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International Journal of Humor Research

Editor-in-Chief: Ford, Thomas E.

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Volume 31, Issue 3


Can self-defeating humor make you happy? Cognitive interviews reveal the adaptive side of the self-defeating humor style

Sonja Heintz
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Psychology, Personality and Assessment, University of Zurich, Binzmuehlestrasse 14, Box 7, Zurich CH-8050, Switzerland
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  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
/ Willibald Ruch
  • Department of Psychology, Personality and Assessment, University of Zurich, Binzmuehlestrasse 14, Box 7, Zurich CH-8050, Switzerland
  • Other articles by this author:
  • De Gruyter OnlineGoogle Scholar
Published Online: 2018-04-20 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2017-0089


The present set of studies employs two cognitive interviewing techniques (thinking aloud and online cognitive probing) of the scale assessing the self-defeating humor style, aiming at delineating the role that self-defeating humor plays in self-esteem and emotions. The self-defeating humor style comprises humor to enhance one’s relationships with others at the expense of oneself, and has often been related to lower well-being. The analyses are based on 392 item responses of a typical sample (Study 1) and 104 item responses of high scorers on the self-defeating scale (Study 2). Content analyses revealed that higher scores on the self-defeating scale went along with humor (Study 1), with higher state self-esteem, with an improvement of one’s interpersonal relationships, and with more facial displays of positive emotions (Study 2). Additionally, the more humor was entailed in the item responses, the higher the state self-esteem and the improvement of relationships was and the more positive emotion words were employed. Thus, the humor entailed in the self-defeating humor style seemed rather beneficial both for oneself and others. These findings call for a reevaluation of past findings with this humor style and provide opportunities for future research and applications of humor interventions to improve well-being.

Keywords: self-defeating humor style; Humor Styles Questionnaire; self-esteem; emotions; cognitive interviews; self-directed humor


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About the article

Sonja Heintz

Sonja Heintz is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Psychology at the University of Zurich. Her main research interests are individual differences in humor (humor styles, humor behaviors, and humor appreciation/production), the measurement of humor, and positive psychology (e.g., character strengths and well-being).

Willibald Ruch

Willibald Ruch is a Full Professor of Psychology at the University of Zurich. His research interests are in the field of humor and laughter, cheerfulness and smiling. His recent work, together with his research team at the University of Zurich, includes humor from a positive psychology perspective, the effectiveness of humor training programs and clown interventions, the fear of being laughed at (i.e., gelotophobia), and the measurement of humor.

Published Online: 2018-04-20

Published in Print: 2018-07-26

“Stiftung Humor und Gesundheit” Switzerland, Grant Number: 160ʹ229

Citation Information: HUMOR, Volume 31, Issue 3, Pages 451–472, ISSN (Online) 1613-3722, ISSN (Print) 0933-1719, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2017-0089.

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