Sense of humour research reveals secrets of what makes us laugh

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A sense of humour is a much admired asset. But do the same things make people laugh all over the world? And can we measure our ability to appreciate the funny side of life?

Monash University Education PhD scholarship student Mr Ben Leung aims to answer these questions via his research into the links between sense of humour, personality and psychological well-being in different cultures.

Mr Leung has just finished a preliminary study of sense of humour which shows some notable differences in individual humour appreciation results linked to gender and nationality. The survey found that written jokes were more appreciated by men than women, and by people of Chinese heritage rather than Australian. It also showed that jokes containing sexual connotations were more appreciated by men than women.

He surveyed more than 400 people using a self-developed psychometric scale - a tool for measuring mental states - comprising 25 written and 25 cartoon-type jokes. Participants were asked to score the jokes on a scale ranging from 1-5, with 1 being 'not at all funny' and 5 'very funny'. They also had to identify whether the main humour element in the jokes was aggression, sex or double meaning, and provide demographic data about factors such as gender, age and nationality.

With the preliminary study complete, Mr Leung has begun his main study to survey more than 1000 people all around the world via a controlled-access online questionnaire to be distributed through a network of university colleagues in Australia, Hong Kong and the US from late September onwards.

The questionnaire will feature a revised version of his psychometric scale with 10 written and 10 cartoon-type jokes, in conjunction with existing validated measures of sense of humour, personality traits, psychological well-being and social adjustment.

No other study has simultaneously investigated the links between humour appreciation, sense of humour, personality and social adjustment, according to Mr Leung.

"I want to know if people with a good sense of humour have introverted or extroverted personalities and whether they're well-adjusted or maladjusted, and the relationship between all these things," he said. "While a good sense of humour is generally highlighted as a desirable personality trait, the subject hasn't been studied much. We don't know a lot about who finds what funny and impact of cultural background on humour appreciation."

Mr Leung said his research, although in psychology, could also have important implications for teachers in multicultural classrooms, or teachers of English as a second language, who want to know which type of humour is likely to work best with their students.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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