Both common observations and research evidence strongly suggest that there are major differences between adult males and females as to both the number of humorous attempts they display in social situations and the types of humor they initiate and appreciate. What the causes are for these differences, however, have been less clear, with attributions being related to both biological and environmental reasons. In fact, researchers who have studied the development of humor in infants, preschoolers, and elementary age children have generally observed that the early humor of both boys and girls is similar, thus raising the possibility that the differences that gradually emerge with age may be attributed more to environmental rather than to biological reasons. This chapter will discuss the humor research evidence amassed by those who have studied young children’s humor development and the potential environmental influences on humor development that may account for some of the sex differences seen in adult humor.
Across two studies, we examined how the reaction of a woman who was targeted by potentially disparaging sexist jokes by a male joke-teller affected men’s and women’s perceptions of the jokes, the woman who was told the jokes, and the male joke-teller. Participants viewed videos in which a man told sexist jokes to a woman who responded with amusement, offense, ambiguity, or nonverbal disapproval. We found that the woman’s reaction to the sexist humor affected the perceptions of both the male joke-teller and the woman. Our results suggest that expressing nonverbal disapproval may be an effective way to produce negative perceptions of a man telling sexist jokes (Study 1) and may increase positive perceptions of a woman who confronts them (Study 2). Further, expressing verbal offense may be an increasingly acceptable way of confronting sexist jokes, perhaps due to recent cultural shifts in perceptions of confronting sexism more generally (Study 2). Our findings offer reason to be optimistic about changing norms with regard to confronting sexist humor.
Reappraisal is an effective emotion regulation strategy that draws on cognitive processes–like changing one’s thoughts to change one’s feelings–that are similar to those implicated in humor. Yet, very little is known about the links between the dispositional tendency to use reappraisal and individuals’ humor styles (e. g. aggressive, affiliative, self-deprecating, self-enhancing). Importantly, there are gender differences both in emotion regulatory processes and in the use of humor styles. We examined gender differences in reported use of humor styles, the associations between reappraisal and humor styles, and whether gender moderated those associations. Participants (N=250) were recruited through Amazon Mechanical Turk and self-reported their dispositional use of reappraisal and four humor styles. Men reported greater use of aggressive humor compared to women. Dispositional use of reappraisal was positively associated with self-enhancing humor. In addition, reappraisal use was positively related to greater use of affiliative humor, and this association was stronger for men than women. For men, greater use of reappraisal was associated with greater use of self-defeating humor, but reappraisal was negatively associated with self-defeating humor for women. Findings extend insight from prior work and suggest that both reappraisal and specific ways of using humor draw on aspects of self-regulatory competence rooted in cognitive change abilities, and the patterns of association differ in interesting ways for men and women.
We examine the degree to which women and men use humor to confront sexist jokes. We also test the social benefits and perceived effectiveness of confronting with humor. One-hundred-sixty-four (46% female) participants read about a male coworker who made a sexist joke and reported how they would respond in an open-ended format. Women were more likely than men to say they would respond with humor. Specifically, 16% of women, compared to 4.5% of men, spontaneously provided a humorous confrontation. Participants then read a second scenario that asked them to imagine a male friend making a sexist joke. We manipulated the confronter’s gender and the type of confrontation (humorous versus serious) in the scenario. Confronters who used a humorous (versus serious) response were rated as more likeable but less effective. People often hesitate to confront sexism for fear of social repercussions. Given that humorous confrontation reduces social backlash, it might be worth slightly lower perceived effectiveness to increase overall rates of confronting sexism.