Humor Style of ‘Putting Yourself Down’ Provides Psychological Benefit

Results from a new study suggest the late great Rodney Dangerfield, whose punchline and theme encapsulated “I get no respect,” may have benefited from this style of humor.

Researchers have learned that individuals who frequently use self-defeating humor — aimed at gaining the approval of others through self-mockery — exhibit greater levels of psychological well-being.

In the study, investigators from Granada’s Mind, Brain and Behavior Research Centre (CIMCYC) found that putting oneself down in a humorous manner appears to enhance psychological well-being.

The UGR group’s findings contradict some of the research carried out to date regarding the psychology of humor. The study appears in the prestigious international journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Up until now, a substantial volume of the research has suggested that self-defeating humor is exclusively associated with negative psychological effects among individuals who regularly employ this style of humor.

Jorge Torres Marín, one of the researchers behind this groundbreaking UGR project, explains: “In particular, we have observed that a greater tendency to employ self-defeating humor is indicative of high scores in psychological well-being dimensions such as happiness and, to a lesser extent, sociability.”

“The results, as well as being consistent with the positive connotations traditionally attributed to the act of ‘laughing at oneself’ in our country, also suggest that the effects of self-defeating humor on well-being may differ depending on where the research takes places.”

Investigators explain that the new studies were aimed at analyzing potential cultural differences in the use of this kind of humor. While the value of humor is widely accepted, the implications arising from cultural or individual differences in terms of “senses of humor” have been poorly addressed in psychological research.

Experts say this has occurred because of two key reasons. Firstly, the comical nature of humor contributes — both among researchers and readers of specialized scientific literature — to certain biases and preconceived ideas that can skew their judgment when it comes to assessing the quality, relevance, and applicability of humor-related data.

Secondly, the enormous variety of comments, behaviors etc. that can be categorized as “humorous” has hindered the creation of a standardized theoretical framework for unifying all of the information collected to date in the scientific literature.

The new study is based on emerging research models that aim to overcome the past limitations.

Co-author Hugo Carretero Dios emphasizes, “Our research fits into one of the theoretical models that aim to overcome these limitations and provide the psychology of humor with a well-founded, accurate theoretical body of knowledge. This should enable us to discern the different behavioral tendencies related to the everyday use of humor, which can be classified in even greater depth by focusing on their adaptive, as opposed to their harmful, natures.”

The researchers explain that adaptive styles of humor include affiliative humor, which is aimed at strengthening social relationships. Self-enhancing humor, meanwhile, entails maintaining a humorous outlook in potentially stressful and adverse situations.

These types of humor have consistently been linked to indicators of positive psychological well-being such as happiness, satisfaction with life, hope, etc. but also to more negative states such as depression and anxiety.

Moreover, the authors maintain that the “data revealed the existence of a curvilinear relationship between prosocial humor and personality dimensions such as kindness and honesty. This relationship means that low and high scores obtained in such personality traits are respectively linked to lower or higher propensities to make humorous comments aimed at building and strengthening social relationships”.

Nonetheless, the researchers are also quick to point out that certain styles of humor may be employed to conceal negative intentions and feelings.

As co-author Navarro-Carrillo notes”[the] results suggest that humor, even when presented as benign or well-intentioned, can also represent a strategy for masking negative intentions. Humor enables individuals with low scores in honesty to build trust, closeness, etc. with other people and thereby use important information in order to manipulate them or obtain advantages in the future.”

On the one hand, the results regarding the relationship between the use of humor and anger management suggest that the capacity for maintaining a humorous perspective in adverse situations, is often a characteristic among people who manage anger more effectively.

The technique of self-enhancing humor is also use by those with lower tendencies to exhibit angry feelings or reactions.

By contrast, people who tend to use aggressive or self-defeating humor do not manage anger or rage as well. In particular, aggressive humor is mainly associated with the expression of anger towards others and a greater propensity to experience anger in everyday life.

By using aggressive humor, individuals may express negative feelings (for example, anger, superiority, hate, etc.) less explicitly than they would through physical or verbal abuse, since they can allude to the humorous nature of the comments they make in order to justify them.

Meanwhile, self-defeating humor was linked to a greater tendency to suppress anger. However, this suppression does not necessarily mean that the anger directed at others is reduced or controlled, but rather that the triggers eliciting such angry reactions are concealed or not explicitly stated.

Source: University of Granada

Posted by Patricia Adams