility that certain humor styles not reflected in global measures of sense of humor, that do relate to neuroticism (either positively or negatively), might also strongly and consistently relate to psychological wellbeing. Humor styles and psychological wellbeing. People use humor in their interactions with others in many different ways and for different purposes. As we saw in Chapter 8, The Social Psychology of Humor, humor serves numerous social functions, some that contribute to greater social cohesiveness and enhanced communication between people, and others that foster divisiveness and intergroup hostility. Although overall sense of humor may be weakly related to psychological wellbeing, as suggested by research described in the previous section, perhaps some of the ways people use humor strongly relate to positive psychological health, whereas other forms of humor may even be detrimental to psychological health. The idea that humor could relate both positively and negatively to mental health is consistent with early psychological theory. For instance, when Sigmund Freud (1928) referred to humor as the “highest of the defense mechanisms” (p. 216) and described it as “something fine and elevating” (p. 217), he was not speaking about humor in the broad sense that we generally use today; rather he was referring to a more specific type of humor, consistent with the terminology of the 19th century. As we saw in Chapter 1, Introduction to the Psychology of Humor, humor in this sense referred exclusively to a sympathetic, tolerant, and benevolent form of amusement, and was distinguished from wit, which was more sarcastic, biting, and cruel (Wickberg, 1998).

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In a similar way, Abraham Maslow (1954), Gordon Allport (1961), and Walter O’Connell (1976) suggested that especially well-adjusted people habitually engage in a particular type of humor that is characterized as nonhostile, philosophical, and selfdeprecating while remaining self-accepting. These authors viewed this healthy form of humor as relatively rare, in contrast with most of the humor occurring in everyday social interactions and in the media. Interestingly, they also suggested that healthy forms of humor are not necessarily extremely funny. Indeed, they might be more likely to trigger a chuckle than a hearty laugh. Maslow (1954) even suggested that particularly well-adjusted people, that he characterized as “self-actualizing,” would likely be perceived by the average person as “rather on the sober and serious side” (p. 223). These ideas suggest that psychological health relates not only to the presence of certain kinds of adaptive humor, but also to the absence of maladaptive forms. Thus, rather than regarding sense of humor as a unitary disposition that is exclusively adaptive and positive, as most previous researchers seemed to do (see Cann, Stilwell, & Taku, 2010), Martin et al. (2003) expanded the conceptualization of sense of humor based on these much earlier views. Martin et al. distinguished between four humor styles that reflect the ways people habitually use humor in daily life. Two are thought to be adaptive or beneficial for personal wellbeing (self-enhancing humor) or interpersonal relationships (affiliative humor), and the other two maladaptive or detrimental to personal wellbeing (self-defeating humor) or interpersonal relationships (aggressive humor; see Chapter 4: The Personality Psychology of Humor for a review). Martin et al. (2003) hypothesized that the two adaptive humor styles reflect elements of humor that, according to Allport and Maslow, characterize people that are particularly psychologically healthy. Martin et al. conceptualized self-enhancing humor as a strategy to regulate emotions and cope with stress (e.g., “My humorous outlook on life keeps me from getting overly upset or depressed about things”) and thus suggested that it might be particularly adaptive, i.e., relate more strongly to positive psychological wellbeing than even affiliative humor. As mentioned in Chapter 4, The Personality Psychology of Humor, Martin et al.’s (2003) HSQ measures these four distinct humor styles, which were not well differentiated by earlier measures of sense of humor. Previous measures, such as the CHS and MSHS, correlate with all four humor styles, indicating that they measure potentially unhealthy aggressive and self-defeating humor, as well as potentially healthy humor styles. This may account for the sometimes weak and inconsistent correlations between the CHS and MSHS and measures of psychological wellbeing. Other sense of humor measures such as the SHRQ, SHQ, and Cheerfulness Scale of the State-Trait Cheerfulness Inventory (STCI-T) positively correlate with affiliative and self-enhancing humor, but not with aggressive and self-defeating humor. Thus, although there is less evidence that these humor measures capture unhealthy uses of humor, the addition of the two negative humor styles in the HSQ might be useful for exploring negative consequences of humor that researchers could not address using previous measures. Research has consistently shown that the four different humor styles relate in very different ways to psychological wellbeing (e.g., Cann & Collette, 2014; Edwards & Martin, 2014; Ford et al., 2014; Ford, Lappi, & Holden, 2016; Frewen, Brinker, Martin, & Dozois, 2008; Kuiper, Grimshaw, Leite, & Kirsh, 2004; Martin et al., 2003; Saroglou & Scariot, 2002). In their initial studies, Martin et al. (2003) found that people scoring higher in

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affiliative and self-enhancing humor styles also reported higher self-esteem, more positive psychological wellbeing, and lower levels of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, selfenhancing humor related particularly strongly to these indices of psychological wellbeing. In contrast, those scoring higher in self-defeating humor reported higher levels of anxiety and depression, along with lower self-esteem and overall psychological wellbeing. Finally, people higher in aggressive humor and self-defeating humor reported higher levels of hostility and aggression. Thus, as expected, the relative absence of self-defeating and aggressive humor styles seems to be related to healthier psychological functioning. Furthermore, positive and negative humor styles relate in different ways to correlates of psychological wellbeing. Specifically, affiliative and self-enhancing humor styles positively correlate with higher self-esteem, better coping abilities, and judgments of self-competence, whereas self-defeating humor is associated with lower self-esteem (Galloway, 2010; Kuiper et al., 2004; Liu, 2012; Martin et al., 2003; Zeigler-Hill & Besser, 2011). Additionally, Yue, Hao, and Goldman (2010) found that affiliative and self-enhancing humor styles correlated positively with optimism and negatively with psychological distress (e.g., anxiety and depression). In contrast, aggressive and self-defeating humor styles correlated negatively with optimism and positively with psychological distress. Similarly, people high in affiliative and self-enhancing humor report less trait anxiety and depression; people high in selfdefeating humor exhibit a higher degree of trait anxiety and depression (Kuiper et al., 2004; Liu, 2012; Zeigler-Hill & Besser, 2011). Interestingly, aggressive humor does not seem to consistently relate to these more nuanced measures of psychological wellbeing (Kuiper et al., 2004). Recently, Cann, Stilwell, and Taku (2012) further delineated the relationship between humor styles and psychological wellbeing, or the general emotion of happiness. They suggested that the two self-directed humor styles (self-enhancing and self-defeating) are more strongly related to psychological wellbeing than are the other-directed humor styles (affiliative and aggressive). Cann et al. (2012) reported that when measures of subjective wellbeing were regressed onto all four humor styles simultaneously, only self-enhancing and self-defeating humor styles were significantly related to wellbeing. By viewing the stresses and difficulties of life from a humorous perspective, people with a selfenhancing humor style are able to maintain a positive subjective wellbeing even in the midst of adversity (Martin et al., 2003; Kuiper et al., 1993). In contrast, those with a selfdefeating humor style may be particularly unhappy because others tend to avoid interacting with them, leaving them feeling socially isolated and rejected (Kuiper & McHale, 2009). In addition to positively relating to psychological wellbeing, the two positive humor styles might mediate the relationship between personality traits and psychological wellbeing (see Fig. 9.2). Myers and Diener (1995) suggested that happy people tend to have four personality traits: extraversion, high self-esteem, optimism, and internal locus of control. These personality traits are thought to relate to psychological wellbeing through two different mechanisms (Lyubomirsky, Tkach, & DiMatteo, 2006; McCrae & Costa, 1991). First, they can function through a temperamental mechanism: they predispose people to feel positive or negative emotions that influence self-reported wellbeing or happiness. Second, they can function through an instrumental mechanism: personality traits predispose people to seek out certain situations or activities, which in turn influence wellbeing. Also, as we have

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FIGURE 9.2 Path model illustrating

Positive humor styles

Personality traits

that the relationship between personality traits and happiness is mediated by self-enhancing humor.

Psychological wellbeing

seen, happy people habitually engage in positive humor styles, particularly self-enhancing humor. Consistent with the premise that personality traits relate to happiness instrumentally through an active pursuit of positive experiences, Ford et al. (2016) found that the relationship between the four “happy personality traits” and psychological wellbeing is mediated by positive humor styles. That is, people with the four happy personality traits are happier because they engage in self-enhancing humor and affiliative humor in daily life—they maintain a humorous outlook on life, viewing adversity from a humorous perspective, and they use humor in interpersonal settings to enrich the quality of social relationships. Corroborating these findings, Lui (2012) found that the relationship between self-esteem and happiness was mediated by self-enhancing and affiliative humor styles, but not by self-defeating or aggressive humor styles. Similarly, in a study of affective styles and happiness, Ford et al. (2014) found that “approach-oriented” people, those scoring high on Carver and White’s (1994) Behavioral Activating System scale, were happier, in part, because they habitually used a self-enhancing humor style in daily life. Taken together, research suggests that engaging in positive humor styles, especially a self-enhancing humor style, functions as an instrumental strategy by which people attain happiness. Further, it appears that personality functions as a lens that colors the way people view themselves and social settings. The use of positive or negative forms of humor seems to follow from the valence of that general lens and thus contributes to a positive or negative sense of psychological wellbeing (Ford et al., 2016). Overall, correlational studies do not provide consistent and strong evidence that sense of humor, conceptualized as a global, unitary construct, is related to positive psychological wellbeing. It appears that sense of humor is best conceptualized, not as a unitary disposition that is exclusively positive, but rather as a multidimensional construct that can serve adaptive or maladaptive functions. From this perspective, research derived from Martin et al.’s (2003) humor styles model has shown that self-enhancing humor is an especially healthy humor style, relating most strongly to positive psychological wellbeing. In contrast, self-defeating humor appears to be an especially unhealthy humor style, relating most strongly to indices of psychological distress and lower levels of psychological health. Interestingly, aggressive humor seems to be largely unrelated to overall psychological wellbeing. Although earlier theorists such as Freud, Maslow, and Allport seemed to view aggressive forms of humor as being particularly problematic for overall psychological health, contemporary research findings using Martin et al.’s (2003) HSQ provide little support for this view. As we saw in Chapter 8, The Social Psychology of Humor, however, aggressive humor does seem to be detrimental to interpersonal relationships (Cann et al., 2011; Kuiper et al., 2010).

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Humor Helps People Cope With Stressful Events A second general way humor might benefit psychological (and physical) health is by mitigating the detrimental effects of stressful events. Research has shown that stressful events such as natural disasters, relationship conflicts, work pressures, and financial problems can adversely affect one’s mental health, producing emotional, cognitive, and behavioral disturbances and impairments (Johnson & Anderson, 1990; Sanderson, 2004). Over the years, however, many theorists have suggested that the ability to respond with humor in the face of stress and adversity may be an important and effective coping skill (Freud, 1928; Lefcourt, 2001; Lefcourt & Martin, 1986). Specifically, humor helps people reframe potentially negative, stressful events as less threatening, thus mitigating their negative effects on psychological wellbeing (Kugler & Kuhbandner, 2015; Samson & Gross, 2012; Strick et al., 2009). Accordingly, in this section we review (1) experimental research and (2) correlational research testing the “stress buffering” hypothesis that humor mitigates the negative effects of stressful events on psychological wellbeing. Humor

Stressful event

Psychological wellbeing

Experimental Research Herbert Lefcourt and Rod Martin (Lefcourt & Martin, 1986) conducted an early experiment to test whether humor manipulation would moderate the effect of a mild stressor on psychological wellbeing. They instructed university students to make up either a humorous narrative, a nonhumorous “intellectual” narrative, or no narrative while watching a silent film entitled Subincision, that depicts a rather graphic and painful circumcision ritual performed on adolescent boys in a tribe of Australian aborigines. The humor manipulation mitigated the effect of the film for women, but not for men. Women who made up a humorous narrative reported experiencing less negative emotion and displayed fewer behavioral indicators of distress (e.g., grimacing, hand-rubbing) while watching the film compared to women in the other two conditions. Men, on the other hand, exhibited minimal distress in all three conditions, suggesting that the film was not very stressful for them. Using a similar humor manipulation, Michelle Newman and Arthur Stone (1996) instructed male college students to create either a humorous or a serious narrative while watching a film depicting gruesome accidents in a lumber mill. Compared to those in the serious narrative condition, participants in the humorous condition reported less emotional distress and exhibited lower skin conductance and heart rate for up to 15 minutes after the film, indicating a reduced stress response (see also Lehman, Burke, Martin, Sultan, and Czech, 2001). In addition to having participants create humorous narratives during stressful situations, researchers have manipulated humor by exposing participants to humorous versus nonhumorous audiotapes (e.g., Yovetich, Dale, & Hudak, 1990), humorous versus nonhumorous videos (e.g., Abel & Maxwell, 2002; Cann et al., 2000; Cann, Hold, & Calhoun, 1999; White & Winzelberg, 1992), or cartoons versus other stimuli such as poems (e.g.,

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Ford et al., 2012; Trice, 1985). These experiments have shown that exposure to humorous stimuli has mitigated the effect of various stressful events (i.e., emotionally distressing films, frustrating tasks, an anticipated difficult exam, or electric shock) on psychological wellbeing. In the face of a stressful event, exposure to humorous stimuli enhances positive emotions (Cann et al., 1999) and reduces state anxiety and negative affect (Abel & Maxwell, 2002; Berk, 2000, 2006; Ford et al., 2012; Yovetich et al., 1990). Cann et al. (2000) extended this general line of research by suggesting that humor mitigates the effect of stress on depression and anxiety through different mechanisms. Cann et al. compared the effects of watching a humorous versus a neutral video either before or after watching a stressful film depicting scenes of death. Participants who watched the humorous video, either before or after the stressful film, reported lower levels of depression and anger, and more positive mood states compared to those who watched the neutral video. However, watching the humorous video alleviated anxiety-based negative affect only when participants watched it before the stressful film. Cann et al. thus proposed that humor mitigates the effects of a stressful event on general positive and negative affect versus anxiety-based affect through different mechanisms. Specifically, they suggested watching the humorous video elicited positive emotions that counteracted the negative feelings of depression and anger elicited by the stressful film. In contrast, watching the humorous video mitigated anxiety through a cognitive mechanism: it created a lens or mindset through which participants filtered their perception of the stressful film. Ford, Lappi, O’Connor, and Banos (2017) further extended this line of research by investigating the functions of humor styles conceptualized as externally activated variables. They focused specifically on the consequences of contextually activated self-enhancing humor. The overarching aim of their research was to test the possibility that engaging in selfenhancing humor in response to a stressful event results in less state anxiety. In one experiment, participants completed a role-play exercise in which they imagined they were about to take a stressful, difficult SAT-like math test. While anticipating taking the math test, participants in the self-enhancing humor condition read four cartoons and four jokes that poked fun at math tests and math in general to help them maintain a humorous, light-hearted view of the stressful situation. Participants in a second condition, the self-defeating humor condition, read four cartoons and four jokes that poked fun at their own math ability. Finally, participants in the no-humor control condition, did not read any jokes or cartoons while anticipating taking the math test. Next, participants completed Spielberger, Gorsuch and Lushene’s (1970) State Anxiety Scale. They found that participants who engaged in selfenhancing humor reported lower state anxiety compared to participants in the no-humor control condition and participants in the self-defeating humor condition. There was not a significant difference in reported state anxiety, however, between participants in the selfdefeating humor and no-humor control conditions. These findings suggest that engaging in self-enhancing humor, rather than just any humor, might be particularly effective at mitigating the negative effects of momentary stressors on state anxiety. More generally, Ford et al.’s findings suggest that humor styles can function as conscious adaptive strategies that people can adopt to regulate psychological wellbeing in a given situation. Consistent with this proposition, Maiolino and Kuiper (2016) found that engaging in a 5-minute exercise in which participants reflected on humor experiences over

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the previous 2 weeks in which they made others smile or laugh resulted in more positive affect, less negative affect, and a more positive life orientation. In summary, the experimental studies reviewed above demonstrate that humor positively affects psychological wellbeing by mitigating the negative impact of stressful events. It appears that humor (1) elicits positive emotions that counteract negative feelings that stressful events otherwise elicit and (2) creates a positive lens or frame of mind for interpreting a stressful event. We will further explore this possibility in a later section. However, manipulations of humor and stressful events in experimental settings only approximate the way humor and stressful events are experienced in daily life. It is therefore important to augment experimental findings with correlational research that examines the relationship between humor and stressful events as they naturally occur in daily life. We discuss this sort of research in the following section. Correlational Research The idea that humor helps people cope with stress suggests that people should suffer the adverse emotional consequences of stressful life events less to the extent they have a good sense of humor. Although people with a good sense of humor are just as likely as those with a poor sense of humor to experience stressors such as financial losses, occupational pressures, unemployment, death of a loved one, and relationship break-ups, their more frequent use of humor might enable them to cope more effectively and thus experience less emotional distress overall. According to this stress-buffering hypothesis, the correlation between the frequency or intensity of stressful events and psychological disturbance weakens as sense of humor increases. In other words, higher levels of stress are associated with less psychological disturbance among people who have a good sense of humor compared to those who do not (see Fig. 9.3). In their ground-breaking research, Martin and Lefcourt (1983) found consistent support for the stress-buffering hypothesis across three different studies. In two studies, participants with higher scores on different measures of sense of humor (i.e., SHRQ, CHS, and SHQ) reported less overall mood disturbance (e.g., depression, anxiety, tension, anger) upon recalling a number of major life stressors they had experienced the previous year. In the third study, Martin and Lefcourt conceptualized sense of humor as the ability to produce humor. They asked participants to create a humorous narrative while watching the stressful Subincision film. The results revealed a stress-buffering effect of humor production ability: participants who produced funnier narratives showed less emotional distress in response to the film. Martin and Lefcourt speculated that those people that were able to create funnier narratives in these mildly stressful conditions in the laboratory might also be the ones who tend to engage in humor more frequently during times of stress in their everyday lives, enabling them to cope more effectively, and therefore, become less emotionally distressed. A number of other studies subsequently supported the stress-buffering hypothesis, showing that sense of humor moderates the relationship between a number of different types of stressors and different indices of psychological wellbeing (e.g., Abel, 1998; Ford et al., 2004; Fritz, Russek, & Dillon, 2017; Fry, 1995; Kuiper, Dance, & Martin, 1992; Kuiper & Martin, 1998; Martin & Dobbin, 1988). Fry (1995), for instance, found that women business executives

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High

Mood disturbance

Low coping humor

High coping humor Low Low

High

Stressful events FIGURE 9.3

Stress-buffering effect of sense of humor. As the number of stressful events increases, people with higher scores on the CHS show less mood disturbance compared to those lower in coping humor. Source: Adapted from “Sense of humor as a moderator of the relation between stressors and moods,” by R. A. Martin and H. M. Lefcourt, 1983, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, p. 1313. Copyright 1983 by APA. Adapted with permission.

who scored higher on the CHS and SHRQ reported less emotional “burnout” and self-esteem impairment in response to the stressors of daily hassles (see also Tumkaya, 2007). In another study, Kuiper and Martin (1998b) asked adult men and women from the community to keep a 3-day record of each time they laughed, and to complete measures of the number of stressful events they experienced over the course of each day as well as a rating of their moods each evening. Interestingly, people who laughed more frequently over the 3 days did not necessarily experience more positive moods overall. Instead, the relationship between laughter and mood depended on the amount of stress participants experienced in a given day. Specifically, people who did not laugh much reported more negative moods when they experienced more daily stress. In contrast, people who laughed more often reported relatively positive moods regardless of the amount of stress they experienced in a given day. Finally, Ford, Ferguson, Brooks, and Hagadone (2004) explored the possibility that coping sense of humor, as measured by the CHS, buffers women from the stereotype-induced stress on their ability to perform well on math tests. In one study, female college students completed a 20-question mathematics test under conditions designed to either activate or not activate the cultural stereotype that women are poor in mathematics. In the stereotypethreat condition, Ford et al. informed participants that, “the test has been shown to be an excellent indicator of mathematical aptitude, and that research has shown that there are differences in how well men and women perform on the test.” In the no-stereotype-threat condition, they informed participants that the test examines the strategies people use to solve problems and that “People’s actual scores on the test are not meaningful. . . Also research has shown that there are no meaningful differences in how well men and women perform on the test.”

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In support of the stress-buffering hypothesis, all participants, regardless of their level of coping sense of humor, reported moderate levels of test anxiety in the no-stereotype-threat condition. However, in the stereotype-threat condition participants reported less test anxiety insofar as they were high in coping sense of humor (see Fig. 9.4). These results suggested that the use of humor in coping with stress may reduce the effects of stereotype threat on women’s mathematics-related anxiety and performance. It appears that one important way that humor mitigates the effects of stress on psychological wellbeing is by promoting a reappraisal of stressful events. Indeed, a number of studies have shown that because humor involves the adoption of a nonserious humor mindset, it provides a way for people to reframe stressful events in a more light-hearted, less threatening way and consequently experience less emotional distress (e.g., Abel, 2002; Cann & Collette, 2014; Cuevas Toro, Torrecillas, Medina, & Diaz Batanero, 2008; Dozois, Martin, & Bieling, 2009; Fritz et al., 2017; Kuiper et al., 1993; Kuiper & McHale, 2009; Kuiper, McKenzie, & Belanger, 1995; Ojeda & Liang, 2014; Riolli & Savicki, 2010; see Kuiper, 2012, for a review). Consistent with this idea, Walter O’Connell (1976) described humorous people as being “skilled in rapid perceptual-cognitive switches in frames of reference” (p. 327), an ability which presumably enables them to reappraise a problem situation, distance themselves from its immediate threat, and thereby reduce the often paralyzing feelings of anxiety and helplessness. Similarly, Rollo May (1953) stated that humor has the function of “preserving the self. . . It is the healthy way of feeling a ‘distance’ between one’s self and the problem, a way of standing off and looking at one’s problem with perspective” (p. 54). In one classic study, Kuiper et al. (1993) examined the relationship between a coping sense of humor (measured using the CHS) and university students’ cognitive appraisals of their first midterm examination in an Introductory Psychology course. They found that 5

State anxiety

4

3 Threat No-threat

2

1 Low

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Coping sense of humor FIGURE 9.4 Regression lines for state anxiety as a function of coping sense of humor in the stereotype-threat and no-stereotype-threat conditions. Source: Adapted from “Coping sense of humor reduces effects of stereotype threat on women’s math performance,” by T. E. Ford et al., 2004, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, p. 643. Copyright 2004 by Sage Publications. Adapted with permission.

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prior to the exam, students higher in coping sense of humor appraised it positively, as a challenge, rather than negatively, as a threat. Following the exam, those higher in coping sense of humor appraised the exam as being more important and positively challenging to the extent they had done well on it. They also used their performance to adjust their expectations of how well they would do on a subsequent exam in a realistic manner. In contrast, those lower in coping sense of humor rated the exam as more important to the extent they had performed poorly rather than well on it, and failed to use their performance to adjust their expectations about their performance on a subsequent exam. Those with a greater tendency to use humor to cope with stress appear to appraise potentially stressful situations as more challenging rather than threatening, and to evaluate their own performance and adjust their expectations for future performance in a more realistic and self-protective manner. Kuiper et al. (1995) also investigated the relation between sense of humor and cognitive appraisals of stressful events. In one study, participants indicated the extent to which they were able to change their perspective or point of view when attempting to cope with stressful events they recalled experiencing over the past month. Participants with higher scores on the CHS reported that they were more likely to consciously reappraise problems and stressors in ways that resulted in more positive perceptions of the event. In a second study, they examined participants’ cognitive appraisals of a challenging picture drawing task. Participants higher in coping sense of humor appraised the task as being more of a positive challenge and less of a negative threat, and put more effort into accomplishing it. These findings provide further evidence that people with a better sense of humor are more adept at reframing stressful events in less threatening ways. As Fritz et al. (2017) noted, the use of self-enhancing humor might be particularly instrumental in facilitating a cognitive reappraisal of stressful events, thereby mitigating the effects of those events on psychological wellbeing. Indeed, people protect their psychological wellbeing by using self-enhancing humor as a means of reframing stressors in a more positive, light-hearted way (e.g., Cann & Etzel, 2008; Cann et al., 2010). Taking a unique approach, Katerina Rnic, David Dozois, and Rod Martin demonstrated that negative cognitive appraisals have a detrimental impact on psychological wellbeing in the absence of self-enhancing humor (Rnic, Dozois, & Martin, 2016). Specifically, Rnic et al. examined the role of humor styles in mediating the relationship between cognitive distortions and depression. Cognitive distortions are negatively biased errors in thinking that are automatically activated in response to certain events, that make one vulnerable to depressive symptoms (Dozois & Beck, 2008). Participants first completed Covin, Dozois, Ogniewicz, and Seeds’ (2011) Cognitive Distortion Scale, a scale that measures the frequency of different categories of distortions (e.g., misreading, emotional reasoning, all-or-nothing thinking) that people experience across social and achievement-related situations. Then, participants completed Martin et al.’s (2003) HSQ and finally the Beck Depression Inventory (Beck, Steer, & Brown, 1996). Rnic et al. found that an infrequent use of self-enhancing humor mediated the relationship between cognitive distortions and depression. An inability to engage in self-enhancing humor was related to cognitive distortions, which in the absence of self-enhancing humor, were associated with depression.

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Although many correlational studies have supported the hypothesis that sense of humor (particularly a self-enhancing humor style) can function to buffer one from the adverse psychological effects of stress, some other investigations, using early unidimensional humor measures, have failed to replicate these findings (e.g., Anderson & Arnoult, 1989; Korotkov & Hannah, 1994; Labott & Martin, 1987; Overholser, 1992; Porter, 1987; Safranek & Schill, 1982). In one study, for instance, Albert Porterfield (1987) did not find evidence that sense of humor as measured by the CHS and SHRQ moderated the relationship between the life stressors that Lefcourt and Martin (1983) considered and depression or symptoms of physical illness. Overall, correlational studies have largely corroborated experimental research in support of the stress-buffering hypothesis that humor helps people cope with stress. Furthermore, it has been instrumental in identifying the psychological mechanisms (e.g., cognitive reappraisal) by which humor helps people cope with stress. However, like correlational research on the direct relationship between sense of humor and subjective well-being, some studies conceptualizing sense of humor as a global, unitary construct have failed to support the stress-buffering hypothesis. The inconsistent correlational findings highlight the importance of conceptualizing sense of humor as a multidimensional construct that can serve adaptive or maladaptive functions. They also highlight the need for more research to discern which uses of humor facilitate coping with different types of stressors to mitigate different negative outcomes (Box 9.1).

Humor Facilitates Healthy Relationships As we have seen throughout this book, humor typically occurs in the context of social interaction. Until recently, however, as in other areas of the psychology of humor, much of the research on humor and mental health has tended to ignore its inherently social nature. Viewing humor as a form of interpersonal interaction allows us to think about how it may contribute to social relationships, which in turn may have an impact on the individual’s psychological health. Healthy interpersonal relationships

Humor

Psychological wellbeing

Research suggests that social relationships have a profound influence on one’s level of happiness and general psychological wellbeing (for a review, see Berscheid & Reis, 1998). Summarizing the research in this area, Harry Reis (2001) stated that “there is widespread evidence that socially involved persons are happier, healthier, and live longer than socially isolated persons do” (p. 58). For instance, married people, on average, tend to have better mental and physical health than do unmarried people. Research has also shown that

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A C O N V E R S AT I O N W I T H D R . N I C H O L A S K U I P E R Dr. Nick Kuiper has been a psychology professor at the University of Western Ontario since 1978. His primary research interests focus on individual differences in sense of humor, with implications for resiliency, stress, coping, social interactions, physical health, and psychological wellbeing. Further research has examined humor use in romantic relationships, the links between humor and bullying in childhood, implicit theories of humor, and the associations between humor styles and psychopathology. Over the past several years, Dr. Kuiper has also been the editor for three special journal issues on humor research and theory, published in Europe’s Journal of Psychology.

Authors: How did you first become interested in humor as a topic for psychological inquiry? Nick Kuiper: In the early 1990s, while I was conducting research on depression, I would often come across the common perception that if one is very depressed they cannot experience humor. This popular belief was often coupled with the further proposal that depression can be effectively “fought” by using humor. However, there was very little empirical evidence to support either of these assertions. In response, I began conducting research examining links between humor and depression by using the CHS. This early research was our first empirical examination of associations between humor and various facets of psychological wellbeing, including cognitive appraisals. Over the years we expanded this work by conducting studies that explored how the different humor styles (e.g., self-enhancing humor versus aggressive humor) might either be facilitative or detrimental to psychological wellbeing. Authors: Researchers have studied humor as an individual difference variable (sense of humor) using correlational methods and as a situational variable using experimental methods. What do you see as the benefits and drawbacks to each approach in the study of humor and psychological wellbeing? Nick Kuiper: Our own research program has generally focused on correlational techniques to study humor and psychological wellbeing. I would suggest, however, that a synthesis of both correlational and experimental approaches would be most beneficial for furthering our scientific understanding of the role of humor in wellbeing. One advantage of correlational approaches is that they can be very useful during the initial stages of research to determine whether a proposed relationship is actually evident in the “real world.” In humor research, for example, the correlational approach has effectively identified links between different facets of humor (e.g., various humor styles) and components of psychological wellbeing (e.g., resiliency, depression). A drawback of this correlational approach, however, is that it may be much less successful at identifying why certain relationships are evident. Here, the use of an experimental approach has the advantage, as it can actually manipulate the constructs being considered. One example would be a program that teaches

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coping humor skills to groups of individuals, and then determines whether this results in more positive wellbeing, compared to those not taught these skills. The advantage of this experimental approach is that it moves beyond the descriptive correlational level to allow inferences about causality. The experimental approach thus allows the humor researcher to empirically assess the potential applicability of psychological processes that may account for the pattern of humor findings obtained. Overall, however, both approaches are still required to make the fullest scientific progress in this domain of research. Authors: What would you say have been the most important developments in research on the relationship between humor and psychological wellbeing that you have seen over the course of your career? Nick Kuiper: The most important development I have seen in my career is the greatly increased recognition and acceptance of the proposal that sense of humor should be thought of as a multidimensional construct that has both adaptive and maladaptive components. Thus, prior to Rod Martin’s (2003) humor styles model and construction of the Humor Styles Questionnaire (HSQ), research on the relationship between humor and psychological wellbeing was often hampered by the lack of an integrated conceptually based multidimensional model of sense of humor. Although individual facets of sense of humor have certainly been recognized and researched prior to the emergence of the HSQ, the impact of this work was often limited by the lack of a comprehensive underlying theoretical model. Martin’s humor styles model overcame this limitation by much more clearly detailing how some aspects of sense of humor can be adaptive for wellbeing (i.e., self-enhancing and affiliative humor styles), whereas other aspects can be quite maladaptive (i.e., self-defeating and aggressive humor). Coupled with the development of the HSQ, this humor styles model now provides a psychometrically sound measure that can readily assess four of the major dimensions of sense of humor. This theoretically based assessment package of humor styles literally opened up research in this domain. There are now hundreds of published humor studies that have looked at how the different humor styles relate to various constructs of interest, including psychological wellbeing. Authors: What do you see as the most significant challenges that psychologists studying humor and psychological wellbeing have to address in future research? Nick Kuiper: In the past decade there has been a veritable explosion of research on humor and psychological wellbeing. Much of this work has benefited from the use of contemporary multidimensional measures of sense of humor, such as the HSQ. These types of self-report measures have provided humor researchers around the world with a valid, reliable, and efficient means of assessing several facets of humor. Using these measures, researchers have now accumulated considerable evidence that humor is associated with wellbeing, and that this association is relatively complex. Perhaps the next big challenge facing humor investigators is to move beyond this descriptive correlational phase of research by beginning to use more experimental paradigms to investigate potential causality issues (i.e., humor can produce changes in

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wellbeing). This is a daunting task that requires longitudinal investigations that combine both experimental and correlational design elements, in order to more fully test causality claims. Nested within this movement forward is the challenge to more fully develop the theoretical models that can guide this research. In particular, these models need to come to grips with fuller explanations of the psychological processes or mechanisms that may cause humor to produce changes in wellbeing (be they positive or negative). Although we currently have an inkling of what these processes might entail (e.g., distancing), future investigators must elaborate and refine these models to more fully account for a causality perspective. Authors: Do you have a favorite joke? Nick Kuiper: Unfortunately, I do not. I have a pronounced inability to remember jokes and rarely tell them. I will readily laugh at a good joke but usually cannot retain it to tell to others. My use of humor primarily resides in spontaneous banter and funny comments about the various interactions and life circumstances I may find myself in.

people with better social skills, which enables them to form close and satisfying relationships, are less likely to experience depression, anxiety disorders, and other forms of psychological disturbance (Segrin, 2000). Meaningful relationships with others are also important for the provision of social support, which can protect the individual from the adverse effects of stress (Berscheid & Reis, 1998). On the other side of the coin, there is an abundance of research showing that loneliness is related to unhappiness and a range of mental and physical problems (Berscheid & Reis, 1998). As we discussed in Chapter 8, The Social Psychology of Humor, humor plays an important role in the initiation and maintenance of satisfying and enduring relationships, such as those with spouses, close friends, and colleagues at work (Shiota et al., 2004). These relationships, in turn, can have an impact on people’s psychological wellbeing. Besides enhancing one another’s enjoyment of the relationship through playful interactions, positive humor shared among relationship partners during times of stress can be an important way they help each other to cope. Thus, positive humorous interactions between partners can be a way of regulating emotion, augmenting positive enjoyment, and reducing feelings of distress originating either within or outside the relationship itself. As we have seen throughout this book, humor typically occurs in the context of social interactions, and this is also likely true of the use of humor in coping. As Linda Henman (2001) demonstrated in her article on the study of POWs in Vietnam, individuals usually do not begin laughing or cracking jokes about their difficult or hopeless circumstances when they are all by themselves. Instead, coping humor typically takes the form of joking comments and other types of playful communication that individuals share with one another during or shortly after the occurrence of stressful events.

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For example, by cracking jokes with one another during the course of a particularly stressful work situation, coworkers might alter their appraisals of the situation and thereby minimize negative emotional consequences. Alternatively, while sitting together in a coffee shop at the end of a stressful day, they might begin jesting and laughing about some of the day’s events, enabling them to relieve tension and manage residual emotions. Similarly, coping humor can arise when one person is describing his or her experiences of a recent or ongoing stressful situation to a close friend or romantic partner. Humor could provide the stressed individual an alternative way of looking at the stressor, alleviating feelings of distress and enhancing positive emotions. Thus, as sociologist Linda Francis (1994) pointed out, people might use humor to manage other people’s emotions as well as their own. Only a few studies to date have directly examined the interpersonal functions of humor as a coping mechanism. In one such study, Sharon Manne and her colleagues (2004) observed 10-minute interactions between women who were undergoing treatment for breast cancer and their spouses. Manne et al. instructed couples to discuss a cancer-related issue identified by the patient as being a problem and about which she wanted support from her spouse. They coded each turn of speech for various types of social interaction, including benign, nonsarcastic humor. Manne et al. found that when husbands responded with humor to their wife’s self-disclosures, the patients subsequently reported significantly lower levels of distress about their cancer. These findings suggest that a husband’s sensitive use of humor in response to his wife sharing her worries and concerns about breast cancer may lessen the threat of the cancer, helping her to gain perspective and reduce feelings of distress. Research by John Gottman and his colleagues (1998) also shows how humor may be a way of regulating emotions in one’s marriage partner. This study found that wives’ use of nonsarcastic (affiliative) humor while discussing current marital problems with their husbands helped their husbands to remain emotionally calm (as indicated by heart rate data) and to engage in problem-solving efforts. Accordingly, wives’ use of such positive forms of humor was predictive of greater marital stability over the following 6 years. Amy Bippus (2000a) also investigated people’s experiences when their friends use humor to comfort them during times of stress. Bippus asked university students to complete a questionnaire about a recent time when a friend had used humor to help them cope with an emotionally upsetting experience. Bippus found that the effectiveness of the friend’s humor in helping the participant cope depended on the quality of the humor (i.e., funniness and appropriate timing), its relevance to the problem, and the degree to which the friend seemed to use it purposefully. In addition, humor responses appeared to be most effective when they were given in the context of a relationship in which humor is a typical part of the interactions between the partners, where both partners normally use humor in coping