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The Humor Quotient Newsletter

Vol. 11, No. 3 July 2009 Winona, MN


[In the last two issues, we have reported on early results from a test of 241 elder-care professionals at the Aging Services of Minnesota Institute in February, 2009.  That dataset includes responses to the cartoon half of the Humor Quotient Test (HQT) and a side test focused on attitudes toward humor.  This issue focuses on results concerning Incongruity humor as opposed to the three other forms of Mental Humor tested.]


The Special Importance of Incongruity for Humor Attitude

Among Caregivers of the Aging


Consider the phrase “Humor in the Nursing Home.”


For many, the phrase itself will be humorous, even oxymoronic.  Nursing homes after all are not nightclubs where stand-up comedians perfect their laugh-getting techniques before half-inebriated and often-socially-distracted audiences.  Nursing homes are serious business.  State legislatures and Congresses are concerned with the rights of nursing home residents, licensure issues, financing and funding, medical standards and the like.  In the past, levity has often been assumed to be a mark of non-professionalism.  And of course what all that adds up to is that nursing homes, where time horizons are short and the inevitability of incapacity, failure and death are omnipresent have all too often been places where the restorative physical and psychological properties of humor were notably absent.





So “Humor in the Nursing Home” becomes a short symbolic statement of the great challenge to nursing-home and elder-care staffs.  It is inherently an incongruous phrase, and it easily elicits a humorous Incongruity response.


In previous issues, we have already demonstrated that statistically, Incongruity has a highly distinct place in the analysis of data from the Aging Services conference.  We conclude with a third major finding about Incongruity in this dataset.


Humor Attitude Indexes


Earlier  (HQN 11.1) we reported on conferee responses to nine queries about their humor attitudes.  Generally, there was very great consistency in the pattern of these responses.


It is also possible to categorize these nine responses into two indices, which might be called Positive and Negative Humor Attitude indices.


Four queries were summed to create a Positive Humor Attitude index: 

Laughter can improve people’s health.

I’d appreciate more humor in my work place;

I look forward to a light, funny movie;

Humor makes things at work go more smoothly.


Five queries were summed to create a Negative Humor Attitude index:

Some jokes are “sick” and can hurt one’s health.

Humor is often hurtful.

Humor at work gets me in trouble.

Humor at work slows things down.

Humor is usually used to put people down




Each item of each index had elicited a response from 1 to 5, 1 being “strongly agree” and 5 being “strongly disagree.”


The average score of conferees for the Positive Humor Attitude Index was 1.42.  The average conferee score for the Negative Humor Attitude Index was 3.48.  Clearly conference seminar attendees had fundamentally agreeing responses to positive humor attitudes and fundamentally disagreeing responses to negative humor attitudes. (We willing admit that the tenor of the seminar was also positive and that this might—though we doubt it—have influenced this pattern of responses to some extent.)


It was then possible to establish coefficients between participants’ humor indices scores and their humor-of-the mind sub-scores.


The Positive Humor Index coefficients for the four mental humor types were:

Gotcha     Sympathetic Pain     Incongruity     Word Play

.0197               .0083                  -.0377               .0075


The Negative Humor Index coefficients for the four mental humor types were:

Gotcha     Sympathetic Pain     Incongruity     Word Play

-.0077              .0099                   .0016            -.0035


Incongruity immediately stands out among these coefficients with the very strong negative Incongruity coefficient for the Positive Humor Index.  It must be remembered, however, that a low index number means strong agreement.  Therefore, the high negative coefficient shows a high positive relationship between Incongruity score and agreement as measured for Positive Humor attitudes.  In comparison, all the other coefficients suggest little to no relationship between humor preference and Positive Humor  attitudes.





Looked at another way, 4 of 30 respondents who had a raw score better than 5 for Incongruity also scored above 1.5 on the Positive Humor Index (13.33%).  Contrastingly, 65 of 211 respondents with a raw score equal to or less than 5 for Incongruity also scored above 1.5 on the Positive Humor Index ( 30.81 %) Using a statistical Difference in Proportion Test, this measures 95.22% confidence or p<.048.


In other words, respondents with lower agreement to Positive Humor issues were much more likely to be low-scoring on Incongruity.


The Jig Saw Puzzle


Most scientific investigations, in the popular mind, are simply quests for the silver bullet, the one necessary discovery that creates new worlds of possibility.  The silver bullet for any investigation of humor in nursing home environments is the single answer that will make “humor in the nursing home “ something other than ironic, incongruous, and even oxymoronic and will usher in a new world of happy and pain-free nursing-home residents assisted by cheerful, professional staff.


We can say with confidence at this time and for a good long time in the past that no such silver bullet has been available through humor research.


The elder-care industry and the nursing-home environment are much more like jig saws puzzles than like targets susceptible to silver-bullet remedies.  We would submit that three of the pieces, at least, of these puzzles prominently focus on Incongruity:


1)           Incongruity and Gotcha tend to be extremes as preferences among various occupational  sub-group leaders in the elder-care industry;

2)            Incongruity has the least preference as a humor type among elder-care professional staff;

3)            Yet, Incongruity preference is positively related to agreement with a set of Positive Humor attitudes.


It should be noted in this context that Incongruity preference in our pilot study of high-education elder-care occupational groups was focused in Residential and Home Nursing, precisely the categories which would have the most direct responsibility for good medical care, while Incongruity preference was least evident among Chaplain Pastors and Activities/Recreation personnel.





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