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International Journal of Humor Research

Editor-in-Chief: Ford, Thomas E.

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Volume 28, Issue 2


Humor as an abrasive or a lubricant in social situations: Martineau revisited

Leslie Janes
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Psychology, Brescia University College, 1285 Western Rd, London, Ontario, Canada
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/ James Olson
Published Online: 2015-04-02 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2015-0021


In Martineau’s seminal chapter on the social functions of humor, he postulated some of the ways in which disparagement humor shapes social behavior. This research paper discusses three research studies that compared the effects of other-deprecating humor and self-deprecating humor on the observer and examines how they relate to Martineau’s theory. In our research, we hypothesized that people who observe ridicule of others experience “jeer pressure.” This inhibiting effect on behavior was expected to result in conformity to others’ opinions, fear about failing or standing out, and conventional thinking. In the first two studies, participants observed videotapes containing self-ridiculing humor, other-deprecating humor, or non-ridiculing/no humor. Participants then completed tasks assessing conforming, fear of failure, and creativity. Results of both studies showed that participants who observed ridicule of others were more conforming and more afraid of failing than participants who observed self-deprecating humor or the control condition. Study 3 examined the effects of ridicule of others versus self-deprecating humor on creativity using a more sophisticated creativity measure, and less caustic humor. Results supported the hypothesis that observing self-deprecating humor would result in higher levels of creativity compared to the other-ridicule condition. Implications of these findings for Martineau’s model are discussed.

Keywords: self-deprecating humor; ridicule; fear of failure; conformity and creativity


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About the article

Leslie Janes

Leslie Janes obtained her Ph.D. at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada and has been a faculty member at Brescia University College, an affiliate of the University of Western Ontario, since 2003. She has conducted research on many topics, including social cognition, attitudes, and humor.

James Olson

James Olson obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Waterloo and has been a faculty member at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, since 1978. He served as Chair of the Psychology Department from 1998 to 2003. He has conducted research on many topics, and has published more than 100 articles and chapters and has co-edited fifteen books. He has served as an Associate Editor of three scientific journals, including the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology from 1995 to 1998. He is currently the co-editor of the series Advances in Experimental Social Psychology.

Published Online: 2015-04-02

Published in Print: 2015-05-01

Citation Information: HUMOR, Volume 28, Issue 2, Pages 271–288, ISSN (Online) 1613-3722, ISSN (Print) 0933-1719, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2015-0021.

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