STUDYING GENDER DIFFERENCES IN THE CONVERSATIONAL HUMOR OF ADULTS AND CHILDREN
Martin D. Lampert
Holy Names College Oakland, California
Over the past twenty-five years, social scientists have shown a growing interest in the study of humor. Much of the research done to date, however, has focused largely on the use and appreciation of jokes and joke routines to the exclusion of other humor-related behaviors, such as teasing, impersonation, and put-ons. Experimental and correlational studies of humor appreciation, for example, have typically investigated subjects' responses to jokes, cartoons, and riddles (e.g., Derks, 1992; Levine, 1969; Masten, 1986; McGhee, 1976a; Ruch, 1992; Shultz, 1972, 1974). Naturalistic studies of humor have likewise focused their attention primarily on jokes and joke telling ( McDowell, 1979; Norrick, 1993; Sacks, 1974). Not surprisingly, then, many of the psychological and linguistic theories of humor tend to emphasize phenomena that are important for the performance and understanding of jokes, but may not be necessary nor sufficient for the appreciation of humor in general (see Koestler, 1964; Raskin, 1985; Suls, 1983; Wyer & Collins, 1992).
Recently, investigators have begun to turn their attention away from joke telling per se and more toward the study of humor-related attitudes and behaviors, styles of interaction, and coping mechanisms ( Crawford & Gressley, 1991; Graham, Papa, & Brooks, 1992; Lefcourt & Martin, 1986; McGhee, 1980). Greater emphasis has also begun to be placed on other domains of humorous behavior such as clowning and teasing ( Alberts, 1992; Eder, 1993; Sanford & Eder, 1984; Shapiro, Baumeister, & Kessler, 1991). Along these lines, Susan Ervin-Tripp and I began to investigate the range of humor-related activities in the natural conversations of friends and family members. One of the most striking things that we observed early on was that although humorous remarks occurred with great frequency in the natural conversations of peers (ranging from 1 remark per 8 to 11 turns), very few attempts at humor involved the telling of a joke, pun, or riddle ( Lampert & Ervin-Tripp, 1989). In the transcripts of peer interaction that we have analyzed to date, we have in fact observed that most humor tends to center primarily around personal anecdotes, clever commentaries, and good-natured teasing -- not joke telling. Interestingly, this trend in natural conversation also seems to find a parallel in the routines of professional comics, who today rely less on prefabricated jokes and more on humorous observations about shared life experiences ( Carter, 1989; Stebbins, 1990). The content of stand-up comedy may in fact stem from the comic's desire to recreate the