Cartoon Humor: Do Demographic Variables and Political Correctness Influence Perceived Funniness?

By Lowis, Michael J. | Mankind Quarterly, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview
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Cartoon Humor: Do Demographic Variables and Political Correctness Influence Perceived Funniness?


Lowis, Michael J., Mankind Quarterly


The supposed health benefit of humor has a long history, but there are those who question the validity of such claims. With Superiority Theory and Disposition Theories in mind, this study investigated age, gender and region-of-origin differences in the appreciation of cartoon humor embracing specific categories. Funniness ratings of 36 cartoons were made by 366 university students, along with a self-assessment of mood. Results showed a small increase in scores with age for work-related cartoons, and also higher scores by males for the same items, but no age or gender differences for total scores, other cartoon categories (including anti-male and anti-female examples) or region of origin. There was a significant correlation between total scores and mood rating. Previous research on gender differences had yielded mixed findings. The present results appear to be largely uninfluenced by factors other than how inherently amusing the items were deemed to be, and with scant regard for political correctness.

Key Words: Humor, cartoons, funniness, age, gender, demographics, political correctness.

The supposed beneficial effects of humor on health has been cited throughout recorded history. King Solomon wrote, circa 950 B. C. "A cheerful heart is good medicine but a crushed spirit dries up the bones" (Proverbs, 17:22. New International Version). Hippocrates (384 - 322 B. C. ) described the four essential fluids or "humors" of life and their association with mood or disposition: black bile (sadness), yellow bile (anger), phlegm (lassitude), and blood (optimism). The physician treated the patient in order to bring the humors back into balance: this resulting (hopefully) in good humor or wellbeing. Somewhat more recently, Freud (1928/1952) espoused the therapeutic value of humor with obvious enthusiasm, commenting that " ... it takes its place in the great series of methods devised by man [sic] for evading the compulsion to suffer ... " (p. 217).

Most theories of humor can be classified under one of three categories, namely social, psychoanalytic, or cognitive-perceptual (Lowis and Nieuwoudt, 1993). With regard to the social, there are many avenues where humor and laughter serve as acts of communication, ranging from an infant's smile of recognition (Greig, 1923) through to communal laughter that lets others know that we have got the point of the joke (Francis, 1988). In addition, humor can aid social facilitation, and individuals are encouraged to join in social laughter to show that they are one of the "in-group" (Neuendorf and Fennell, 1988). However, a corollary of this is that, whilst the unity of the in-group may be reinforced through humor, unkind jokes about others are likely to ostracise the outsiders and reinforce the social distance between them and the insiders (La Fave, Haddad, and Maesen, 1976).

Relevant to this is Disparagement Theory, which Giora (1991) stated is based on the premise that what we laugh at is never our own, but another's weakness. In similar vein is Disposition Theory, where it is held that mirthful behaviour in response to a humorous presentation is influenced by one's affective disposition toward the agent or entity being disparaged (Gutman and Priest, 1969; Zillerman and Cantor, 1976). Moore, Griffiths, and Payne (1987) argued that, according to this proposition, women would enjoy male-disparaging humor more than female disparaging examples because the former victims are not members of the respondent's reference group. Presumably a reciprocal situation would exist with male recipients.

Freud's (1905/1976) views on the psychoanalytic theory were that humor arises from an attitude within a person regarding his or her situation. He said that it is a mechanism for deriving pleasure from intellectual activity through the saving of affect, and specifically from the saving of feeling, as contrasted with wit where the saving is of inhibition, and the comic where the saving is of thought.

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Cartoon Humor: Do Demographic Variables and Political Correctness Influence Perceived Funniness?
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