Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Humor-free jokes aid in laughter study

If you're a psychologist studying the social dynamics of laughter, it's hard to come up with an experimental design that doesn't result in the findings being contaminated by the uncontrollable, anarchic nature of humor. One way to solve this problem is simply to get rid of the humor. Start with a really bad joke.
So there are these two muffins baking in an oven. One of them yells, “Wow, it’s hot in here!”

And the other muffin replies: “Holy cow! A talking muffin!”
(Groan.) It turns out that responses to this humor-free joke tend to depend on social setting and hierarchy.
When the woman watching was the boss, she didn’t laugh much at the muffin joke. But when she was the underling or a co-worker, she laughed much more, even though the joke-teller wasn’t in the room to see her. When you’re low in the status hierarchy, you need all the allies you can find, so apparently you’re primed to chuckle at anything even if it doesn’t do you any immediate good.
In other words, there's a lot of forced laughter in what passes for office humor. Cleverly designed reductionistic experiments like this, proving what's obvious to anyone who has ever worked in an office, keep the machinery of the social science enterprise humming along nicely. But they don't tell us much about the complex mysteries of humor. For openers, you'd need better jokes.

1 comment:

Ethical Mirth Gas said...

Just shows how hard it must be to study this stuff. That joke gave me a good laugh the first time I heard it (from a friend, not my boss). Maybe it was just told well? Or maybe I was enjoying my friend's company?

Good luck finding a joke that everyone either laughs at or doesn't laugh at.