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The Humor Quotient Newsletter

Vol. 13, No. 2 June, 2011 Winona, MN


Age Patterns for Langerian-Bergsonian Preferences


This is the second in a series of three issues of HQN considering a seven-group study of Vitalist humor employing the Expanded Langer-Bergson Vitalist Humor Test (ELBVHT).  In the last issue we considered correlations between Vitalist sub-type preferences and the average decadal age of each sub-group. In this issue, we use 212 respondents from that seven-group study to examine patterns in overall Langerian-Bergsonian preference by decadal age of each respondent as well as trends in Langerian-Bergsonian Performance preference by decadal age of each respondent.  


Determining a Langerian-Bergsonian Preference Score


As noted in previous discussions of the ELBVHT, the expanded test has two distinct parts, the scores of which can be used for exploring different kinds of issues within general Vitalist humor preference. Part I tests to what extent a particular respondent prefers Langerian to Bergsonian Vitalist humor over 12 preference match-ups. We define the respondent’s Langerian-Bergsonian (LB) score as the number of Langerian choices minus the number of Bergsonian choices in Part I.




LB scores can thus range from +12 (all 12 choices Langerian) to -12 (all 12 choices Bergsonian). If the respondent answers each of the 12 preference questions (which is the case considerably more than 95% of the time), the LB score is an even number.  When a respondent does not indicate a preference for a match-up, odd numbers become possible; (thus someone choosing 5 Langerian and 6 Bergsonian jokes and not making a choice in the twelfth case will have an LB score of 5 - 6 = -1).


Variation in Langerian-Bergsonian Preference with Age


For the seven-group study reported in our last issue, there were 212 useable age-and-humor responses.  For those 212 respondents, the average LB score was -.8815.  In all LBVHT and ELBVHT testing, we have noted LB scores consistently somewhat below 0, suggesting either a bias of the preference questions or a consistent bias of respondents’ preference for Bergsonian over Langerian joke forms.  The theoretical discussion of Vitalist humor has been so entirely one-sided in favor of Bergsonian humor that we as researchers are consistently surprised that the respondent bias repeatedly observed is not of greater magnitude in favor of Bergsonian humor.  Indeed, the fact that Langerian humor can at all stand its own against Bergsonian humor in preference testing is a major finding, demonstrating that Langerian humor exists in the first place and that it is not entirely dwarfed by Bergsonian in commercial products (such as  newspaper comics).


For our purposes here, however, we are much more concerned with what the study can suggest about variation of Vitalist humor preference over the adult years of life. The results suggest that preference for Langerian Vitalism rises slightly with age. The coefficient of correlation for decadal age and LB score is .1251 for the 212 respondents from age 18 to over age 90.  In other words, from decadal age 1 to decadal age 9, the line of regression has risen almost a full point within a theoretical total 24 point range.







The seven-group evidence from these 212 respondents then is that Langerian humor is an “old man’s sport,” or more precisely, is much more in evidence in mature women, since our study has strong majorities of women at every age level.  (Of our 212 useable responses, 37 indicated that they were male.) 


From a literary criticism and humanities perspective, this is a telling result.  Langerian humor, after all, is named after the American female philosopher, Susanne Langer, who seems to have been the first bold critic to assert a positive Vitalist reality of this sort.  And Langer’s work is relatively recent (circa 1950), even compared to Bergson (circa 1900).  Perhaps Langerian vitalism needed to wait for a female-oriented, much older population to be given critical attention.



Langerian-Bergsonian Performance Preferences of All Respondents


As noted in the last issue of HQN, the inclusion of scores from Part II of the ELBVHT makes no difference for the calculation of an overall LB preference.  But it does come into play in the calculation of LB preferences within subtypes. In the last issue we looked at the relationship between sub-type LB preference (for Gotcha, Sympathetic Pain, Incongruity and Word Play sub-types) and decadal age averages for each of the various sub-groups of our study. In this issue we consider the relationship between LB Performance preference (mathematically defined as (Pe+)-(Pe-)) and the decadal age of individual respondents.


 LB Performance preference stated verbally is the number of preferences for Langerian Performance minus the number of preferences for Bergsonian Performance, using both parts of the ELBVHT.


For the 212 respondents as a whole, there seems to be no strong correlation between age of respondents and their Performance score, (the graph showing barely any slope, at  -.096)






However, consideration of the scores within individual sub-groups, specifically within Performance Vitalist preference, suggests important age-related tendencies for LB Performance preference.


Langerian-Bergsonian Performance Preferences of Respondents from Independent vs Assisted Living Settings


Three of our seven groups show clear downtrends of the Decadal Age-Performance regression slope.  These groups (PEO, McCauley, and Winona Health Auxiliary) all reported several decades of tested age range, the McCauley group having seven of the eight decades represented.


The Carleton group has no slope for Decadal Age-Performance because all of the respondents were decadal 6 in age.  However, the Carleton average Performance score is rather low, which is consistent with the three groups mentioned in the last paragraph.


All of these groups represent participants living independently and not in assisted living settings; that is, they were neither working in nor residing in assisted living institutions.


Combining these four groups, we find a strong negative slope (-.5248) for Decadal Age-Performance.



In other words, over the seven decadal ages represented, the line of regression falls a total of 6*.5248=3.1488 points.  The theoretical total range for this statistic is 12.


5We can contrast this 4-group result with the combined results from assisted living institutions, Bethany and Watkins Manor; (we choose to eliminate the one respondent in her sixties and consider only those in their 7th decade and older).  For these institutionalized respondents in the last three decadal ages tested, we find a high positive slope of Decadal Age-Performance (+.6977).





We have left out of this contrast our largest group, Care Providers. Care Providers were between decadal 2 and decadal 6 in age.  Their Decadal Age-Performance slope, like the Assisted Living Residents’ slope, is positive but measures only +.1253.




It should also be noted that Care Providers in their sixties (and thus close to retirement) seem to fall away from even this modest positive slope, and thus seem to be moving in the direction suggested by our Independent four-group slope.




Being in an institutionalized care-given setting seems to have profound effects on Performance Vitalist preference in favor of Langerian and opposed to Bergsonian preference.  In contrast, for independent adults, the forces of advancing years seem to lead toward more Bergsonian and less Langerian leanings in Performance humor preference.





The medial position of Care Providers in generating a slightly positive Decadal Age-Performance slope suggests that they are somewhat influenced in the direction of those whose care is entrusted to them, but there is some evidence that near retirement they begin responding to life forces which are pressing their independent-adult peers to more Bergsonian Performance preferences.


The strong contrast between independent adults and assisted-living-setting, care-given adults suggests that the responsibilities of independent living with age increasingly force an appreciation of Bergsonian Performance.  This seems to be something of an objective verification of Bergson’s philosophy: we laugh at the mechanical encrusted on the living (or the lapse from fully-alive performance) as a way of fending off the further encroachment of the anti-living on our living being, and this kind of laughter and perception is more and more needed as we age and are more encrusted but are still fending for ourselves.


Robin Jaeckle Grawe






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