Academic journal article Communication Studies

Humor Ability, Unwillingness to Communicate, Loneliness, and Perceived Stress: Testing a Security Theory

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Humor Ability, Unwillingness to Communicate, Loneliness, and Perceived Stress: Testing a Security Theory

Article excerpt

As members of a gregarious species (Huxley, 1960), human beings must find ways to develop and manage their interpersonal relationships. Laughter and humor are important parts of that quest, being beneficial both for the health of the individual (Galloway & Cropley, 1999; Martin, 2001) and the individual's bonds (Graham, 1995; Hampes, 1992). Considering the prevalence of these conceptually distinct but practically inseparable phenomena, there is a curious paucity of theorizing about their link as it applies to interpersonal relationships. The theories that do exist offer rather curious predictions when applied to the interpersonal context. Superiority theories (Gruner, 1997) would predict that we enjoy seeing our partners derogated and demeaned; incongruity, theories (Katz, 1993) would predict that we enjoy puzzling over the inconsistencies and expectancy violations produced by our partners; and, relief theories (Godkewitch, 1996) would predict that we enjoy broaching taboo topics with our partners (cf. Morreall, 1983). Research suggests rather the opposite: in satisfying relationships, we prefer to see our partners affirmed (Klar & Giladi, 1997), to be able to predict their behavior (Holmes & Rempel, 1989), and to avoid the discussion of taboo topics (Baxter & Wilmot, 1984). The purpose of this study is to take a first step in developing and testing a theory of the laughter-humor link as it operates within close relationships. The basic premise of this security theory (Miczo, 2002) is that a sense of security underlies the ability to produce humor in daily interactions, with resultant positive effects.

There are two basic approaches to studying the laughter-humor relationship. The first approach, referred to by Provine (2000) as the "stand-up comedy" model, comprises three characteristics: it is based on joke-telling, the humorist is "physically and socially" (p. 43) removed from the audience, and, there is a clear demarcation of roles whereby the comedian tells the jokes and the audience responds with laughter. By contrast, Provine describes what might be termed a "social interaction" model, comprising three observations drawn from his own empirical research on laughter: most of the comments that precede laughter in naturally occurring interaction are mundane and "nonjokey," there is "intimate contact and interaction" between participants, and speakers may laugh even more at their own comments than their conversational counterparts. The first model emphasizes the stimulus itself, the joke, whereas, in the second, the emphasis shifts to the context, and the interactional dynamics that shape the meaning of the humorous and facilitate or discourage the expression of laughter. This complicates any attempt to define humor itself, which must now encompass a variety of both verbal and nonverbal forms, and one is tempted to define humor as simply that which produces amusement and/or laughter. The circularity of such an approach is dissatisfying. Yet, any adequate theory of the laughter-humor link and its role in relationships must account for both models while conceptualizing humor independently of its effects.

Humor, Play, and Play Frames

Some commentators have suggested a close relationship between humor and play (Aune & Wong, 2002; Lefcourt, 2001; Weisfeld, 1993). Accordingly, the conceptualization of humor might be facilitated by an understanding of play and play frames. In his classic analysis, Huizinga (1950) outlined several characteristics of play. Play is a free activity that involves a "stepping out of 'real' life into a temporary sphere of activity" (p. 8) which can often be deliberately contrasted with seriousness. Creating this contrast involves marking out, or bracketing, play from surrounding activities by self-imposing a set of rules or constraints which all are bound to obey. Maintaining the contrast often interjects a strain of tension or uncertainty into play. A similar conceptualization is offered by Miller (1973), who argued that play occurs when the process of some activity becomes its own gratification. …

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