Friday, April 07, 2006

Scholar's Paper Example: Frank Morris


Frank Morris

Humor is a very vital characteristic of the human psyche. I was curious as to how humor plays a part in the field of Pleneurethics. I chose to compare and contrast two research articles whose topics delve into the subject of what humor is and how it effects human interaction.

I found two articles. The first article is A Temperamental Understanding of Humor Communication and Exhilaratability by author Jason S. Wrench and James C. McCroskey. The second article is titled, Getting a Laugh: Gender, Status, and Humor in Task Discussions by authors, Dawn T. Robinson and Lynn Smith-Lovin.

The main points of Temperamental Understanding of Humor Communication and Exhilaratability deal with the positive benefits of humor, the way humor is communicated, how humor “strikes” us, and the excitability of humor. The definition of humor is also attempted.

Getting a Laugh: Gender, Status, and Humor in Task Discussions tries to define humor. It tries to show how humor is a status builder, how humor can bring people together, and how humor can relieve tension and stress. Getting a Laugh: Gender, Status, and Humor in Task Discussions ask the questions, who uses humor, who laughs at humor, what gender is most likely to use humor, when where, how and why. In addition, does humor beget humor? How does gender grouping affect humor? Who participates in humor? How does the interruption factor affect the use of humor? How does time effect the use of humor – when does it happen in a group? What is the success rate of humor, does humor feed on itself, and who is the target of said humor. How does humor bond people within a group.

In Temperamental Understanding of Humor Communication and Exhilaratability, the positive benefits of humor are multi fold. Humor can and does relieve stress. It not only dissipates stressful situations but also helps us to cope with our own stress. Humor can be utilized in dealing with family problems. Humor can help us see or set a positive spin on matters. It helps us not to take ourselves too seriously. Humorous people are generally found more popular than people who are not humorous are. People like people who can make them laugh. Being liked by fellow humans usually relates into higher self-esteem and thus a better mental attitude towards life. Hopefully this will equate into better mental health and in how people treat other people.

Humor is in our genetics; you’re born with a funny bone. Humor can be learned somewhat but to be truly humorous it has to be an inborn trait. Communication (which humor is a subdivision of) is neurobiologically driven. “…genetic codes have been linked to the traits of impulsiveness, openness, conservatism, hostility and intelligence.” (Temperamental Understanding of Humor Communication and Exhilaratability) All these traits are found in humor and / or drive humor to be utilized.

How humor plays out to us when we hear it is predicted in a large part to our DNA. Humor is a commonality that binds most of mankind together. “Humor and laughter are both a psychological and physiological response pattern that activates the entire cortex, sending waves of positive and negative polarization through both hemispheres.” (Temperamental Understanding of Humor Communication and Exhilaratability) So humor and laughter exercises both sides of the brain. It is probably one of the few incidents that allow the left and right sides of the brain to function together at the same time experiencing the same thing all at once.

Definition of humor in article Temperamental Understanding of Humor Communication and Exhilaratability is “…humor is like obscenity, you know it when you see it.” This seems to me to be the best definition I have come across. Humor is just too broad of a subject to be pinned down with a narrow explanation. Even though it is hard to define humor it is not hard to “see” what bad humor is. Most people have distinct lines drawn in their minds on what kind of humor they are willing to accept. In this day and age the erosion of what society will accept as humor has changed. What once use to be reserved for the locker room or the pool hall is now flaunted on prime time television. Humor and obscenity seem to have merged into one.

Getting a Laugh: Gender, Status, and Humor in Task Discussions agrees with Temperamental Understanding of Humor Communication and Exhilaratability. Getting a Laugh: Gender, Status, and Humor in Task Discussions conclusion on a definition is, “Like beauty, most people believe that they know it (humor) when they see (hear) it.” Humor is a perception, you can’t pin it down with a thumbtack definition. One man’s humor is another man’s misery depending on their perception of the humor at hand.

How and why do people use humor as a status builder within a group? According to Getting a Laugh: Gender, Status, and Humor in Task Discussions when in a group of strangers, humor is more likely to build a hierarchy within the group than to build group cohesion. This agrees with one of the positive aspect that Temperamental Understanding of Humor Communication and Exhilaratability points out. People who can use humor successfully and use it more often usually find themselves at the upper end of the status chain within the group where they employ said humor. Is it the humor that promotes their self-confidence or is it their self-confidence that propels them to employ humor in their communication? This is a question neither article asks nor answers.

Getting a Laugh: Gender, Status, and Humor in Task Discussions talks about how humor helps to define reality and helps to define one’s self. Humor helps us to “see” reality from a less serious side. A reflection of silliness helps our perspective of the issue come into a focus we might not of considered. Humor helps to define one’s self – if you can’t laugh at yourself, how can you freely laugh at something else. Humor can be used as a control by its power to connect people to other people. It can also be used to exclude people from a group. Humor is neither good nor evil, but it is a tool. The intent or motive of the one welding the tool of humor depicts its moral outcome.

Who uses humor and when do they use it? Men use humor more frequently than women do in mixed gender groups. Women, in a group of their own, will use humor more freely and it is noted that when they do so the subject of choice is men in general. One area where humor has taken a somewhat negative approach is in all of the “stupid guy” commercials now on TV. Are these just funny or are they an attempt to degrade men in general. Women’s humor is mainly used to build a bonding between them. Men’s humor is mainly used to build hierarchy and status within the group. Men use humor more often than women do. Men also have a higher degree of success (getting a laugh) than women do.

Humor (successful humor) does beget more humor. The more successful a person is at using humor the more likely they will continue using it.

People who are of higher status within a group also tend to disagree with other people more often and use humor so as not to offend others or to damage their status within the group.

Humor is more frequent but not quite as successful in the beginning of a group discussion. In the middle of the time frame humor is less likely to happen or to be as successful. At the end of the time frame is usually when humor will happen more frequently and with a higher success rate.

Humor promotes positive emotional responses. Positive emotional response helps to build group cohesion. Positive emotions lead to increased group commitment to each other. Humor helps to decrease resistance to influence and helps to equalize relations. Humor helps people to have effective ties to a group.

When I came across the two articles that I choose, their subject matter intrigued me. When I read them, I did so with the thought of maybe they could help explain to me why humor effects people the way it does and how humor is used to its advantage in peoples lives.

Humor can be used to build up one’s status within a group. Until I read about it, I didn’t realize that it could be so. I think humor is best used to relieve tension in a group and to build camaraderie.

Why do I care about humor? It is a big part of who/what I am, I think it is a big part of who and what most people are. Life should be fun. Even in the darkest days of your life that you may find yourself in, humor can help not just lighten the load, but to illuminate your soul. Have you ever commented on someone and said, “boy he/she has a personality like a dead fish.” What you perceive in that person is a lack of humor. Humor makes or breaks a person’s personality. Humor has an effect on a person’s ability to be personable. People with a “good” sense of humor are more approachable than people who are not.

Sarcasm is the dark side of humor. Sarcasm means, “to rip the flesh” (The American Heritage Dictionary 623), it is verbally whipping someone, just as a real whip leaves scares on ones back, sarcasm leaves scares on ones psyche. Down through the ages humor has been and unfortunately will continue to be used against the betterment of humankind. Humor in and of its self is neither good nor bad. It is what the human spirit uses it for that determines its purpose.

Ethics of the mind, outside of the mind ethics does not exist and neither does humor. No other species on earth exercises ethics nor do they exercise humor. Humans alone share this quality. Humor can be exercised for good or for evil that is or choice our moral dilemma.


Wrench, Jason S. and James C. McCroskey. “A Temperamental Understanding of Humor communication and Exhilaratability.” Communication Quarterly Spring 2001: v49 i2 142-160, Web: Expanded Academic ASAP, InfoTrac, Tacoma Community College. Lib., Tacoma, WA 18 Feb. 2003.

Robinson, Dawn T. and Lynn Smith-Lovin. “Getting A Laugh: Gender, Status, and Humor in Task Discussions.” Social Forces, Sept 2001 v80 il 123-161. Expanded Academic ASAP, InfoTrac, Tacoma Community College. Lib., Tacoma, WA 18 Feb. 2003.


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