Research Team Presentations

Psychology of Humor Research Team
Barney Beins


(Go to the Research Team Page.)

2013 Convention of the Eastern Psychological Association
New York, New York

Beins, B. C., *Mendes, N. D., & *Leibel, D. K. (2013, March). The tangled web of humor, fear of laughter, and sexism. Poster session at the annual convention of the Eastern Psychological Association, New York, NY.

Personalapproaches to humor color our responses to jokes. Some people respond positively to humor, whereas others respond negatively. We investigated how approaches to humor and personal relationship style relate to sexist attitudes and victimizing humor.1, 4, 10 Results revealed that fear of being laughed at (gelotophobia) is associated with sexist attitudes but not self-reported sense of humor or funniness. Enjoyment of laughing at others (katagelasticism) is also correlated with sexist attitudes and humor production. Those who enjoy being laughed at (gelotophiles) show the most positive overall patterns of responses regarding sexism and humor. Participants’ humor traits did not relate to how offensive they perceived jokes to be but some humor traits were associated with level of perceived humor of victimizing jokes.

 


2012 Convention of the New England Psychological Association
Worcester, MA

*Doychak, K., *Ferrante, P., *Herschman, C., *Leibel, D., *Mendes, N., *Sherry, S., & Beins, B. C. (2012, October). Sense of Humor and Predictors of Gelotophobia. Presented at the annual convention of the New England Psychological Association, Worcester, MA.

Humor and laughter generally exert positive feelings on people in social situations. However, people differ in their levels of enjoyment of laughing at others and being laughed at. Gelotophilia is the enjoyment of being laughed at and katagelasticism is the enjoyment of laughing at others. Some people however do not respond positively to humor. Gelotophobia, the fear of being laughed at, is associated with negative personality traits. The results from our study revealed that gelotophobia scores correlated with katagelasticism, suggesting that even though gelotophobes respond negatively to laughter in general, they enjoy laughing at others.

 

 


Beins, B. C., *Doychak, K., *Ferrante, P., *Herschman, C., & *Sherry, S. (2012). Jokes and Terror Management Theory: Humor May Not Help Manage Terror. Presented at the annual convention of the New England Psychological Association, Worcester, MA.

Terror management theory (TMT) posits that people must cope with awareness of their mortality, predicting that those high in neuroticism cope poorly. Prior research revealed that sex-themed humor generates thoughts of death in high-neuroticism participants. In this study, participants rated jokes with neutral, death, or sex themes and completed word fragments that could generate death-related or neutral words. High-neuroticism participants produced more death-related words than those low in neuroticism. Furthermore, neutral jokes led to fewer death-related words than sex- and death-themed jokes, which did not differ. The results have implications for the relation between anxiety and humor.


2012 Convention of the Eastern Psychological Association
Pittsburgh, PA

*Doychak, K., *Herschman, C., *Ferrante, P., & Beins, B. C. (2012, March). Sense of humor: Are we all above average? Poster session at the annual convention of the Eastern Psychological Association, Pittsburgh, PA.

People attribute certain personality characteristics to others, depending on the perceived sense of humor of those others. In this study, we investigated whether participants would attribute the same characteristics to themselves that previous research has shown that they attribute to others. The results revealed that personality stereotypes associated with others show some similarity to self-reported traits. In addition, contrary to numerous claims, people can accurately indicate their relative level of sense of humor.

*Sherry, S., *LeFebvre, J., *Johnson, B., *Albowicz, C., & Beins, B. C. (2012, March). Taking offense: Personality and gender-based jokes. Poster session at the annual convention of the Eastern Psychological Association, Pittsburgh, PA.

Humor is a multidimensional construct. We investigated two dimensions associated with humor: funniness and offensiveness. For individual jokes, ratings of offensiveness and humor were independent. Just because jokes were seen as offensive does not mean people did not enjoy them. A preference for jokes victimizing the opposite sex also emerged, consistent with previous research. In combination with previous research, we concluded that when people are strongly primed to see offensive jokes, they seem to expect the worst and do not see mildly victimizing jokes as offensive; with a weak prime, they see more offensiveness. Level of sexism moderates these effects.


2011 Convention of the New England Psychological Association
Fairfield, CT

*Russell, P., *Lefebvre, J., & Beins, B. C. (2011, October). Neuroticism and the factor structure of the sense of humor. Poster presentation at the annual convention of the New England Psychological Association, Fairfield, CT.

There is a tendency for participants scoring high in neuroticism to show lower levels of sense of humor as measured on inventories like the Multidimensional Sense of Humor Scale (MSHS). In particular, the dimension of use of comfort with humor has been linked to neuroticism, with high levels of neuroticism being related to low levels of comfort with humor. Participants with high neuroticism scores also do not like jokes featuring incongruity or uncertainty. This combination of studies suggests that people high in neuroticism either interpret jokes differently than others or categorize them differently. This study investigated the differences that emerged as a result of responses to the MSHS. According to the pattern of results of previous research, we predicted that there would be a different factor structure to items on the MSHS.

*Dietz, A., *Albowicz, C., & Beins, B. C. (2011, October). Neuroticism and sex-related jokes: Sex primes mortality salience. Poster presentation at the annual convention of the New England Psychological Association, Fairfield, CT.

Terror management theory (TMT)deals with the ability to deal with death mortality. Research has demonstrated that primes of physical aspects of sex lead to thoughts of death among high-neuroticism participants. We investigated whether sex-related jokes would stimulate thoughts of mortality salience as predicted by TMT. Results supported TMT, showing that participants with high levels of neuroticism were more likely to complete word fragments with death-related words than were low or medium level participants, even though different levels of neuroticism were not associated with differential levels of sense of humor

 

2011 Convention of the Eastern Psychological Association
Cambridge, MA


Ippolito, A., & Beins, B. C. (2011, March). Personality and humor: How accurate are our reflections of ourselves? Presented at the annual convention of the Eastern Psychological Association, Cambridge, MA.

People attribute certain personality characteristics to others, depending on the perceived sense of humor of those others. In this study, we investigated whether participants would attribute the same characteristics to themselves that previous research has shown that they attribute to others. The results revealed that personality stereotypes associated with others show some similarity to self-reported traits. In addition, contrary to numerous claims, people can accurately indicate their relative level of sense of humor.

2010 Convention of the Eastern Psychological Association
Brooklyn, NY

*Carella, K. M., & Beins, B. C. (2010, March). Expectations of Offensiveness in Humor–A Reverse Priming Effect. Poster presented at the annual convention of the Eastern Psychological Association, Brooklyn, NY.

Perceptions of humor are highly affected by context. For example, previous research has documented that expectations play a role in the perception of a joke’s funniness (Wimer & Beins, 2008). That is, when participants expected jokes that were supposed to be funny, those participants rated the jokes more highly compared to a group that expected jokes that were not very funny. The question here is whether the perceived offensiveness of humor is similarly modifiable. If the salience of offensiveness of jokes is raised, will participants regard those jokes as being more offensive than if the offensiveness is not highlighted?

Participants rated 40 jokes on the funniness and on the offensiveness of the jokes (1 = Not very funny/offensive; 7 = Very funny/offensive). In the primed, high salience condition, participants rated each joke on funniness, then rated on how offensive the joke was to them, how offensive it would be to women, and how offensive it would be to men. Finally, they rated the joke as to how likely they would be to retell the joke. In the nonprimed, low salience condition, participants simply rated jokes as to how funny and how offensive they were to them as individuals.

Offensiveness Ratings
When offensiveness was highlighted by repeated focus on offensiveness ratings, participants responded that the jokes were not terribly offensive. Also, participants who were not primed saw more offensiveness. Thus, there is a reversed priming effect, a finding we observed in a preliminary study (Donkor, Hull, Laport, Nagengast, O’Connor, & Beins, 2006) such that expectations of offensiveness in mildly offensive jokes led to lower judgments of offensiveness. Participants rated jokes with female victims as more offensive than jokes with male victims. This result differs from some historical results in which FV jokes were preferred over MV jokes (e.g., Losco & Epstein, 1975). On average, women saw the jokes as more offensive than men did, although women rated MV jokes extremely low in offensiveness.

Funniness Ratings
When the salience of offensiveness was highlighted, participants responded that the jokes were not as funny compared to participants who were not primed. Furthermore, FV jokes were comparable in funniness overall to MV jokes and, on average, men enjoyed the jokes more than women . At the same time, there was a significant interaction between Joke Victim and Sex of Participant. This interaction revealed that women preferred jokes with male victims, whereas men preferred jokes with female victims.

As we have found in previous research (Beins et al., 2005; Donkor et al., 2006), members of each sex in the present study enjoyed jokes that victimize the other sex. They also took greater offense to jokes that victimized their own sex. More strikingly, however, participants in the present study for whom the offensiveness of the jokes was salient concluded that the jokes were not as offensives a control group did. This finding suggests that participants may have generated expectations that were not met regarding how offensive the jokes were. For reasons of decorum and ethics, our jokes were mildly offensive at most. So after creating the expectation of offensive jokes, we may have disappointed the participants who then concluded that the jokes were not that bad after all. In contract, when offensiveness was not particularly salient to the participants, they may have been taken aback, concluding that the jokes, indeed, were offensive. This reverse priming effect appears to hold when the priming is indirect, as in the present study with repeated ratings of offensiveness for each joke, or when it participants hear directly to expect that the jokes will (or will not) be offensive (Donkor, et al., 2006). At the same time, when offensiveness was salient, participants did not find the jokes as funny as when the salience of offensiveness was minimal. It may be the case that jokes are funny when they have a little “bite” to them. The dimension of offensiveness appears to operate differently than does the dimension of funniness. As Wimer and Beins (2008) found, giving a direct message about how funny to expect a set of jokes to be led to movement of ratings in the direction of expectation, even when the prime was implausible (jokes that were purported to be “hysterically funny” or “horribly unfunny”). With implausibility, participants simply ignored the prime.

In the present study, participants did not ignore the prime. Rather they used it to set up expectations doomed not to be fulfilled, moving their ratings of offensiveness in the direction opposite the prime. The reason for the differences in patterns of results may be due to the purely cognitive funniness rating task, but a more emotional offensiveness rating task. This hypothesis remains to be investigated.

*Emas, A., & Beins, B. C. (2010, March). Sexism and Priming for Offensiveness in Humor. Poster presented at the annual convention of the Eastern Psychological Association, Brooklyn, NY.

Perceptions of humor are highly affected by context and also by individual differences in personality characteristics. The question addressed here is whether the perceived offensiveness and funniness of humor are related to whether the potential offensiveness of humor is made salient for participants (priming) and whether humor appreciation is related to a person’s degree of sexism. Our data revolve around two types of sexism. Hostile sexism (HS) reflects antipathy toward women, whereas benevolent sexism (BS) relates to more positive attitudes that are seen as restrictive toward women. Participants completed the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory, then rated 40 jokes on the funniness and on the offensiveness of the jokes (1 = Not very funny/offensive; 7 = Very funny/offensive). In the primed, high salience condition, participants rated each joke on funniness, then rated on how offensive the joke was to them, how offensive it would be to women, and how offensive it would be to men. Finally, they rated the joke as to how likely they would be to retell the joke. In the nonprimed, low salience condition, participants simply rated jokes as to how funny and how offensive they were to them as individuals.

Not surprisingly, women showed significantly lower levels of sexism than men. However, nearly 20% of women scored higher than the mean score for men on hostile sexism (HS) and just over 45% of women scored higher than the mean benevolent sexism (BS) score for men. In addition, the correlation between levels of HS and BS was high. BS levels were slightly, but significantly, higher than HS levels This sexism difference reflected a tendency for participants to embrace positive sentiments toward women that can be restrictive (e.g., Many women have a quality of purity that few men possess) relative to more hostile sentiments (e.g., Most women interpret innocent remarks or acts as being sexist). Nevertheless, on BS, women and men were not markedly different, whereas there was a notable discrepancy on HS scores between women and men. In essence, both women and men were accepting of benevolently sexist statements, but women were much less accepting of hostile statements than men were.

In general, high levels of HS were associated with higher ratings of a FV joke’s funniness and lower perception of its offensiveness. With respect to levels of BS, the same pattern emerged as for HS, but the correlations were lower both for funniness and for offensiveness. Thus, the greater the level of sexism a person showed, the higher the funniness ratings and the lower the offensiveness ratings for the female victimizing jokes. Participants with low levels of sexism were likely to rate jokes as not being very funny and as being more offensive.

When we analyzed the results as a function of participants being primed versus not primed regarding offensiveness, we discovered different patterns of results. When women were primed, their level of BS predicted whether their rating of offensiveness both of female-victimizing (FV) jokes and of male-victimizing (MV) jokes, but not when they were not primed. This result suggests that women may not respond to the offensive potential of jokes unless they are primed to do so. In contrast, a woman’s level of HS correlated with perceived offensiveness, regardless of whether she was in the primed or nonprimed condition. The differences in correlations related to levels of BS and HS suggest that benevolent sexism may reflect more malleable attitudes that could change depending on context, whereas hostility may be less flexible.

When men were primed about potential offensiveness of the humor, there was a positive correlation between BS score and ratings of humor and of and offensiveness for FV jokes. When men were not primed, their level of BS did not correlate significantly with ratings of funniness or of offensiveness. For men, the correlations regarding HS scores generally matched the patterns for women, although in the nonprimed condition, the relation between HS score and offensiveness ratings for FV jokes was nonsignificant. Nonprimed, high hostility men did not perceive the offensiveness that primed men.

Priming appears to have different effects on perceptions of funniness and offensiveness of jokes. To understand the relation between the context established by priming and the reactions to the female-victimizing humor, one profits from knowing about a person’s sexist attitudes.


2009 Convention of the Eastern Psychological Association

*Wells, N. M., *D'annunzio, S. S., *Harris, T. M., *Robbins, J. B., *Doyle, H. E., *Pfadt-Trilling , A. M., & Beins, B. C. (2009, March). Sense of Humor and Reactions to Offensive Jokes. Poster presented at the annual convention of the Eastern Psychological Association, Pittsburgh, PA.

Humor is a multidimensional construct. We investigated two dimensions associated with humor: funniness and offensiveness. In addition, the study examined the effects of the participant’s sex and the sex of the joke’s victim. Previous research has shown that ratings of funniness and of offensiveness were uncorrelated, but that participants prefer jokes that victimize the other sex. Our results showed that, for individual jokes, ratings of offensiveness and humor were essentially independent for male victimizing jokes but not for female victimizing jokes, which were viewed more negatively. That is, perceived offensiveness did not predict how participants rated funniness for male-victimizing jokes, but level of perceived offensiveness did predict ratings of female-victimizing jokes. Regarding sense of humor, participants with a low productive sense of humor (vs. high) perceived jokes as more offensive. Generally, participants preferred jokes which victimized the opposite sex. However, men viewed male-victimizing jokes almost as positively as women, whereas women found female-victimizing jokes to be much less funny than men did. Female participants found male-victimizing jokes relating to sex especially funny. Male participants rated jokes referring to women’s gender roles to be funniest. The preference for jokes victimizing the opposite sex was consistent with previous research. In general, participants did not find the jokes very offensive, probably because of the methodology used in the study.

*Gordon, E. D., *Emas, A. B., *Nutter, G. A., *Rugg, J. C., *McCarthy, C. A., *O’Reilly, D. M., & Beins, B. C. (2009, March). Why did the man cross the road? The effects of sexist attitudes on offensive gender-based humor. Poster presented at the annual convention of the Eastern Psychological Association, Pittsburgh, PA.

This study investigated the relation between sexist attitudes and enjoyment of gender-based humor. A total of 83 volunteers completed the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory and rated 40 verbal jokes involving stereotypical roles. Participants rated jokes on funniness and offensiveness to themselves, to men in general, and to women in general. The results revealed that participants found female-victimizing jokes more offensive than male-victimizing jokes, although there was no difference in perceived offensiveness by female and male participants. Each sex was protective of itself, with women showing greater liking for male-victimizing jokes than for female-victimizing jokes, with the pattern reversed for male participants. Furthermore, there was no association between ratings of funniness and offensiveness for male-victimizing humor, whereas there were systematic correlations between funniness and offensiveness ratings involving female-victimizing humor. In addition, high hostile sexism correlated highly with enjoyment of victimizing jokes. High benevolent sexism scores correlated less strongly. Regarding benevolent sexism, men and women comparable levels of sexism and responded to victimizing humor in similar ways. These results involving ratings of humor and of offensiveness differ from those of previous studies in that previous research found that offensiveness and funniness ratings were independent. Differences in methodology may account for the different patterns of results.

(Go to the Research Team Page.)

2007 Convention of the New England Psychological Association

EXPECTATIONS ABOUT HUMOR AFFECT RATINGS: A GENERALIZABLE EFFECT WITH SOCIAL IMPLICATIONS
Stephine Sawyer

Previous research has revealed that when participants expect jokes to be either funny or not funny, joke ratings conform to expectations. In our study, we generated expectations in participants about stimuli they would be rating. Their expectations affected joke ratings. The findings reinforce the idea that people use context rather than an objective metric for assessing humor. Visual and verbal humor were susceptible to expectation, suggesting that the effect is a generalized response to humorous stimuli. The results have implications for social issues, such as responses to the offensive humor surrounding comments by radio personality Don Imus.

SELF-REFLECTION AND SENSE OF HUMOR: THE BIG FIVE PERSONALITY CHARACTERISTICS AND HUMOR
Lauren Benfante

People attribute negative personality characteristics to others with poor senses of humor. Researchers have not yet completely assessed whether stereotypes of others actually align with humor and personality. In this research, we investigated whether good or poor sense of humor is associated with the Big Five personality traits and whether people’s own self reflection about their sense of humor are related to actual sense of humor. Some of the Big Five traits are associated with sense of humor and, contrary to common belief, people’s assessment of their sense of humor can be veridical.

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UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH CONFERENCE PRESENTATIONS

2009 University of Scranton Psychology Conference

WHY DID THE MAN CROSS THE ROAD: SEXIST ATTITUDES AND GENDER-BASED HUMOR
Elizabeth Gordon, Aliyah Emas, Grace Nutter, Julia Rugg, Caitlin McCarthy, & Danielle O’Reilly

This study investigated the relation between sexist attitudes and enjoyment of gender-based humor. A total of 83 volunteers completed the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory and rated 40 verbal jokes involving stereotypical roles. Participants rated jokes on funniness and offensiveness to themselves, to men in general, and to women in general. The results revealed that participants found female-victimizing jokes more offensive than male-victimizing jokes, although there was no difference in perceived offensiveness by female and male participants. Each sex was protective of itself, with women showing greater liking for male-victimizing jokes than for female-victimizing jokes, with the pattern reversed for male participants. Furthermore, there was no association between ratings of funniness and offensiveness for male-victimizing humor, whereas there were systematic correlations between funniness and offensiveness ratings involving female-victimizing humor. In addition, high hostile sexism correlated highly with enjoyment of victimizing jokes. High benevolent sexism scores correlated less strongly. Regarding benevolent sexism, men and women comparable levels of sexism and responded to victimizing humor in similar ways. These results involving ratings of humor and of offensiveness differ from those of previous studies in that previous research found that offensiveness and funniness ratings were independent. Differences in methodology may account for the different patterns of results.

HOW FUNNY IS THIS JOKE? IT’S AS FUNNY AS WE TELL YOU IT IS
Hillary Doyle, Andy Pfadt-Trilling, &Nadine Wells

Without an objective metric for identifying how funny humorous material “really” is, a person may rely on external information in evaluating the humor of a particular humorous. Previous research in our lab has revealed a strong effect of a message that manipulated a participants’ expectations about how funny jokes were likely to be, based on a report of (fictional) ratings of previous participants. In the current study, we examined the effect of expectations on participants’ ratings of jokes, single-panel pictures and cartoons, and multi-panel cartoons. When participants received a message that the humorous materials had previously been rated as funny, they themselves rated the jokes highly. However, participants who expected to see stimuli previously rated as not very funny had less positive responses. As predicted from our previous research, the message that a participant received strongly influenced the rating of the funniness of the stimulus. The effect that we previously documented for jokes replicated with visual stimuli, suggesting that people can rely on external information to decide on the humor value of a stimulus. The single-panel stimuli that tend to elicit an immediate humor response show the same pattern as longer, verbal jokes. These results suggest that an overall mental set regarding expectations may be responsible for the tendency to rate the stimuli low or high.

PERCEPTIONS OF OFFENSIVENESS IN GENDER-BASED HUMOR AS A FUNCTION OF PRIMING
Julia Robbins, Katharina Carella, Alison Christiansen, Aliyah Emas, Tami Harris, Grace Nutter, & Julia Rugg

Research in our laboratory has revealed conflicting results regarding participants’ ratings of gender-based, victimizing humor. Some research has shown that ratings of funniness and of offensiveness of jokes were essentially independent of one another. Other research has shown that ratings of funniness are negatively correlated with ratings of offensiveness. One of the possible reasons for the differences in the outcomes of the studies may be due to participants’ expectations. Studies in our lab on other aspects of humor have revealed a strong effect of expectations on participants’ ratings of funniness of jokes. So in the present study, we combined the data from two studies that differed in the degree to which participants would be primed to expect offensive humor. The combined data allowed us to compare directly the effects of expectation on ratings of funniness and offensiveness. The results revealed that when participants were subjected to a strong prime to expect offensive humor, their ratings of offensiveness of jokes actually declined relative to participants exposed to a weak prime. In addition, with a strong prime, participants showed a significant negative correlations between humor value and offensiveness, whereas with a weak prime, humor and offensiveness ratings were independent. When participants expect to be offended but the jokes have the potential for being only mildly offensive, participants do not see much offensiveness in the humor. This pattern of results suggests that participants develop a mental set about the characteristics of the humor they are about to encounter.

HUMOR IS MORE OFFENSIVE IF YOU SUGGEST THAT IT ISN’T
Alison Christiansen, Katharina Carella, Skyler Babcock, Yun Chou, & Greg Miller

Research in our laboratory has revealed two apparently contradictory findings. Early research on offensive humor showed that ratings of offensiveness and funniness of jokes were independent of one another. Recent research, however, revealed negative correlations between offensiveness and humor ratings. That is, when participants thought jokes were more offensive, those participants rated the jokes are less funny, and vice versa. The methodology of the two studies differed in ways that may have led to the conflicting results. In two early studies, we primed participants to expect offensive humor by giving them a strong message that the jokes they would rate were offensive. In a different study, that message was absent. In the present study, we used the same basic methodology as we did in one of the priming studies, but we toned down the emphasis on offensiveness. The results revealed that less emphasis on offensiveness actually led to higher ratings of offensiveness. In addition, there was no systematic correlation between ratings of funniness and of offensiveness in the present study, reversing the finding of the previous research. These results suggest that expectations of offensiveness in humor may lead to lower perceptions of that offensiveness because participants expected humor that is quite offensive when, in reality, the stimuli in our study were, at most, mildly offensive. These data replicate earlier research with minimal priming.

A GUY WALKS INTO A BAR: SENSE OF HUMOR AND REACTIONS TO OFFENSIVE JOKES
Alison Christiansen, Scott S. D'Annunzio, Tami M. Harris , Julia B. Robbins, Hillary E. Doyle, & Andrew M. Pfadt-Trilling

Humor is a multidimensional construct. We investigated two dimensions associated with humor: funniness and offensiveness. In addition, the study examined the effects of the participant’s sex and the sex of the joke’s victim. Previous research has shown that ratings of funniness and of offensiveness were uncorrelated, but that participants prefer jokes that victimize the other sex. Our results showed that, for individual jokes, ratings of offensiveness and humor were essentially independent for male victimizing jokes but not for female victimizing jokes, which were viewed more negatively. That is, perceived offensiveness did not predict how participants rated funniness for male-victimizing jokes, but level of perceived offensiveness did predict ratings of female-victimizing jokes. Regarding sense of humor, participants with a low productive sense of humor (vs. high) perceived jokes as more offensive. Generally, participants preferred jokes which victimized the opposite sex. However, men viewed male-victimizing jokes almost as positively as women, whereas women found female-victimizing jokes to be much less funny than men did. Female participants found male-victimizing jokes relating to sex especially funny. Male participants rated jokes referring to women’s gender roles to be funniest. The preference for jokes victimizing the opposite sex was consistent with previous research. In general, participants did not find the jokes very offensive, probably because of the methodology used in the study.


(Go to the Research Team Page.)

2009 Whalen Academic Symposium

A GUY WALKS INTO A BAR: SENSE OF HUMOR AND REACTIONS TO OFFENSIVE JOKES
Alison Christiansen, Katie Alibrandi, Skyler Babcock, Tami Harris, Julia Robbins, Hillary Doyle, & Andy Pfadt-Trilling

Humor is a multidimensional construct. We investigated two dimensions associated with humor: funniness and offensiveness. In addition, the study examined the effects of the participant’s sex and the sex of the joke’s victim. Previous research has shown that ratings of funniness and of offensiveness were uncorrelated, but that participants prefer jokes that victimize the other sex. Our results showed that, for individual jokes, ratings of offensiveness and humor were essentially independent for male victimizing jokes but not for female victimizing jokes, which were viewed more negatively. That is, perceived offensiveness did not predict how participants rated funniness for male-victimizing jokes, but level of perceived offensiveness did predict ratings of female-victimizing jokes. Regarding sense of humor, participants with a low productive sense of humor (vs. high) perceived jokes as more offensive. Generally, participants preferred jokes which victimized the opposite sex. However, men viewed male-victimizing jokes almost as positively as women, whereas women found female-victimizing jokes to be much less funny than men did. Female participants found male-victimizing jokes relating to sex especially funny. Male participants rated jokes referring to women’s gender roles to be funniest. The preference for jokes victimizing the opposite sex was consistent with previous research. In general, participants did not find the jokes very offensive, probably because of the methodology used in the study.

SEXISM AND GENDER-BASED JOKES
Aliyah Emas, Tami Harris, Julia Robbins, Scott D’Annunzio, Hillary Doyle, Andy & Pfadt-Trilling

Humor is a multidimensional construct. We investigated two dimensions associated with humor: funniness and offensiveness. In addition, the study examined the effects of the participant’s sex and the sex of the joke’s victim. Previous research has shown that ratings of funniness and of offensiveness were uncorrelated, but that participants prefer jokes that victimize the other sex. Our results showed that, for individual jokes, ratings of offensiveness and humor were essentially independent for male victimizing jokes but not for female victimizing jokes, which were viewed more negatively. That is, perceived offensiveness did not predict how participants rated funniness for male-victimizing jokes, but level of perceived offensiveness did predict ratings of female-victimizing jokes. Regarding sense of humor, participants with a low productive sense of humor (vs. high) perceived jokes as more offensive. Generally, participants preferred jokes which victimized the opposite sex. However, men viewed male-victimizing jokes almost as positively as women, whereas women found female-victimizing jokes to be much less funny than men did. Female participants found male-victimizing jokes relating to sex especially funny. Male participants rated jokes referring to women’s gender roles to be funniest. The preference for jokes victimizing the opposite sex was consistent with previous research. In general, participants did not find the jokes very offensive, probably because of the methodology used in the study.


(Go to the Research Team Page.)

2009 Eastern Colleges Science Conference

WHY DID THE MAN CROSS THE ROAD? SEXIST ATTITUDES AND GENDER-BASED HUMOR.
Julia C. Rugg

This study investigated the relation between sexist attitudes and enjoyment of gender-based humor. A total of 83 volunteers completed the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory and rated 40 verbal jokes involving stereotypical roles. Participants rated jokes on funniness and offensiveness to themselves, to men in general, and to women in general. The results revealed that participants found female-victimizing jokes more offensive than male-victimizing jokes, although there was no difference in perceived offensiveness by female and male participants. Each sex was protective of itself, with women showing greater liking for male-victimizing jokes than for female-victimizing jokes, with the pattern reversed for male participants. Furthermore, there was no association between ratings of funniness and offensiveness for male-victimizing humor, whereas there were systematic correlations between funniness and offensiveness ratings involving female-victimizing humor. In addition, high hostile sexism correlated highly with enjoyment of victimizing jokes. High benevolent sexism scores correlated less strongly. Regarding benevolent sexism, men and women comparable levels of sexism and responded to victimizing humor in similar ways. These results involving ratings of humor and of offensiveness differ from those of previous studies in that previous research found that offensiveness and funniness ratings were independent. Differences in methodology may account for the different patterns of results.

PERSONALITY AND GENDER-BASED JOKES: A FOLLOWUP
Grace Nutter

Humor is a multidimensional construct. We investigated two dimensions associated with humor: funniness and offensiveness. For individual jokes, ratings of offensiveness and humor were independent . Just because jokes were seen as offensive does not mean people did not enjoy them. A preference for jokes victimizing the opposite sex also emerged, consistent with previous research. When people are strongly primed to see offensive jokes, they seem to expect the worst and do not see mildly victimizing jokes as offensive; with a weak prime, they see more offensiveness


2007 University of Scranton Psychology Conference

HOW EXPECTATION AFFECTS HUMOR APPRECIATION
Emily Freedner & Flannery Wright

Cartoons and jokes have no objective humor value. The appreciation of such stimuli is subjective, depending in part on context. Previous research has revealed that people are susceptible to information about how funny jokes are “supposed to be.” In this study, 94 participants rated jokes, single-panel cartoons, and multi-panel cartoons. Two groups heard that others had rated them either as not very funny or as very funny; a control group received no message about supposed funniness of the stimuli. The message that the participants received affected their ratings. When the participants expected stimuli not to be very funny, ratings were low. When the expectation was for funny stimuli, ratings were highest. The ratings of the control group were in the middle. In addition, we found that multi-panel cartoons were seen as least funny, whereas single-panel cartoons and jokes received higher ratings that did not differ from one another. The data lead to two main conclusions. First, people are susceptible to expectations in their enjoyment of humor. The effect may be due to an induced, overall mindset rather than to specific evaluation of each stimulus. Second, incongruity and surprise may be responsible for the higher ratings of single-panel cartoons and jokes compared to multi-panel cartoons.


(Go to the Research Team Page.)

2006 University of Scranton Psychology Conference

PERCEPTIONS OF OFFENSIVE HUMOR
Shaina Bernardi, Jessica Boynton, and Dana Kragh

People’s ratings of humorous materials are affected by people’s expectations (e.g., Wimer & Beins, in press). When somebody anticipates hearing funny jokes, the person perceives them as funnier than when the person expects unfunny jokes. In addition, recent research showed that perceptions of offensiveness can be similarly manipulated (Pashka, et al., 2005), although the evidence has been mixed. This study examined the effect of primes on perceptions of funniness and on offensiveness.

Some participants received either a strong or a weak prime regarding how funny a set of jokes would be. Other participants received either a strong or a weak prime regarding how offensive the jokes would be. The jokes victimized either women, men, or somebody of no single gender. All participants provided ratings of the jokes’ level of funniness and of offensiveness.

The results indicated that giving participants information about the funniness of jokes exerts a strong effect on the ratings of funniness. The strength of a prime had no effect on the ratings of funniness or of offensiveness. Further, both women and men saw jokes victimizing women as more offensive than jokes victimizing men. Women preferred male-victimizing jokes and men preferred female-victimizing jokes, which replicates recent findings but differs from results of two decades ago.

Consistent with previous research, these data suggest that when people judge a joke’s funniness, they engage in a cognitive task that is susceptible to a cognitively-based manipulation. In contrast, ratings of offensiveness do not appear susceptible to cognitive manipulation. Responses involving offensiveness may involve either an emotional component that is not susceptible to a cognitive manipulation or an internal standard regarding offensiveness that is not very malleable. There may be a social context that drives perceptions of offensiveness.

PERSONALITY CHARACTERISTICS AND HUMOR
Jessica Boynton, Dana Kragh, and Shaina Bernardi

Research has indicated that certain characteristics of the Five-Factor Model of Personality are associated with humor. When participants rated hypothetical others who had poor, average, or good senses of humor, the participants associated more positive personality characteristics with a better sense of humor. The stereotype was that good humor was associated with high levels of extraversion, low levels of neuroticism, and more openness. An unanswered question is whether people with low, average, or high levels of humor will assign themselves these same characteristics that they attribute to others.

In the present study, our participants completed personality scales for neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, and openness. They also responded to the Multidimensional Sense of Humor Scale (MDSHS), an inventory that provides an objective measure of sense of humor. Finally, they provided a self-assessment of how good a sense of humor they had and how funny they thought they were.

The results indicated that self-perception of the sense of humor related only to agreeableness. That is, those who reported having a good sense of humor tended to be high in agreeableness. Only extraversion was related to self-reports of being funny.

These results reveal that people’s perceptions of the relation of sense of humor and personality characteristics in others do not match the way they relate their own sense of humor and their personality. That is, people apply stereotypes to others that they do not apply to themselves.

Finally, contrary to consistent claims that people do not have a veridical sense of their sense of humor compared to others, our results reveal that people can accurately assess their level of humor relative to others. The important issue here is the way in which the self-assessment is made.


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2006 Eastern Colleges Science Conference

PERSONALITY DIMENSIONS AND PERCEIVED SENSE OF HUMOR
Justin Hull, Kweku Donkor, & Megan Laport

Cann and Calhoun (2001) found that when people envision an imaginary other with a high sense of humor, they associate that person with positive personality traits such as extraversion. The present study explored how accurately people are able to assess their own humor abilities, and whether or not there is a self-serving bias in humor ratings. Participants completed a big five personality inventory, an objective measurement for sense of humor (the multidimensional sense of humor scale), and provided subjective ratings of their sense of humor. The results showed that people who score highly on the MSHS, also score highly on dimensions of extraversion and low on dimensions of neuroticism. The results also showed that, contrary to past research, people have a reasonably good idea of their humor abilities. In other words, people’s subjective humor ratings and objectives scores on the MSHS are significantly similar. The findings of this study provide insight into the stereotypes of humor that exist in our society, and help shed light on how exactly people evaluate socially desirable traits such as humor.


THE EFFECTS OF PRIMING ON HUMOR RESPONSES
Kweku Donkor, Justin Hull, Megan Laport, Katie Nagengast, & Alexis O’Connor

Previous research has revealed that responses to humorous stimuli can be swayed by information given to participants prior to exposure to jokes. The responses to messages about how funny the participant should expect a set of jokes to be seems reliable, but the effect of a message about offensiveness of jokes has been uncertain across different studies.

In the present study, we manipulated the type of message participants received. Some got primes about the whether earlier participants had rated the jokes as funny or not funny; the prime was either strong or weak. Other participants received primes about how offensive to expect the jokes to be.

The results revealed that information about how supposed funniness of the jokes exerted a strong effect on participants’ ratings. On the other hand, expectations about how offensive jokes were going to be did not have an effect.

As in previous research, there was little correspondence between how funny the participants thought the jokes were and how offensive the jokes were. That is, people can keep different elements of a joke separate when they evaluate jokes. Also, when jokes were aimed at one’s own gender, those jokes received lower ratings of humor and of offensiveness.


THE ROLE OF CONTEXT IN VIOLENT HUMOR
Megan Laport, Kweku Donkor, Justin Hull, Alexis O’Connor, & Katie Nagengast

Researchers have documented the fact that violence becomes trivialized when embedded in humorous situations in the media. It is still an open question, though, as to whether the trivialization of violence in humorous films and television programs generalizes to actual violence in real life. The present study investigated the context in which violence appears. We used ten video clips that depicted accidental or intentional behaviors that resulted in the victim being hurt, but not seriously so. One group of participants saw a set of video clips purportedly from the news; a second group saw the same set of clips as having come from CollegeHumor.com. The participants rated each clip regarding its humor value and its violence level.

The results revealed that men rated the video clips as significantly funnier than women did. There was also a nonsignificant tendency for participants to rate clips from the news as being funnier than clips from CollegeHumor.com. When the action involved intentional injury, participants rated the clips as being less funny than when the injury was accidental. Further, men rated the video clips as being less violent than the women did. Interestingly, when women viewed clips from CollegeHumor.com, they reported lower levels of perceived violence than men did, whereas women and men rated supposed news clips at the same level of violence. Accidental injury was perceived as being less violent than intentional injury.

Context appears to affect one’s reaction to violent humor, with sex differences clearly emerging. At the same time, participants’ ratings of humor and violence were uncorrelated, revealing that they were able to separate the two dimensions in their evaluations.


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2005 University of Scranton Psychology Conference

HOW EXPECTATIONS AFFECT PERCEPTIONS OF OFFENSIVE HUMOR.
Joann Agnitti, Torie Baldwin, Heidi Lapham, Sarah Yarmosky, Amy Bubel, Keri MacNaughton, Nikki Pashka

There is no objective metric for measuring the humor value a given humorous stimulus-- subjectivity and context always plays a large role in the assessment of humor. In the present study, our Research Team either primed participants to expect offensive jokes (experimental group) or did not raise any particular expectations (control group). Participants read and rated 30 jokes, 10 each with female victims, male victims, and neutral victims according to the degree to which they found the jokes funny and the degree to which they found the jokes offensive. The results revealed that participants rated jokes as less offensive when primed to expect offensive jokes compared to the control group. Setting up the expectation of offense may have led participants to rate the jokes as less troublesome because, in fact, the jokes were selected by the Research Team not to be excessively offensive. Judgments about what jokes involved only mild offensiveness were arrived at by consensus of the researchers. Participants also found female-victimizing jokes more offensive in general, with female participants particularly likely to take offense. Ratings of humor showed a different pattern, with a typical effect that participants of a given sex tended to enjoy the joke victimization of members of the other sex. Over the past two decades, sensibilities regarding sex-based humor have changed. Analysis of victimizing jokes also revealed that the nature of such jokes may regularly differ by type of victim.


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2005 Eastern Colleges Science Conference

HUMOR IN GROUPS: APPRECIATED BUT NOT REMEMBERED
Nikki Pashka, Joann Agnitti, Amy Bubel, Keri MacNaughton, & Barney Beins

There were three main elements in this study. The first focus is how individuals respond to humorous stimuli in cohesive and noncohesive groups. Cohesion may influence group dynamics and responses to humorous stimuli. In cohesive groups people may be more attuned to the behaviors of others. When people in cohesive groups see others laugh, they may be predisposed to join in the laughter because of the social context (Dale, Hudak, & Wasikowski, 1991). The second focus of the study was the examination of emotional expression on mirth and cognitive assessment of humor value of the stimuli. Emotional expression was measured by mirth and laughter and cognitive assessment was measured by the participant’s rating of the humorous stimuli. Some research has shown that the presence of laughter stimulates laughing and smiling along with higher ratings (Martin & Gray, 1996), although other research has documented a separation of the two (Martin & McGaffick, 2001; Chapman, 1973). The third focus of the study was the effect of introversion and extroversion on humor appreciation. We measured introversion and extroversion on an introversion scale (International Personality Item Pool, 2001). We were successful in demonstrating that cognitive evaluation of humor is different from emotional responses to humor. Just because a stimulus did not generate overt laughter or smiling, it did not mean that the stimulus received a low rating. This suggests that humor at least two identifiable components that can be separated experimentally. Our results support earlier work by Martin and McGaffick (2001) and by Chapman (1973). Although the participants in the cohesive condition showed more mirth, they recalled significantly less material. This implies that even though enjoyment of a stimulus may be greater for an individual, it does not lead to better memory. Some research has suggested that the arousal associated with humor may lead to greater memory for material (Schmidt, 1994). The arousal associated with being in a group may lead to lower recall, as evidenced by the lower recall by our participants in the cohesive, compared to noncohesive, condition.


HOW EXPECTATIONS AFFECT PERCEPTIONS OF OFFENSIVE HUMOR.
Nikki Pashka, Diedre Grossman, Laura Gildner, Joann Agnitti, Torie Baldwin, Amy Bubel, KeriMacNaughton, Meg Snyder, & Malikah Waajid

Humor involves separate subcomponents, such as the cognitive element of rating humor and the emotional component associated with laughing and other mirth responses. The present study is investigating whether offensiveness and humor value always covary. That is, do people see some jokes as funny even if those jokes are offensive. The participants read jokes, rated their humor value and offensiveness, and tried to recall a series of jokes. Some jokes were gender-based and consisted of items that targeted men or women specifically or that had as targets people who could be of either sex. Women were more sensitive to offensiveness than men, but found male victimizing humor highly funny. Recall was highest for female victimizing jokes and neutral jokes. Social issues may mediate these results.


OFFENSIVE HUMOR: CAN WE INSULT YOU WHILE WE MAKE YOU LAUGH?
Nikki Pashka, & Joann Agnitti, J.

Humor assessment involves separate subcomponents, include such elements as the cognition of rating humor and the emotion associated with laughing and other mirth responses (Martin & McGaffick, 2001; Chapman, 1973). How we evaulate humor may involve assessments of content on different dimensions. In the past, our team has found that women rate jokes with female targets as funnier than those with male targets if the humor is benign, with men showing the preference for male targets (Idstein, Baer, Strichartz, Tobin, & Beins, 1996). The purpose of the study is to investigate whether people recall jokes with offensive humor differently from other kinds and whether people can separate their assessment of humor from their assessment of offensiveness. For neutral jokes, there was a significant correlation between the rating of the funniness and the offensiveness. In all cases, these correlations were positive, suggesting, if anything, that more offensive jokes have the capacity of being seen as funnier. With more biting humor, the pattern reversed itself. people don’t seem to dislike offensive humor specifically. They dislike it when it victimizes a character with whom they share qualities, like sex. Disparagement is all right if it is directed elsewhere. Women may be more attuned to victimization because of their relative vulnerability in everyday life. That awareness might account for their liking of male victimizing jokes: what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Men, on the other hand, are less obviously victimized, so they may respond less noticeably to victimizing jokes, regardless of who is the butt of the joke. Finally, we are puzzled regarding the recall of the jokes. Male victimizing jokes resulted in least recall. Perhaps the context of the study, with a focus on offensiveness, led to differential attention being paid to dissimilar types of jokes.


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2004 University of Scranton Psychology Conference

OFFENSIVE HUMOR: CAN WE INSULT YOU WHILE WE MAKE YOU LAUGH?
Sarah Fish, Nikki Pashka, & Elena Hobson

Humor involves separate subcomponents, such as the cognitive element of rating humor and the emotional component associated with laughing and other mirth responses. The present study is investigating whether offensiveness and humor value always covary. That is, do people see some jokes as funny even if those jokes are offensive. The participants read jokes, rated their humor value and offensiveness, and tried to recall a series of jokes. Some jokes were gender-based and consisted of items that targeted men or women specifically or that had as targets people who could be of either sex. The purpose of the study is to investigate whether people recall jokes with tendentious (biting) humor differently from other kinds. In the past, our team has found that women rate jokes with female targets as more funny than those with male targets if the humor is benign, with men showing the preference for male targets. With more biting humor, the pattern reversed itself. The question here is whether people can separate humor and offensiveness. We also studied memory for the jokes will be associated with type of humor, as some research reveals, or with humor ratings, as other research reveals, when the two are in conflict.

Nikki Pashka delivers her talk.


HUMOR IN GROUPS: APPRECIATED BUT NOT REMEMBERED
Margaret E. Snyder, Deidre B. Grossman, Laura M. Gildner, Joann Agnitti, Victoria C. Baldwin, Amy E. Bubel, Kari B. MacNaughton, Nicole J. Pashka, & Malikah S. Waajid

Humor consists of at least two subcomponents that usually covary, the emotional expression of mirth and the cognitive assessment of how funny something is. Our Research Team has shown that these two subcomponents are separable. For instance, we can manipulate the expression of emotional, mirth responses without changing ratings significantly (Martin & McGaffick, 2001). In the present study, we manipulated the cohesiveness of groups to see whether participants would rate humorous stimuli differently in cohesive versus noncohesive groups, whether they would show different expressions of mirth, and whether their recall of the humorous materials would differ. The results revealed that cohesiveness affects mirth but not ratings. Further, cohesiveness leads to lowered levels of recall. These findings have implications for the processing of humor and for group processes.

Amy Bubel, Joann Agnitti, Torie Baldwin, and Elena Hobson pose next to their poster.


APPRECIATION AND RECALL OF POINTED HUMOR
Laura M. Gildner, Diedre B. Grossman, Margaret E. Snyder, Elena Hobson, & Meghan M. Lynch

Pointed humor that has a clear victim can be funny, but may be less so when we identify with the butt of the joke. Research from several decades ago revealed that women and men both rated jokes with female victims as funnier than those with male victims. More recent research by our Research Team using mild, non-offensive jokes showed that men liked male-victim jokes and women liked female-victim jokes. In the present study, participants read and rated jokes with either a female or a male victim or that were more neutral, then recalled as many of the jokes as they could. The participants showed identification with the victim of the jokes, rating those stimuli with a victim of their own sex as less funny than those with a victim of the other sex. In addition, jokes with a male victim showed higher recall levels by all participants than those with a female victim. The results differ from patterns observed in previous generations, suggesting that views of pointed or offensive humor have changed. Further, across studies we have identified situations in which being the butt of a joke can be seen positively.

Laura Gildner discusses her research findings.


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2004 Eastern Colleges Science Conference

APPRECIATION AND RECALL OF TENDENTIOUS HUMOR
Sarah J. Fish, Kevan L. Donaghy, Brooke A. Gardner, and Meghan O. Soule

Pointed humor that has a clear victim can be funny, but less so when we identify with the butt of the joke. In this study, participants read and rated jokes with either a female or a male victim or that were more neutral, then recalled as many of the jokes as they could. The participants showed identification with the victim of the jokes, rating those stimuli with a victim of their own sex as less funny than those with a victim of the other sex. In addition, jokes with a male victim showed higher recall levels by all participants than those with a female victim. The results differ in part from patterns observed in previous generations.

Sarah Fish presents her research findings.


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2001 University of Scranton Psychology Conference

THE EFFECTS OF MOOD INDUCTION ON HUMOR APPRECIATION
Jacquelyn Martin & Susan McGaffick

Humor has the ability to elevate mood in people who are in a negative mood (Moran & Massam, 1999).  In this study, we examined the relationship between an induced mood and humor appreciation.  Specifically, we were looking to see if participants in negatively induced moods rated jokes as less funny and showed fewer displays of mirth.  Subjects participated in one of three conditions: elated, neutral, or depressed.  In each condition, we induced mood change by exposing the participants to thirty statements that Velten (1968) developed.  Participants then rated a set of ten jokes on a Likert-type scale as to how funny they found them.  While participants listened to the jokes, we recorded their displays of mirth (e.g., laughing and smiling).  To assess their mood, each participant filled out a Mood Adjective Checklist three times during the study: prior to being exposed to the Velton statements, prior to rating the jokes, and after rating the jokes.  We hypothesize that our results will indicate that participants in the depressed condition will rate jokes as less funny and show fewer mirth responses than those in the neutral or elated conditions.


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2000 University of Scranton Psychology Conference


GROUP SIZE, EXPECTATIONS ABOUT HUMOR, AND HUMOR RESPONSES
Caryn Crane, David Gordon, David Kozloff, Heather Porter, Christina Rosenberg, & Barney Beins  
Ithaca College

When people rate jokes for humor value, the responses indicate cognitive evaluation.  Such evaluation reflects only a limited aspect of reactions to humorous material.  In this study, participants rated a set of 20 jokes, expecting that they would be very funny or not very funny.  Some participants engaged in this task after engaging in a group puzzle solving task; other participants did so individually.  We recorded their ratings and displays of mirth (e.g., laughing and smiling).  The results revealed that after a group bonding activity, participants' expectations about whether jokes were going to be funny affected their ratings, based on their expectations about the jokes. The presence of others affects participants' ratings of jokes.  Building on previous research, we also concluded that the mere presence of others also affects ratings of jokes, but not mirth responses.  The dynamics of individual groups may be critical in the expression of mirth.
 

EMBARRASSMENT AND GENDER: WHO IS EMBARRASSED BY WHAT?
David S. Gordon, Marissa Battaglia, Joanne Higgins, Josh Hyatt, James Taylor, & Barney Beins
Ithaca College

The stereotype that women are more easily embarrassed has been supported by empirical research. At the same time, it is not always clear what factors will serve to embarrass somebody, nor is it certain that the factors that might embarrass one generation of students will affect subsequent generations of students. In the present study, we examine college students' self-report about their embarrassability, whether they rated different types of humor (neutral, sexual, and bodily functions) as being differentially funny, whether women would appreciate them less than men would, and whether ratings of jokes would differ depending on one's tendency toward embarrassment. We tested 140 college students who rated a set of jokes and then completed Modigliani's Embarrassability Scale. As predicted, college women appeared more embarrassable than college men, although this difference was limited to being embarrassed for others rather than for themselves. Women appear not to be any more embarrassable than men when it comes to being the victim of an embarrassing situation. As such, we might classify gender differences in feelings of embarrassment as closer to empathy than to personal embarrassment. Joke ratings did not differ as a function of either embarrassability or gender. This finding may relate to the difference between cognitive and affective responses to humor.


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1999 Eastern Colleges Science Conference

GROUP PROCESSES, EXPECTATIONS ABOUT HUMOR, AND HUMOR RESPONSES
Heather Porter, David Kozloff, David Gordon, Christina Rosenberg, & Lisa Mack
Ithaca College


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1999 National Conference on Undergraduate Research

HUMOR EVALUATION AND HUMOR APPRECIATION: MODIFICATION THROUGH INFORMATIONAL AND SOCIAL FACTORS
Tisha G. Miller
Ithaca College

Two different dynamics exist regarding responses to humorous stimuli. People can rate jokes over time with consistency; this evaluation entails cognitive assessment. At the same time, their mirth reactions are not always predictable from their cognitive evaluation. Mirth reactions may result from more social and emotional factors. The current research demonstrates that a message designed to raise or lower a person’s cognitive assessment influences cognitive assessments, but not mirth reactions. Mirth responses can result from social factors, including the feeling of a need to conform to others in a group.


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1999 University of Scranton Psychology Conference

EVALUATION OF HUMOR: COGNITIVE AND SOCIAL FACTORS.
James B. Adams, Marissa R. Battaglia, Joanne S. Higgins, Melissa L. Killeleagh, Tisha G. Miller, Eric J. Sambolec, & Bernard C. Beins.
Ithaca College, Psychology Department

The humor value of a joke depends on many factors, including the context in which the joke is encountered. We examined whether people’s ratings of the humor value of a set of jokes would change if they learned that others had found the jokes more or less funny. Participants believed that they would be rating a set of jokes that others had already rated. They rated the jokes alone, in the presence of three others, or in the presence of seven others. Ratings of identical jokes changed markedly depending on the message that the participants heard. A single statement of how others have perceived jokes leads to agreement by naive participants that the jokes are as funny as earlier raters had said. At the same time, the size of the group did not affect the evaluation of the jokes. A simple shift in one’s cognitive framework leads to a dramatic shift in the evaluation of humor. Group factors may affect emotional responses.

 

COMPONENTS OF EMBARRASSABILITY AND HUMOR RESPONSES
David J. Wimer & Bernard C. Beins
Ithaca College

The present study attempted to answer the question of whether participants who are more likely to feel embarrassment for other people or participants who are more likely to feel embarrassment for themselves will like jokes that feature a victim in a sexual, violent, or non-violent situation. To find this out, 73 undergraduates were asked to rate a set of 21 jokes that featured victims in the different types of jokes. Then, the same participants were given an embarrassability scale similar to the scale designed by Modigliani (1966). This scale determined whether participants were more likely to feel embarrassment for themselves or for others. I expected that the participants who were more likely to feel embarrassment for others would like the jokes less, but the results indicated the opposite in that participants embarrassed for others gave the jokes higher ratings. An explanation may be that participants who are embarrassed for themselves are more likely to be self-conscious, and self-conscious individuals may be more likely to feel compassion for others.

 

GROUP SIZE, EXPECTATIONS ABOUT HUMOR,, AND HUMOR RESPONSES
Tisha G. Miller, Caryn M. Crane, Joshua L. Hyatt, James E. Taylor, Erin T. Fortier, & Bernard C. Beins
Ithaca College

When people rate jokes for humor value, the responses indicate cognitive evaluation. Such evaluation reflects only a limited aspect of reactions to humorous material. In this study, participants listened to a set of 20 jokes, rating each one as to its humor value. Some participants engaged in this task after engaging in a group puzzle solving task; other participants did so individually. We also recorded their displays of mirth (e.g., laughing and smiling). The results revealed that after a group bonding activity, participants’ expectations about whether jokes were going to be funny affected their ratings; in contrast to several previous studies, individuals not in groups showed no effect based on expectations about the jokes. When we asked participants in groups how likely they were to laugh out loud at jokes, there was a significant correlation between their mirth reactions and their tendency to say that they laughed. No such correlation emerged for individuals. Our results suggest that the presence of others can affect participants’ ratings of jokes as well as their perceptions of their responses to jokes. Building on previous research, we also concluded that the mere presence of others does not affect ratings of jokes.


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1999 Eastern Colleges Science Conference

GROUP SIZE, EXPECTATIONS ABOUT HUMOR, AND HUMOR RESPONSES
Erin T. Fortier
Ithaca College

When people rate jokes for humor value, the responses indicate cognitive evaluation. Such evaluation reflects only a limited aspect of reactions to humorous material. In this study, participants rated a set of 20 jokes, expecting that they would be very funny or not very funny. Some participants engaged in this task after engaging in a group puzzle solving task; other participants did so individually. We recorded their ratings and displays of mirth (e.g., laughing and smiling). The results revealed that after a group bonding activity, participants’ expectations about whether jokes were going to be funny affected their ratings, based on their expectations about the jokes. The presence of others affects participants’ ratings of jokes. Building on previous research, we also concluded that the mere presence of others also affects ratings of jokes, but not mirth responses. The dynamics of individual groups may be critical in the expression of mirth.


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1998 National Conference on Undergraduate Research

SOME INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL FACTORS AFFECTING APPRECIATION OF JOKES
Vanessa Fazio
Ithaca College

Various researchers have investigated the factors that affect a person’s appreciation of humor. Some stable characteristics of individual lead them to approve of or to reject certain kinds of jokes, rating them as less funny due to the subject matter of the humor rather than to elements of surprise, irony, clever wording, etc. The two studies reported here investigated external and internal processes as they affect ratings of jokes. In the first study, participants in different groups rated the same set of jokes after they learned (fictitiously) that the jokes had been previously rated as very funny, funny, unfunny, or very unfunny. In the "funny" and "unfunny" conditions, the participants’ ratings of the jokes, which were the same in all conditions, varied in the direction of the fictitious previous raters. The participants ignored the information about "very funny" and "horribly unfunny" jokes, rating them the same as participants in a neutral category.

In the second study, participants rated the same set of jokes after undergoing a procedure designed to change their cognitions in a positive direction. That is, they read a series of statements that have previously been shown to lead toward more positive thoughts. The statements include such items as "I feel superb. I think I can work to the best of my ability." The results suggest that even with positive cognitions, ratings of jokes do not increase relative to conditions with neutral statements (e.g., "Utah is the beehive state") or no statements at all.

This pattern of results suggests that, after one accounts for stable personality characteristics, changes in humor appreciation might be a function more of external cues than internal cognitive cues.


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1998 University of Scranton Psychology Conference

THE ROLE OF EMBARRASSABILITY IN HUMOR APPRECIATION
Vanessa C. Fazio, Kelly L. Cronin, & Bernard C. Beins
Ithaca College

Embarrassability has not received much attention in the research literature. Researchers have documented its role in humor appreciation even less. Previous research has shown that embarrassability is composed of several different factors, such as a person's interdependence and independence, and a person's level of social anxiety. These personality factors that constitute embarrassability may also have a strong effect on the appreciation of jokes. In this correlational study, participants read a set of 20 jokes and rated them. Half of the jokes involved sexual themes and half involved nonsexual themes. After rating the jokes, participants completed an Embarrassability Scale (Mogdigliani, 1966). People with a high level of independence and a low level of social anxiety (who have a lower level of embarrassability) are expected to rate sexually related jokes more positively. Conversely, participants with higher embarrassability should rate neutral humor more positively because it will lead to less embarrassment due to the more socially acceptable content.

 

HOW FUNNY IS THIS JOKE?: IT'S AS FUNNY AS WE TELL YOU IT IS
David J. Wimer, William E. Breen, William Doiron, Brian F. Falvey, Gina Feinman, Margaret V. Grondin, Holly M. Larrabee, & Bernard C. Beins
Ithaca College

The humor value of a joke depends on many factors, including characteristics of the situation in which the joke is encountered. In this study, we examined whether people's ratings of the humor value of a set of 21 jokes would change if they learned that others had found the jokes more or less funny. The research participants learned that they would be rating a set of jokes that others had already rated. According to the cover story, previous people had said that the jokes were either (a) horribly unfunny, (b) unfunny, (c) funny, or (d) hysterically funny. A control group received no message about how others may have evaluated the jokes. The results indicated that ratings of identical jokes changed markedly depending on the message that the participants heard. A single statement of how others have perceived jokes leads to agreement by naive participants that the jokes are as funny as earlier raters had said. A simple shift in one=s cognitive framework leads to a dramatic shift in the evaluation of humor.

 

CHANGES IN MOOD DO NOT EQUAL CHANGES IN APPRECIATION OF JOKES
David J. Wimer, Brian F. Falvey, Erin T. Fortier, Melissa Killeleagh, Tisha G. Miller, Eric J. Sambolec, & Bernard C. Beins (1998, April). Changes In Mood Do Not Equal Changes in Appreciation of Jokes
Ithaca College

Common sense suggests that an individual in an elevated mood would be likely to rate humor more positively than would a person in a more neutral state. In this study, participants read sets of statements designed either to elevate their mood or to have no effect on mood. They subsequently rated a set of 21 jokes regarding how funny the participants thought the jokes were. The results reflect no effect of mood change on subsequent ratings of jokes. Appreciation of jokes can occur on several different levels; changes in an emotional state may not relate to a more cognitive evaluation of jokes.

 

MOOD DOES NOT AFFECT THE FUNNINESS OF JOKES, BUT JOKES AFFECT YOUR MOOD
Kelly L. Cronin, Vanessa C. Fazio, & Bernard C. Beins (1998, April)
Ithaca College

An individual's mood does not seem to affect how funny that person finds jokes, according to our previous research. On the other hand, exposure to humor might have an effect on a person's mood. Fifty-one participants read a set of statements designed either to elevate or to depress mood, rated a set of 21 jokes for their humor value, and completed a mood adjective checklist twice. The mood-inducing statements led either to positive or to negative affect, but the affective state had no effect on ratings of the jokes. Participants in an elated state rated jokes the same way as participants in the depressed state rated them. After reading and rating the jokes, the participants in the elation and the depression groups showed no difference in their mood states. The results suggest that one's mood has no effect on the cognitive task of rating jokes. At the same time, exposure to humor may be instrumental in changing the mood state. One possibility is that ratings of jokes may occur in a relatively stable cognitive domain; perhaps mirth or other more emotional responses would be affected by changes in emotional states.


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1997 EASTERN COLLEGES SCIENCE CONFERENCE

GENDER, PERSONALITY, AND HUMOR: WHAT DO WE LAUGH AT?
Jennifer A. Schmitt
Ithaca College

Sometimes a joke will elicit laughter from one person but disdain from another. We investigated variables associated with different responses to humor. Female and male participants rated jokes with clearly identifiable female or male victims, or with no obvious victim. The participants also completed the Attitudes Toward Women (ATW) Scale and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (SES). In general, women showed higher scores on the ATW Scale and lower enjoyment of female-victim jokes. Among all participants, more positive attitudes toward women correlated with less enjoyment of female-victim jokes. We also found that men with higher self-esteem found more humor in jokes with male victims. A comparable association failed to appear among women. This study leads us to conclude that we must assess responses to victimizing humor along different dimensions for men and for women. In addition, we suggest that a generalized response to victimizing humor does not manifest itself; dislike for some victimizing jokes is not associated with dislike for others.


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1997 UNIVERSITY OF SCRANTON PSYCHOLOGY CONFERENCE

HOSTILITY OR GOOD-NATURED HUMOR: CAN WE LAUGH AT OURSELVES?
Jenna Levitt & Bernard C. Beins
Ithaca College

Much of the research involving humor with identifiable female and male victims has revealed that women do not appreciate humor with female victims and that men do not like humor with male victims. Earlier work in our laboratory resulted in the opposite pattern, however: women gave higher ratings to jokes with female victims and men gave higher ratings to jokes with male victims. We saw the need to reconcile the inconsistencies in results.

We investigated the kind of humor used in other studies and found that much of it was quite derogatory toward the victim of the joke. On the other hand, our jokes were much milder; further, the victimization in our research did not occur specifically because of the victim's sex. The butt of the joke simply happened to be a man or a woman. This difference in types of jokes may have led to conflicting results across different studies.

We replicated our earlier design in which we investigated the effect of the participant's gender and the joke victim's gender on humor ratings. In our present study, however, we used pointed, more derogatory jokes. The results revealed the classic pattern of dislike for jokes in which the victim was of one's own sex, regardless of whether one is a man or a woman. The outcome suggests that the sex of the joke victim is less relevant than the nature of the victimization. It is easier to laugh at jokes with a same-sex victim if the humor is milder or more good natured.

 

CAN APPRECIATION OF JOKES BE RAISED BY MOOD ELEVATION?
Vanessa Fazio, Carla Bove, Brian Falvey, Kelly Cronin, Christian Filiberto, Jenna Levitt, Jennifer Schmitt, & Bernard C. Beins
Ithaca College.

A person's appreciation of a joke may be affected by mood. Previous research has involved creating a negative environment during a joke rating session; this manipulation lowered enjoyment of the jokes. Further, television producers use laugh tracks to enhance the humor value of their programs. In our study, we investigated the effect of personal and impersonal mood enhancers on ratings of jokes. Experimenters greeted participants either by introducing themselves and shaking the participants' hands or with a simple hello and no handshake. We hoped that this manipulation would capitalize on earlier research that revealed the importance of simple touch in effecting mood changes.

Further, during the testing session, half the participants saw part of an episode of the cartoon comedy, The Simpsons. We selected The Simpsons because of its high level of popularity among college students. We used this manipulation as an impersonal mood elevator.

During the testing session, participants first completed an adjective checklist designed to assess their mood. They then rated the humor value of a group of 21 jokes.

The results revealed that the presence of The Simpsons was not associated with higher ratings of jokes. Participants found the jokes just as funny when the cartoon was playing in the background.

On the other hand, the handshake resulted in greater appreciation of the jokes. When the experimenters greeted participants with a handshake, those participants produced ratings of the jokes that were higher than the ratings of participants whose hands were not shaken.

Previous research on mood and mood induction has suggested that external events can change mood, but in different ways. Changes in cognitions seems to affect mood more completely and for a longer duration than changes in affect, which have weaker effects. The handshake may have led our participants to evaluate the experimental setting and the jokes in a more positive light. On the other hand, simply viewing a comedy like The Simpsons may have altered affect rather than cognition, leading to no change in appreciation of our jokes.

 

PERSONALITY VARIABLES ARE ASSOCIATED WITH APPRECIATION OF GENDER-BASED HUMOR
Kelly Cronin, Vanessa Fazio, Christian Filiberto, Jenna Levitt, Jennifer Schmitt, & Bernard C. Beins
Ithaca College

Sometimes a joke will elicit laughter from one person but disdain from another. We investigated variables associated with different responses to humor. Female and male participants rated jokes with clearly identifiable female or male victims, or with no obvious victim. The participants also completed the Attitudes Toward Women (ATW) Scale and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (SES).

In general, women showed higher scores on the ATW Scale and lower enjoyment of female-victim jokes. In addition, we found that among all participants, more positive attitudes toward women correlated with less enjoyment of female-victim jokes. On the other hand, attitudes toward women did not predict degree of enjoyment of male-victim jokes. This result suggests that a person's attitudes toward women are independent of attitudes toward men. Another implication is that the dislike for female-victim jokes reflects a specific attitude related to gender rather than a general dislike for victimizing jokes per se.

Our results also revealed a significant relationship between men's SES scores and their enjoyment of male-victim jokes; that is, men with higher self-esteem found more humor in jokes with male victims. This association failed to appear among women.

This study leads us to conclude that we must assess responses to victimizing humor along different dimensions for men and for women. In addition, we suggest that a generalized response to victimizing humor does not manifest itself; dislike for some victimizing jokes is not associated with dislike for others.


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This page is maintained by Barney Beins, Dept. of Psychology, Ithaca College, Ithaca NY 14850-7290

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Last modified: August 2014