This article may be unbalanced towards certain viewpoints. (September 2013)
Humor styles are a topic of research in the field of personality psychology related to the ways in which individuals differ in their use of humor in everyday life. People of all ages and backgrounds engage in humor, but the way they use it can vary greatly. Although humor styles can vary slightly depending on the situation, they tend to be a relatively stable personality characteristic among individuals. That is, individuals are fairly consistent in the ways they use humor over time.
The Humor Styles Questionnaire (HSQ) has emerged as a robust model for understanding the individual differences in humor styles. Humor can be used to enhance the self or enhance one's relationship with others. Humor can be relatively benevolent or potentially detrimental (either to the self or others). The combination of these factors creates four distinct humor styles: affiliative, self-enhancing, aggressive, and self-defeating. Some styles of humor promote health and well-being, while other styles can be potentially detrimental to mental and physical health.
The Humor Styles Questionnaire (HSQ)
The Humor Styles Questionnaire (HSQ) was developed by Rod Martin and Patricia Doris (2003) to measure individual differences in styles of humor. Humor has been shown to be a personality characteristic that remains relatively stable over time. Humor is sometimes viewed as a one-dimensional trait. However, individuals seem to differ in the ways in which they use humor in their everyday lives, and different styles of humor seem to have different outcomes. The Humor Styles Questionnaire was developed to identify the ways in which individuals differ in humor styles and how these differences influence health, well-being, relationships, and other outcomes.
The Humor Styles Questionnaire is a 32-item self-report inventory used to identify how individuals use humor in their lives. Participants respond to the degree to which they agree with each statement (e.g., "I enjoy making people laugh") on a scale from 1 (totally disagree) to 7 (totally agree). The questionnaire measures two main factors in humor. The first factor measures whether humor is used to enhance the self or enhance one's relationships with others. The second factor measures whether the humor is relatively benevolent or potentially detrimental and destructive. The combination of these factors creates four distinct humor styles: affiliative, self-enhancing, aggressive, and self-defeating.
Affiliative humor is defined as the style of humor used to enhance one's relationships with others in a benevolent, positive manner. This style of humor is typically used in a benevolent, self-accepting way. Individuals high in this dimension often use humor as a way to charm and amuse others, ease tension among others, and improve relationships. They are often spontaneous in their joke telling, frequently participate in witty banter, and enjoy laughing with others. Affiliative humor is similar to self-defeating humor because both styles of humor enhance the relationships with others. However, unlike self-defeating humor, affiliative humor is not used at one's own expense.
A number of outcomes are associated with the use of affiliative humor. Individuals who report high levels of affiliative humor are more likely to initiate friendships. In an organizational setting, affiliative humor has been shown to increase group cohesiveness and promote creativity in the workplace. Affiliative humor is also associated with increased levels of (explicit) self-esteem, psychological well-being, emotional stability, and social intimacy. They are also more likely to exhibit higher levels of implicit self-esteem (independently of their level of explicit self-esteem).
This style of humor is associated with decreased levels of depressive symptoms and anxiety. Individuals who use affiliative humor tend to have higher levels of extraversion and openness to experience as personality characteristics.
Examples of items targeting affiliative humor on the HSQ include:
- I don't often joke around with my friends.
- I rarely make other people laugh by telling funny stories about myself. (reversed)
Self-enhancing humor is a style of humor related to having a good-natured attitude toward life, having the ability to laugh at yourself, your circumstances and the idiosyncrasies of life in constructive, non-detrimental manner. It is used by individuals to enhance the self in a benevolent, positive manner. This type of humor is best understood as a type of coping or emotion-regulating humor in which individuals use humor to look on the bright side of a bad situation, find the silver lining or maintain a positive attitude even in trying times.
Self-enhancing humor is associated with a number of personality variables as well as psychological, physical and health-related outcomes. Individuals who engage more in the self-enhancing humor style are less likely to exhibit depressive symptoms. In an organizational setting, self-enhancing humor has been shown to promote creativity and reduce stress in the workplace. The self-enhancing style of humor has also been shown to be related to increased levels of self-esteem, optimism, and psychological well-being, as well as decreased levels of depression and anxiety. Individuals who use the self-enhancing humor style are more likely to exhibit extraversion and openness to experience as personality characteristics and less likely to exhibit neuroticism.
Examples of self-enhancing humor on the HSQ include:
- If I am feeling upset or unhappy I usually try to think of something funny about the situation to make myself feel better.
- Even when I’m by myself, I’m often amused by the absurdities of life.
Aggressive humor is a style of humor that is potentially detrimental towards others. This type of humor is characterized by the use of sarcasm, put-downs, teasing, criticism, ridicule, and other types of humor used at the expense of others. Aggressive humor often disregards the impact it might have on others. Prejudices such as racism and sexism are considered to be the aggressive style of humor. This type of humor may at times seem like playful fun, but sometimes the underlying intent is to harm or belittle others. Aggressive humor is related to higher levels of neuroticism and lower levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness.
Individuals who exhibit higher levels of aggressive humor tend to score higher on measures of hostility and general aggression. Males tend to use aggressive humor more often than women.
Examples of aggressive humor on the HSQ might include:
- When telling jokes or saying funny things, I am usually not very concerned about how other people are taking it.
- People are never offended or hurt by my sense of humor. (reversed)
- If you think people are laughing at you, they probably are.
Self-defeating humor is the style of humor characterized by the use of potentially detrimental humor towards the self in order to gain approval from others. Individuals high in this dimension engage in self-disparaging humor in which laughter is often at their own expense. Self-defeating humor often comes in the form of pleasing others by being the "butt" of the joke. This style of humor is sometimes seen as a form of denial in which humor is used as a defense mechanism for hiding negative feelings about the self.
A variety of variables are associated with self-defeating humor. Individuals who more frequently use self-defeating humor show increased depressive symptoms. Individuals who use this style of humor tend to have higher levels of neuroticism and lower levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness. Self-defeating humor is associated with higher levels of depression, anxiety and psychiatric symptoms. It is also associated with lower levels of self-esteem, psychological well-being and intimacy.
Examples of self-defeating items on the Humor Styles Questionnaire might include:
- I often try to make people like or accept me more by saying something funny about my own weaknesses, blunders, or faults.
- If I am having problems or feeling unhappy, I often cover it up by joking around, so that even my closest friends don’t know how I really feel.
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