The current research examined whether social power affects what people find funny. In two experiments, participants’ psychological state of social power was experimentally manipulated and their evaluations of offensive jokes were assessed. Results showed that participants in a psychological state of high power – as compared to low power – evaluated offensive jokes as less inappropriate, less offensive, and funnier. Mediation analyses showed that power increased the funniness of offensive jokes through decreasing the perceived inappropriateness of these jokes. Implications for research on power and humor are discussed.
About the authors
Hans Knegtmans is Assistant Professor of Psychology at the Department of Social and Organizational Psychology at Leiden University. His main research area is the appreciation and the use of humor. He is also a literary critic on crime fiction He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wilco van Dijk is Professor of Psychology at the Department of Social and Organizational Psychology at Leiden University. His research areas are emotions, decision making, and economic psychology. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Marlon Mooijman is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Management and Organizations Department at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. His research areas are ethics and morality. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nina van Lier, Sacha Rintjema, and Annemieke Wassink are alumni of Leiden University, all three with a MSc. in psychology.
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6 examples of the 21 Jokes used in Experiment 1
Disability jokes. “What do you call a leper in a box? A do-it-yourself kit!”; “How do know when someone with Down syndrome is standing on a level surface? When he slavers equally from both corners of his mouth!”
Ethnicity jokes. “What is the difference between a Jew and a pizza? A pizza doesn’t scream in the oven!”; “What do you call a negro with bone cancer? An Aero candy bar!”
Gender jokes. “Why do men love women with small hands? Because then their dicks look bigger!”; “Two blond girls are having a conversation. One girl is telling the other that this morning she performed a pregnancy test. Then the other girl asks: ‘Did it contain difficult questions?’”
4 examples of the 12 Jokes used in Experiment 2
Disability joke. “Doctor says to a sick man: ‘Your illness is terminal. It doesn’t take long before you die. I can only advise you a mud bath.’ Sick man: ‘A mud bath? But would that not help at all?’ Doctor: ‘No, but then you can already get used to the earth.’”
Ethnicity joke. “Who invented the triathlon? A Turk: He went by foot to the swimming pool and came back with a bike!”
Gender jokes. “Why can’t a woman save money? Have you ever seen a piggy bank with a slit on the underside?”; “Why did Moses wander for 40 years in the desert? Because men never ask for directions!”
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