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International Journal of Humor Research

Editor-in-Chief: Ford, Thomas E.

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Volume 28, Issue 2


Put-Down Humor Directed at Outgroup Members Increases Perceived – but Not Experienced – Cohesion in Groups

Christine Gockel / Norbert L. Kerr
Published Online: 2015-04-02 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2015-0020


Put-down humor always has a target, and the intent of the speaker is to make fun of someone or something. Due to its inherently social nature, put-down humor could strongly affect socio-emotional group processes and outcomes like cohesion. We hypothesized that put-down humor would increase cohesion when it was targeted at outgroup members and was followed by laughter. Two laboratory experiments were conducted to examine the underlying processes of the put-down humor – cohesion relation. Study 1 showed that put-down humor of outgroup members (as compared to no humor) did not increase participants’ attraction to the group. But it increased perceived cohesion among other group members and the perception that other group members felt safer and were more similar to each other. Even when procedures were altered in Study 2 to reduce participants’ evaluation apprehension and their potential anxiety about not themselves being humorous, we found the same pattern of results. We discuss which conditions might be necessary for put-down humor to increase one’s personal attraction to a group.

Keywords: put-down humor; group; cohesion; positive mood; psychological safety


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About the article

Christine Gockel

Christine Gockel is Professor of Business Psychology at SRH University of Applied Sciences Berlin. Prior to that, she held post-doctoral positions at Chemnitz University of Technology and the University of Fribourg, after receiving her Ph.D. in 2007 at Michigan State University. In her research, she focuses on transactive memory systems, shared leadership, and humor in teams.

Norbert L. Kerr

Norbert L. Kerr is Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Kent and Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Michigan State University. His research interests focus on group performance, social dilemmas, and psychology and the law.

Published Online: 2015-04-02

Published in Print: 2015-05-01

Citation Information: HUMOR, Volume 28, Issue 2, Pages 205–228, ISSN (Online) 1613-3722, ISSN (Print) 0933-1719, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2015-0020.

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