Humour: Funny or not?

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Brencia Daphne

June 10,2021

Knock knock.

Who is there?


Goliath who?

Go lie-th down. You look-eth tired.

Humour is universal. We’ve all grown up around humour in one form or another. Maybe you read Archie, or watched Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Maybe dark jokes speak to you more, or maybe you like sketches or find humour in everyday observations. What one person finds funny may not necessarily be humorous to another.

Through the 20th century, psychologists showed an ongoing interest in the study of humour and their curiosity led them to discover 4 different kinds of humour:

Affiliative humour

People who use self-enhancing humor seem to always find the humorous side of life.

Not only is it having the ability to find the funny in everyday, but it is mainly a way of coping with any difficulty, and not letting negative emotions get in the way.

“You’re still a rockstar!'' I whisper to myself as I take my multivitamin and get in bed at 9:00.”

Don’t trust atoms. They make up everything.

Aggressive humour-

Yes it is exactly as it sounds. It is mostly hurtful, ridiculing humour that includes teasing, sarcasm and putting others downs. Aggressive humour causes discomfort and conflicts among people. It’s often used by bullies. Aggressive humour is only funny when everybody involved has agreed to be a part of it. When you’re hanging out with your friends and pulling their leg, this is the form of humour you’re using.

“I’m sorry I hurt your feelings when I called you stupid. I thought you already knew!”

Self-defeating humour

Clowns are the best example for self-defeating humour. Well, so are some of us. When we amuse others at our expense, we’re using this form of humour. Those who use self-defeating humour make themselves the target of their own jokes and laugh with those who put them down. This often affects low self-esteem and self-worth.

“The risk I took was calculated, but man I am bad at math!”

The use of humour is very contextual. The differences we notice in the different kinds of humour also depends on people, the kind of humour a person engages in depends upon various factors such as personality and gender.

How your Personality Affects your Sense of Humour

The relationship between personality traits and the use of humour has been one of the widely researched topics. According to those researches, there is a unique relation between the 4 types of humour and the Big Five-Factor Model.

What is the Big Five-Factor Model?

The "big five" are broad categories of personality traits. It’s a set of 5 broad traits that help understand one’s personality.

An average amount of people who are open to experiences, have a positive view towards life, they are outgoing and compassionate towards others. They usually engage in affiliative and self-enhancing humour. They have a good sense of self-esteem and have an internal locus of control (the extent to which people feel that they have control over the events that influence their lives) Their humour is light-hearted and they aim to bring happiness to people.

However, aggressive and self-defeating humour is associated with negative emotions about self. It is associated with rigidity, low self-esteem and manipulative behaviour. People who are rigid have less compassionate views of others and experience negative emotions like anger, anxiety or sadness engage more in aggressive and self-defeating humour. They often use humour as a defence mechanism to cope with their issues. The locus of control is usually external and they usually have low self-worth and self-esteem.

Gender Differences

Earlier, humour was not considered to be something that women could pull off. It was dominated by males. Studies reveal that currently, women use humour often. However, men still lead in using humour. They engage more in aggressive and self-defeating humour than females do and this is because of various factors like social skills, level of compassion for others, biological aspects etc.

Women often avoid using humour in confusing situations. But it’s changing now. We can see a huge number of women who are stand up comedians, witty and satirical bloggers or authors and stage performers. This is the beginning of a shift from the dominance of males in the field to the equal contribution of women in the field.

Around the world!

Humour is a universal human activity. Most people experience humour often over a typical day and in all sorts of social contexts. At the same time, cultural differences influence the appropriateness of humour in specific situations and how it is communicated. For example, Indians being raised in a collectivistic culture, tend to engage more in self-enhancing and affiliative humour than the Western crowd.

In America and Britain, people use self-deprecating humour styles. Research shows that the West uses more maladaptive (unsuitable for the situation) humour styles while the East uses adaptive humour.

Apart from the above-mentioned factors, there are several others that contribute to a person being humorous.

Among that is experienced trauma, abuse, disasters and psychological abnormality. And it requires great importance. A lot of people who go through a serious trauma in their past use humour as a defence mechanism. Remember Chandler Bing from FRIENDS? They use humour to demean others or themselves which is also known as aggressive or self-defeating humour. In certain situations, they also tend to use self-enhancing humour to inflate their self-worth.

However people who’ve had a good and secure childhood often engage in affiliative and self-enhancing humour.

A lot of humour styles also depend on the response that is received.

“If someone is getting fame, attention and positive response on using a certain kind of humour, they will use it more often.”

A lot of psychologists, therefore, include humour studies in therapy. Use of humour is also a habitual pattern, a cognitive ability, involuntary response or an emotion-driven trait.

All said and done, in my personal view, positive humour is necessary and leads to a harmonious and healthy society. It has its pros and cons like all the other things in the world but the right incorporation of humour in our lives helps in achieving psychological and physical well-being!

“Gentlemen, why do you not laugh? With the fearful strain that is upon me day and night, if I did not laugh, I should die.”

— Abraham Lincoln

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