Psychology of Humor The science of laughter, mirth and fun. Wed, 19 Apr 2017 14:41:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 5 Ways Humour Reduces Stress And Anxiety – guest article by Marcus Clarke Wed, 19 Apr 2017 14:37:47 +0000 This guest-post was written by Marcus Clarke BSc, MSc from, a psychology and science blog that examines the latest research in mental health and explains how findings can impact and improve people’s lives. Lots of great posts at Marcus’ blog, so be sure to pay psysci a visit once done reading about the positive effects of humor!
Stress. Anxiety. That feeling when your heart clenches, butterflies dance in your belly and your breathing constricts. We’ve all felt these feelings and we’ve probably all at some point struggled to reduce stress and anxiety from our lives by practicing meditation or popping pills. There is another mechanism however, that reduces stress and anxiety: a natural and effective way that taps into the body and mind’s most amazing powers of self-healing. It’s humour. In this blog I explore five ways in which humour reduces stress and anxiety.


Humour distracts

Stress and anxiety are internally focused phenomena. How something is going to affect you. How you will deal with something. Whether you made the right choice. Humour is a masterful way of distracting you from yourself. For a time, your attention is diverted to the larger joke at hand or focused on the comedy happening to someone else. Humour can lift your focus away from what is happening to you, essentially distracting you for a time from your stress and anxiety. This distraction, if applied often enough, can aid you by providing your ‘toolbox’ with another coping strategy for those times when stress and anxiety overwhelm you.


Humour relaxes

Stress and anxiety not only permeate your mind, but they have a physical manifestation within your body. Muscles tense, the jaw clenches and shoulders ache under tension. Humour affects the autonomic nervous system by encouraging laughter which causes the body to slip into deeper breathing. This in turn relaxes the body’s muscles and calms the sympathetic nervous system from the adrenalized ‘fight or flight’ response to the more sedate parasympathetic nervous system driven state of calm. Thus, humour physically relaxes away stress and anxiety.


Humour reframes

Humour has a way of making us all view things in a different light. Perhaps humour uses a little self-deprecating angle, or tosses in some biting satire to get a laugh. Maybe it’s simply over-the-top slapstick humour that is blatant and in your face. Regardless of the type of humour, humour has the ability to make us reframe our perspectives and view our problems from a less ‘all-or-nothing’ lens[PP1] . Reframing, re-authoring or changing the perspective on your issues can make stress and anxiety melt away as you realize your issues aren’t insurmountable after-all.


Humour as pharmacology

Humour brings about a chemical reaction that is a powerful antithesis to stress and anxiety. Laughter releases certain ‘feel good’ chemicals within the brain by activating neuropeptides, such as endorphins, which are the equivalent of nature’s anti-depressants. On a contrasting level, laughter has also been linked with a reduction in the stress hormone, cortisol. So by working at a neuro-molecular level, humour can act as a powerful panacea to stress and anxiety.


Humour heals

Getting together and having a laugh really is good medicine. Humour has been found to increase communication, heal rifts and mend disputes. If your stress and anxiety are caused by strife between friends, family or the guy living two doors down, try having a laugh together and see if that goes some way towards mending fences. Once again, some self-deprecation and a laugh at your own expense might soften a thorny issue or make you seem like a much more approachable person.

The next time stress and anxiety have your cornered and you lean over to grab that bottle of Pinot Noir, try flicking on YouTube and having a laugh instead[PP2] . You might be surprised at how much better you feel after having a chuckle… without the hindrance of a morning hangover to boot!



Mils, H., Reiss, N., & Dombeck, M. Distraction and humor in stress reduction. (2017, Apr. 14) Retrieved from

Why laughter is good for the nervous system, relieves pain. (2017, Apr. 14) Retrieved from

Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke. (2017, Apr. 14) Retrieved from

Borchard, T. 9 Ways that humor heals. (2017, Apr.14) Retrieved from

Does researching and writing about humor kills all the fun (and makes you depressed)? Thu, 02 Feb 2017 14:26:29 +0000 Does researching and writing about humor kills all the fun (and makes you depressed)?

Let me give it to you straight up: no, it does not –– but it is more complicated than that…

I usually start my lectures and workshops by telling audience that I will share with them theories and research from the psychology of humor, show examples, and conduct interactive exercises and discussion related to the particular topic of the presentation (e.g. humor and cross-cultural interactions or leadership). I also say that “I will make a humble attempt to make them laugh, although researching and writing about humor doesn’t necessarily make one a comedian”. It elicits some laughter, usually, but I also say it for a reason:

First, whenever there is a word “humor” in the title of a presentation or a lecture, many expect that it will be something like a stand-up comedy with series of jokes and jokes only, so it is good to set their expectations straight (read: lower their expectations – I am no stand-up comedian after all).

Second, E. B. White once famously said that “analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog – few people are interested and the patient dies in the end”. And, most people do think that overanalyzing humor removes all the fun and this notion seems to resonate well with audiences. Saying what they might already be thinking and letting the audience know that I am aware of it, too, is be putting us on the same team.

Third, by saying that “researching humor didn’t make me a comedian”, I am giving myself an alibi for those moments when I do get carried away with the serious analysis, forget about the funny examples and the frog has its NDE[1].

But, back to the question at hand: does studying humor – its social functions, cognitive mechanisms that go into appreciating jokes, or brain patters related to it, etc. – does “knowing” all this, really kills all the fun for those who investigate it?

It is a legitimate question: does it no make you see a research question in every laughter, an observation in every smile, an experiment subject in every person telling a joke?  To be honest, I have never really asked myself this question before, until one person from audience recently confronted me with it. She said that she was a researcher, too, and she was driven by the “unknown” in science, and that whenever she started working with a subject and begun to understand it, she was losing some of the initial motivation and exhilaration. Therefore, she would not chose humor as a subject of study, because she would be afraid to lose all the excitement attached to it.

She also added that “it’s a widely known fact that many comedians suffer from depression” and asked whether I am not afraid to become depressed “when I cannot laugh and enjoy humor anymore [because of studying it]”.

To begin with, I replied that I can think of a dozen other reasons myself and anyone else can get depressed (year 2016 alone being one good reason). And, then there is therapy (and Xanax).

On a more serious note, however, analyzing humor when doing research or writing an article is entirely different from analyzing or explaining a situational joke when interacting with humans. And, I think it was this latter kind of analysis that E.B. White referred to as being deadly for the frog. constantly! And believe, in the same way that we psychologists do not go around and analyze people every wake minute of the day, humor scholars do not analyze every instance of humor they observe or participate in.



Some other reflections and reasons, which I can summon from personal experience, about why studying humor does not kill the fun:

Think of musicians: many can tell you structure of every song, its rhythm, harmony of the sounds in a chord and sometimes even bother to explain why a particular piece is good. I am sure, however, that not only can they tell a great masterpiece, but also surely enjoy listening to it a lot. Musicians are probably the people who listen to music most, too.

Humor, to continue the musical metaphor, is similar to music in that it is a very creative area of human activity. Both in terms of new comedians and genres constantly emerging, but also, and even more so, when it comes to our social interactions: new things to laugh at, whole themes, patters and spontaneous situations emerge all the time – and with them, humor is evolving and changing its functions. Psychology of humor is still a young discipline of a relatively young science: psychology. We lack terms and theory to describe even a fraction of the entirety of the humor as phenomenon and we are far from understanding its every aspect.

This is especially true for humor in social interactions – and it is there where most of it happens. And, as noted before, it is an entirely different thing to study humor: observe it and analyze it from a distance, but once you are taking a part in a humorous situation it is very hard not to be taken along by it and remain an objective observer.

Humor is engraved in our deepest nature. Animals and our evolutionary ancestors were no strangers to humor or interaction forms resembling humor (e.g. rough and tumble play). Although we may not all be born with genetic predisposition to grasp particle physics, all of us[2] are evolutionary rooted to create, understand and appreciate humor – different kinds of it and to different degrees, sure, but it is in our genes.

Finally, all I can say is that the more I study humor, the more I enjoy and appreciate it. The more I seek it.

So, go ahead and read more on this blog and learn about the psychology of humor – I can promise you no side effects!


[1] I reckon that most of you are familiar with Netflix and the “O.A.” series by now, but for those who are not: NDE stands for near death experience.

[2] There are, of course, certain conditions that may have genetic background and that can hinder one’s ability to perceive humor, e.g. autism in some cases.

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The universality of smile and laughter Tue, 20 Sep 2016 19:20:44 +0000 Some years ago, I was hitchhiking with friends in rural Serbia and we were a little lost. I approached an elderly man sitting on his porch, just off the road, to ask for directions. He did not seem happy about it, but I did not have a choice:

‘Excuse me sir, do you speak English?’ Slowly but decisively, he turned his head side to side and uttered a short ‘no.’ I tried Spanish: ‘¿Habla usted Español?’ Same answer, this time entirely muted. I kept on going, naming every language one of my friends or I knew: ‘Govorish po-ruski?’, ‘Deutsch?’, ‘Italliano?’, ‘Polski?’ Nothing, nada, Nichst… Despite my polyglottic show-off, we were unable to communicate.

‘Parlez-vous français?’ he shouted out suddenly. I had listed almost all main European languages before him, but none in our group knew French! The punchline was obvious and we began to smile, chuckle, then we all burst out laughing. The old man raised himself slowly and went to his house to get a notepad to draw us a map…

Despite not one common language between us, we could communicate that we both saw how absurd and comic the situation was and we had friendly intentions towards each other. All by the means of smile and laughter.


Paul Ekman in New Guinea in 1960'. Read more about his work at

Paul Ekman in New Guinea in 1960′. Read more about his work at

Smiling and laughter cross the greatest cultural barriers. Paul Ekman, an American psychologist who pioneered research of facial expressions and their relation to emotions, went much farther then Serbia to collect evidence for universality of smiling and laughter. In a study conducted on New Guinea, in 1969, he discovered that smiling and laughter not only existed among the indigenous tribes of this remote and isolated island, but also that they were related to similar emotions, social situations and communication patterns as in the Western societies.

But, why is it so that people around the world can convey: ‘it’s OK, it’s safe, I trust you, I don’t want to hurt you, I want to connect with you,’ with a single smile despite cultural differences? Let me answer that question with another: Is it really only people who use smile in this way?

Animals (at least mammals) have an equivalent of human smile and laughter when it comes to facial expression and non-verbal communication. It is often referred to as “play face” and is marked by silent bared-teeth display and relaxed open-mouth (van Hoof, 1972). Like with those two:

Now, tell my that you're not struggling not to smile when watching these two...

Now, tell my that just looking at those two doesn’t put you in playful mood… (“Dogs playing” by E. Sonstroem, 2015, CC BY-NC 2.0)


One truly extraordinary case of cross-species communication involving the “play face” was documented by a photographer Norbert Rosling and explained in terms of “serious play” by Dr. Stuart Brown (2008). In it, a famished male polar bear approached a husky tied to a pole. Instead of ending up being attacked and – presumably – eaten, the dog managed to seduce the predator to play, literally by making a “play face.”

This facial expression is, not surprisingly, even more recognizable and similar to human smiling in our closest cousins: primates. Especially chimpanzees have similar “smiling” patterns as humans and even accompany them with a certain panting vocalization – most likely a precursor of human laughter (Gervais & Wilson, 2005). Therefore, some scientists think that laughter is “an ancient mode of prelinguistic communication” (Provine, 2004) and has been universally used to convey a playful state of mind characterized by positive emotions (van Hooff, 1972).

Both, the cross-cultural universality, as well as the presence of forms of smile and laughter in other animals, point to the evolutionary roots of this form of communication. It means that regardless of the country of origin, we are all born with the capacity to communicate with smile and laughter friendly intentions, positive emotions, and invitation to play and connect. And, although various cultures put smiling and laughter into slightly different contexts and may disagree about what is and what is not funny, smiling and laughter themselves are so pervasive and universal, that everybody understands the message they convey: let’s relax, be friends and have fun!

(I was invited to write this article by Association for Applied and Therapuetic Humor and it was originally published in the international edition of their newsletter, the Voice in September 2016.)


Brown, S. (2008, May). Play is more than just fun. Retrieved from TED Ideas worth spreading:

Ekman, P., Sorenson, E. R., & Friesen, W. V. (1969). Pan-Cultural Elements in Facial Displays of Emotion. Science, 164(3875), 86-88.

Gervais, M., & Wilson, D. S. (2005). The evolution and functions of laughter and humor: A synthetic approach. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 80(4), 395-430.

Provine, R. R. (2004). Laughing, Tickling, and the Evolution of Speech and Self. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13(6), 215-218.

van Hooff, J. A. (1972). A comparative approach to the phylogeny of laughter and smiling. In R. A. Hinde (Ed.), Non-verbal communication. England: Cambridge University Press.

RADIO: Short interview on humor Fri, 10 Jun 2016 13:33:03 +0000 Couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by a Danish journalist-duo from London, aka The Stray Dogs. They have quite an interesting blog, especially for Londoners, where they share stray stories from “walking the streets of London, sniffing around, nose to the ground (…), often with a Danish angle.”

They also run a radio show as part of the blog (thanks to the courtesy of the London Fields Radio) and it was there I was interviewed about the origins and functions of humor, gender differences and the possibility to learn how to be funny.

You can listen to my part of the interview below:


Visit the Stray Dogs blog to hear the whol show at

VIDEO: my lecture on humor in organizational context Sun, 27 Mar 2016 19:25:18 +0000 I bet that most of you do not think of Finland as the European vanguard when it comes to humor, but you would be surprised what goes on in Oulu, 170 km (approx. 100 miles) from the Arctic Circle:

The Oulu University of Applied Sciences together with the Oulu Business School are leading a whole R&D project dedicated to humor. The HURMOS project, as it is called, is exploring “humor as a strategic tool for creating innovative business”. In the project, a team of researchers and PhD students from the two universities works closely with the local companies gathering data and aims at increasing their competence in the strategic use of humor.

I was invited to give a lecture on humor research, theory and consultative practice relevant for the organizational context, during an event organized by the project on the 19th of February, titled: “For real — humor in business?!”

I had a great time visiting Oulu and below is a video of my lecture that I wanted to share with you:



Thanks to Taina Vuorela for inviting me and the whole HURMOS-team for coordinating the event and providing me with a wonderful experience in Oulu!:)

Don’t be a stranger – have a laugh! Mon, 08 Feb 2016 20:32:31 +0000 Whom do you laugh with more – friends or strangers? People you know well and share a history with or, for example, random commuters with whom all you share is a crowded bus? Unless you are a stand-up comedian, professional clown or suffer from pseudobulbar affect, you have probably answered that you LOL and ROTFL less with strangers. But, do you, really?

In a study by Vettin and Todt (2004), the researchers observed no differences between how much laughter emerged between friends or strangers. On average, they recorded 5.8 instances of laughter for every 10 minutes of conversation (which is, accidently, much more than previous self-reported studies suggested[1] (Martin 2007).

Now, although the study did not investigate whether the observed laughter had any relation building effects on the strangers, the sheer amount of it makes it an interesting component of interaction. “Surely’, I hear you say, ‘one doesn’t need a research paper to know that’. Then you add, however:


but one does not simply


And, even if one does crack a laugh with strangers as easily and often as the study by Vettin and Todt leads us to believe, it would be interesting to learn more about why it happen, to what effect and whether one can use it consciously to one’s advantage.



In an experiment by Fraley and Aron (2004), the participants – who were strangers to one another – received two different tasks. The task given to one group was designed to provide the participants with a pleasant and humorous experience (experimental group); the other group received a task that was overall pleasant but not humorous (control group).

Strangers in the experimental group laughed more together – meaning that the manipulation worked[2] – and also reported higher subjective closeness to one another than pairs in the control group following the experiment. It seemed that humor made strangers… less strange to one another.

Study provided some further explanation for this effect by measuring mediating variables, i.e. other effects of humor that could influence the feeling of closeness between the participants:

The most prevalent mechanism discovered by the researchers was related to reduced feeling of discomfort reported by the participants in the humor-condition. Possible explanation here is that humor can help to free the mind (Bateson, 1969) and give a sense of control (Morreall, 1989) in an uncertain situation – which is what meeting strangers often is. Humor can thus reduce the discomfort and tension, and allow us to focus on the interaction and getting to know the other person.


Another study investigated one of the most interesting social effects of humor: the increase in interpersonal attraction following a shared humorous experience.

In this experiment by Cann, Calhoun and Banks (1997), the participants were asked to tell their favorite joke to a stranger. One group of participants had been led to believe that the stranger had many similar opinions and attitudes as themselves; the other group had been led to believe to opposite. Subjectively perceived similarity is a well-studied and important factor determining interpersonal attraction – we tend to like more people who seem similar to ourselves (Lydon, Jamieson, & Zanna 1988; Byrne 1971; etc.).

The strangers, who were actually confederates of the researchers, were instructed to either laugh or react neutrally to the jokes told by the participants. The underlying assumption here was that we perceive people who laugh at our jokes as more attractive – because this indicates a shared sense of humor (Martin 2007), and thus similarity.

The results were quite interesting:

“Although both attitude similarity and response to the joke [positive or neutral] influenced ratings of interpersonal attraction in the expected direction […], a dissimilar stranger [different attitudes] who responded positively to the joke was more attractive than a similar stranger [same attitudes] who responded neutrally.”

(Cann, Calhoun & Banks 1997: abstract)

In other words, the results of the study suggest that we can be attracted more to strangers who, despite being different from us, laugh at our jokes; than to strangers who share our social attitudes and beliefs, but who are not amused by our sense of humor.

Following on from that it is reasonable to think that we use humor – either consciously or not – as a “social-probing device” of sorts. Trying to make others laugh while venturing with humor into different topics, we can learn based on their reactions whether they shares similar knowledge and attitudes, i.e. if they are like us (which is necessary for them to get and enjoy our humor; Zajdman, 1995). This seems to be especially applicable to meeting new people.

(Provided that our jokes are actually funny, that is.)


The joke-teller



First, it’s good to have a laugh when you’re meeting new people and want to make friends (no kiddin’, right?) A shared humor experiences reduces tension related to uncertainty we feel when meeting strangers through positive emotions and by providing a much welcome distraction.

Second, it also seems like a good idea to laugh at the jokes that a strangers might tell you (and if you’re desperate to make friends, that means laughing even if they’re not particularly funny). Of course, laughing at others’ jokes is a way of expressing appreciation and feelings of attraction (Grammer 1990). However, it also makes you appear more similar and thus enhances your own attractiveness.

Third, you better be on the watch for all those ingratiation-savvy fellas who will laugh at your jokes no matter how un-whimsical they get – they’re probably desperate to make friends (which is not necessarily a bad thing).

Fourth, responses to attempts at making laugh people whom you just met – if genuine – are important sources of social information about their similarity or dissimilarity to yourself.


At the end of the day, my advice is to go out there and not over-analyze humor  having a god ol’ laugh while making friends.



[1] The fact that we generally under-report how much we participate in humour or laugh, could also be part of the explanation why most of the people would answer that they laugh much more with friends, than strangers.

[2] Unfortunately, the authors do not report in more details about the tasks they had designed. I, however, cannot think of anything other for the ‘humorous task’ than creating funny memes about psychology; given that the majority of psychological studies use psychology undergraduates as subjects.



Byrne, D. (1971). The Attraction Paradigm. New York: Academic Press.

Cann, A., Calhoun, L. G., & Banks, J. S. (1997). On the role of humor appreciation in interpersonal attraction: It’s no joking matter. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research., 10(1), 77-89.

Fraley, B., & Aron, A. (2004). The effect of a shared humorous experience on closeness in initial encounters. Personal Relationships(11), 61-78.

Grammer, K. (1990). Strangers meet: Laughter and nonverbal signs of interest in opposite-sex encounters. Journal of Nonverbial Behavior, 14(4), 209-236.

Lydon, J., Jamieson, D., & Zanna, M. (1988). Interpersonal similarity and social and intellectual dimensions of first impressions. Social Cognition, 6, 269-286.

Martin, R. A. (2007). The psychology of humor: an integrative approach. Burlington: Elsevier Academic Press.

Vettin, J., & Todt, D. (2004). Laughter in conversation: Features of occurrence and acoustic structure. Journal of Nonverbal Behaviour, 22(2), 93-115.

Zajdman, A. (1995). Humorous face-threatening acts: Humor as strategy. Journal of Pragmatics(23), 325-339.

VIDEO: keynote speech on humor in cross-cultural interactions Wed, 21 Oct 2015 12:32:36 +0000 I was invited to do a keynote speech on humor for a crowd of researchers and practitioners working with cross-cultural themes during the 14th annual IACCM conference in Vienna, Austria.

I titled the speech “Humor in cross-cultural interaction: Are we having a laugh?” partially to reflect the complexity of humor in cross-cultural context, partially to remind myself that the audience will probably expect some good ol’ funny bits in the speech — not only research and theories. As E. B. White noted once, in what since became the most used quote in relation to humor research, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.”

And we, humor scholars, often tend to overkill the frog, so to speak. However, given that the audience laughed in what appeared to be the right moments, I think I managed to keep it alive for some time.

(Apologies for the poor quality, but if you set it to HD, voice should be clear and audible.)

I would also like to thank Barbara Covarrubias Venegas for trusting my funny bone and inviting me to speak at the conference in the first place and Anna Zelno for streaming the keynote.

The Humor Profiler project: Help in research and get a chance to win a book! Fri, 08 May 2015 16:47:26 +0000 Do you feel like answering a couple of questions about your humor preferences? Would you like to help developing an instrument that will help teams use humor more and better? Do you want to get a chance to win one of 10 copies of “Humor Code” by Peter McGraw and Joel Werner? If you answered “yes”, “maybe” or “African swallow” to any of these questions – read on or jump straight to the questions:



Work is not always fun, but the common knowledge and scientific research alike tell us that good humor is crucial for good collaboration. At the same time, humor is not an easy animal to tame and it often becomes the “elephant in the room” in many organizations, groups and teams. Together with intercultures – an international consultation company – I’m working on a project with ambitious goals: to create a tool for mapping individual preferences for humor use and appreciation relevant for collaboration – the Humor Profiler. The tool will be used in research and consultative work with teams and organizations. At the present stage, we’re gathering data for preliminary analysis with the initial pool of questions, in order to select best ones for further data collection and instrument refinement. It is that we need your help for…


win humor codeImportant information

The survey is 85-questions long and it takes about 15 minutes to complete. We’d appreciate if you left some personal information at the end (age, occupation, etc.), but it’s optional. If you want to participate in the lottery of the book and receive information about the Humor Profiler project in the future, be sure to provide your correct e-mail address! NOTE: You will not receive feedback immediately – only after we have gathered enough data to perform a preliminary statistical analysis, will we be able to present you your results (late summer/fall this year).


Tip a friend, share on social media

We couldn’t wish for anything better than for you to share this survey with others. You are more welcome to tweet about it and share this post on your Facebook and other social media. Also, we will grant you one copy of the questionnaire, once it’s ready, for each person you bring in. Be sure to ask them to write your name, e-mail or anything that would help us to identify you at the end of the survey (in the open question “Where did you learn about this survey”).

Thank you!



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A short essay on why rating funniness can kill the fun Thu, 26 Mar 2015 22:06:51 +0000 Terry Jones, a member of the Monty Python, recounts an episode related to the test screening of the group’s first feature film, none other than Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The test-audience had been warned that the creators wanted to check if the movie was funny before they ship it off to the movie theaters. Result? They laughed for only about five minutes and concluded that the film was “all right”.


“All right”? Just “all right”? This?! Are you deaf and blind?!


Although worried by this cold reception, the crew sent the feature to a movie festival in L.A., where the viewers were self-selected and had to pay to get the tickets and… laughed a great deal throughout the movie.


In my first piece of research related to humor, I used funny and neutral cartoons to manipulate the experimental versus control conditions.

I meticulously picked the initial pool of non-offensive cartoons (kind of important in psychological research if you don’t want your subjects start throwing pencils at you), which I personally regarded as so-hilarious-that-virtually-everybody-will-just-have-to-laugh kind of funny. Before I conducted the proper experiment, I employed a smaller group of people (called the competent judges in psychological research) to pre-select the funniest cartoon from my initial pool. As expected, some of the cartoons were rated as funnier than others. However, none of them was rated as very funny, rather just moderate to somewhat funny. Could my competent judges lacked the sense of humor?

Well, the average ratings in the proper experiment, with a large sample, were also in the area of somewhat to moderate funny – not very impressive, but at least none pencils thrown in my direction neither…

Of course, you can pin it on me for picking the wrong and not so funny cartoons (but by God, half of my kingdom to whoever can show me a universally funny cartoon that everybody would understand and which would still make it to the New Yorker). However, I later on run into one of the competent judges and she told me that when she saw the cartoons again, couple of months later and without an explicit objective of rating them in head, she did find many of them funny – hilarious, even.

It made me think that there probably has to be some kind of mechanism at play here – one that has to have something to do with what Terry Jones observed happened during the first screening of the Monty Python and the Holy Grail.


Part of Jones’ explanation for what happened was that “you don’t ever say to anybody: ‘we’re really worried about this comedy film, would you come and look, and see if it’s funny’, because they’re not going to find it funny” (Jones in: Parker, Jones, Timlet 2009, Episode 4).

If one relates this statement to the poor funniness ratings of the cartoons in my experiment, one can think that people rating them, be it the competent judges or the study participants, could have assumed that I wasn’t sure whether they are funny – otherwise, why would I ask them to rate them? – and expected them to be rather dull from the beginning.

There’s another explanation, which could be more interesting, though:

Apter – in his theoretical formulation of humor (1982) – suggested that humor is more likely to occur when person’s only objective in processing information is to understand and enjoy it. When, on the other hand, a person has a more specific goal related to processing information, the cognitive activity that is involved in reaching it interferes with the general comprehension processes that give rise to amusement (Wyer & Collins 1992).

In the case of my funny cartoons and the Holy Grail, asking viewers to rate the funniness of what they’re perceiving, the very act of making an assessment, could constitute such “specific goal” and thus interfere with the general processes of simply understanding it and enjoying it as funny.

I am not convinced that it was so in terms of my cartoons, but the Monty Python and the Holy Grail example makes for a strong case that could encourage studies investigating this interesting research question, with both practical and methodological consequences.

For now, if I was to learn if something is really funny, I would rather just go for it and have the person’s reaction observed, or asked some time after, so that he or she gets some time to have a proper fun with it.



Apter, M. J. (1982). The experience of motivation. London: Academic Press.

Parker, A. G., Jones, B., & Timlett, B. (Directors). (2009). Monty Python: Almost the Truth – Lawyers Cut. Episode 4. [TV Series].

Wyer, R. S., & Collins, J. E. (1992). A Theory of Humor Elicitation. Psychological Review, 99(4), 663-688.



Call for papers on humor in organizational & work setting! Thu, 12 Mar 2015 15:18:42 +0000 23rd NFF conference banner

If you’re working on a research or theoretical paper on humor in organizational setting (related to organizational culture, leader/follower relationship, innovation, creativity, branding, marketing, etc.) and haven’t yet thought were to present it, here’s your chance: the 23rd Nordic Academy of Management Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, will feature an entire track dedicated to humor!

It is Track 3 and it is titled: Humor, joy, and fun in and around organizations and the organizers “encourage researchers to investigate the potential, different aspects, and even risks related to using and utilizing humour, both in and around organizations and organizational relationships.”

Furthermore it reads: “We are looking for new research openings around humour, joy, and fun related topics in business and management studies. We encourage studies that discuss the potential of humour in creating and developing business opportunities, including humour, joy, and fun embedded in business models. We invite and welcome both empirical and conceptual papers.”

So, if you were looking for a place to present, perhaps Copenhagen in summertime should sound interesting? And… if you were looking for some motivating deadlines, the 1st of April is the last day to submit the abstracts.

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