A new study has found that typical right-wing authoritarians — people who are opposed to nonconformity — are not very funny people.
Or at least they are significantly less funny than people who don’t share this disposition.
The study was published Oct. 6 in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. It addresses the impact of right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) on humor production.
The authors define RWA as a combination of factors such as submission to authority, aggression towards deviant and marginalized groups, and adherence to traditional social norms.
This was already found by studies from the 1950s and 1960s on people who viewed authoritarianism score high, like jokes that denigrate low-status or marginalized groups.
Similarly, they enjoy less jokes that are hostile to authority figures.
However, researchers know very little about the links between RWA and humor production, i. H. the emergence of funny ideas of their own.
A 1957 study found that people with low authoritarianism scores wrote funnier cartoon captions, while a 1980 study found little association.
But the Assessment of RWA and humor production has improved over the past few decades, prompting researchers to reexamine this question.
Measuring humor production: what makes funny people funny?
For these For the study, the researchers recruited 186 adults from a North Carolina university.
The average age of the participants was 19, although they ranged in age from 18 to 53 years. They were 77% female and ethnically diverse.
Researchers measured participants’ humor production skills on several creative tasks.
During these tasks, the instructions encouraged them to be funny, express themselves freely, and feel comfortable being “weird, silly, dirty, ironic, bizarre, or whatever” as long as theirs Answers were funny.
In the first task, participants generated funny captions for three cartoons.
One showed an astronaut talking into a cell phone. Another showed a king lying on a psychologist’s couch.
The third showed two businessmen, one with a gun, standing over a corpse on the floor.
The second task introduced participants to unusual noun combinations, such as E.g. “cereal bus”. or “yoga bench,” and asked them to come up with fun definitions for it.
The final task asked participants to complete a whimsical scenario with a punch line.
For example, one scenario involved telling people about a terrible meal.
The other two scenarios involved describing a boring college class and providing feedback on a friend’s poor singing.
Eight independent raters rated the responses on a 3- Points scale (not funny, somewhat funny or funny).
The raters knew nothing about the participants, including their responses to other items.
Right authority, openness, and conscientiousness
Researchers measured the degree of right Participants’ authoritarianism using a 15-point scale on which they indicated how strongly they agreed or disagreed with various statements.
Examples include “Our country desperately needs a powerful leader to do what must be done to destroy the radical new ways and sinfulness that are ruining us,” or “Everyone should choose their own lifestyle and have their own religious beliefs and sexual preferences, even if they set them apart from everyone else.”
The researchers also measured the participants’ Big Five personality traits.
They focused on the traits openness to experience and conscientiousness because previous research has found that these traits are related to both humor production and right-wing authoritarian attitudes.
For example, some research has linked openness to creative thinking and humor.
Other studies have found that conscientious people perform worse on creativity and humor tasks.
Results: Right-wing authoritarians are not funny people
Right-wing authoritarianism had a significant negative relationship to humor; Individuals with high RWA scores generated responses that raters found much less funny.
RWA also correlated negatively with openness to experience and positively with conscientiousness.
As the researchers expected, openness was positively correlated with humor production, and conscientiousness was negatively correlated with it.
These results, the authors write, “strongly suggest that people with high RWA scores less have fun, defined as the ability to generate humorous ideas even when controlling for global personality traits with established connections to RWA, humor, and creativity.”
The authors also add that their results “should be viewed in the context of the sample, which was young, enrolled in a university, and predominantly female.”
They suggest that Future studies should look more closely at the components of right-wing authoritarianism that impair humor formation.
One possible mechanism is that RWAs correlate with cognitive rigidity and seriousness as opposed to flexibility and playfulness.
In summary, the authors write, “The results suggest that people with high RWAs are simply not very funny.”
The science of humor is an increasingly popular topic in psychology. Wikipedia even has a page dedicated to humor research.
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Study: “Right-Wing Authoritarians Aren’t Very Funny: RWA, Personality, and Creative Humor Production”Authors: Paul J. Silvia , Alexander P. Christensen and Katherine N. CotterPublished in: Personality and Individual DifferencesPublished Date: October 6, 2020DOI: https://doi .org/10.1016/j.paid.2020.110421Photo: by Chad Sparkes via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)