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The Humor Quotient Newsletter

Vol. 3, No. 2, June 1997, Winona, MN 55987


Significant Relationship Found Between Critical Thinking and Preference for Incongruity Humor


A previous issue of HQN discussed preliminary results of relationships between critical thinking and humor types based on the Humor Quotient Test and the Critical Thinking Inventory (See Vol. 2, No. 1).  Since that time, additional student participants have doubled the data base and revealed a strong correlation between student reported critical use and a preference for Incongruity jokes over Word Play, Gotcha, and Sympathetic Pain jokes.


The Critical Thinking Inventory (CTI),  funded by a Bush Foundation grant through the Minnesota System of Colleges and Universities as well as numerous grants-in-kind, assesses student use reported by students of 290 dimensions of critical thinking.  Based on a prototype designed by Winona State University sociologist Dr. Brian Aldrich and compiled with the assistance of ten of WSU’s faculty from all five colleges, the inventory asks students to indicate how frequently (from “Very Often” to “Never”) they use each dimension of critical thinking. To date about 500 students have taken all or parts of the CTI.






Additionally, many students took a number of other tests, including the Myers Briggs Type Inventory (R), the Grawe Bilaterality Operation Preference Test, and the Grawe Humor Quotient Test.  This study focuses on the section of the CTI classified as Idea Development and Problem Solving and includes responses from students who took both the CTI and the HQT


The Humor Quotient Test, the second testing instrument involved in this analysis, asks students to consider 42 pairs of jokes representing four types of humor of the mind (Incongruity, Word Play, Gotcha, and Sympathetic Pain) (see HQN  Vol. 1, No. 1 for further discussion) and to indicate which of  each pair they consider funnier. 


For 23 of the 33 critical thinking dimensions classified as Idea Development and Problem Solving, the database for111 students showed a stronger correlation between Incongruity humor and use of the critical thinking dimension than for any of the other three humor types. Additionally, four items by themselves indicated a positive relationship at the 95% or better confidence level between critical thinking use and Incongruity preference.  These four items are


*  Compared an idea to a position or authoritative statement

*  Explored an idea in light of current events

*  Designed an experiment to test an idea

*  Developed a chart, graph, or flow chart to develop an idea.


It should be noted that of the 33 dimensions, at least two were what might be termed “ringers,” that is thinking practices which are in some contexts arguably critical thinking but in many considered disreputable:  “Created an acronym to develop an idea,” and “Put off working with an idea until just before a deadline in order to maximize the work of the subconscious mind.”  Since neither of these showed a positive correlation to Incongruity preference, their elimination from the list would make the overall correlation of Incongruity to Idea Development all the stronger.



HQN Editor:  Paul Grawe, Department of English, Winona State University, Winona, MN 55987

Tel:  (507) 457-5443; E mail:  PGRAWE@VAX2.WINONA.MSUS.EDU






Implications for Thinking


Since critical thinking use is measured by students’ subjective assessment of their own practices, we might ask just exactly what Incongruity humor preference is actually correlated to.  Perhaps it is correlated to student confidence in their thinking skills (regardless of GPA) or perhaps it is correlated to their subjective sense of their thinking practices rather than to some objective reality.  But we can at least say that the more students tended to prefer Incongruity humor, the more they tended to assess themselves as frequently using the given dimensions of Idea Development and Problem Solving.


It is interesting to note that while for the purposes of the HQT, Incongruity was defined as juxtaposing unlike things, ideas, or concepts (as distinct from Word Play which juxtaposes unlike words), there  was not a strong correlation between Incongruity humor preference and comparing or contrasting two or more concepts.  In fact, both of these two critical thinking dimensions showed a stronger (though not statistically significant) correlation to Sympathetic Pain humor than to Incongruity humor. Both also showed a significant correlation to GPA.  Thus increasing the already ubiquitous comparison/contrast essay assignments and exams would not seem to speak to the correlation between Incongruity humor preference and other critical thinking factors.


It can also be asked how this connection between Incongruity preference and idea development relates to faculty critical thinking priorities. Through a WSU Acceleration Grant, WSU faculty members were asked to indicate their critical thinking  teaching priorities for each segment of the inventory.  Over 120 faculty from all five colleges participated in creating a Faculty Critical Thinking Profile.  Of the five dimensions of Idea Development and  Problem Solving ranked highest in teaching  priority, four were more highly correlated to Incongruity preference than to any other joke type, though only one was significantly correlated:  “Designed an experiment to test an idea.”


Implications for Teaching


Given the strong correlation between a broad range of dimensions of Idea Development and Incongruity preference, we might ask what the implications of this finding are for our teaching?   Should we, as one academic has facetiously suggested, for example, throw out the curriculum in favor of Incongruity jokes? Add a joke book to our reading lists?  Search  for  or create curricular materials that incorporate Incongruity humor?





Incorporate Incongruity humor into our illustrative material?  Tell an Incongruity joke a day?  All of the above? Some of the above and others?  The answer, of course, must be left to the individual faculty member.  However,  the data suggests that if we assume that humor is not an essential element in learning, but a nicety, a luxury, a low priority option, or even an irrelevance, we may do so to the detriment of our students’ minds.


In the meantime, Winona State University is soon to be instigating  a humorous poster campaign designed to raise  student and faculty awareness of critical thinking issues.  Most of the posters  use Incongruity jokes.   Since “designing an experiment to test an idea” is significantly correlated in Incongruity preference, someone with a high Incongruity quotient may be needed to design a test of whether such a humorous poster campaign is effective.

Robin Jaeckle Grawe

Winona State University


Humor and Student Appreciation of Poetry


In Fall, 1996, a controlled test of student appreciation of peer-written poetry was conducted at WSU.  Poems were chosen from Satori, the school-sponsored, refereed anthology, and from an unrefereed alternative.  Poems of approximately equal length were chosen randomly from each, and students were asked to choose the better of the two without knowing which was from which anthology.  Out of 202 responses from 101 students, 104 liked the poetry from one anthology, while 98 chose poems from the other.


Students also answered eight questions about the choice of poems, including which poem was more refined and which was more humorous.  The correlation between "more refined" and "liked" was determined to have 99.97% confidence, while the correlation between "more humorous" and "liked" had a 94.67% confidence.  these confidence levels were increased when refinement and humor were added together.  The correlation between "liked" and equally weighted averaged of "more refined' and "more humorous" had a 99.98% confidence level.  For WSU Students, refinement plus humor seems to indicate poetic achievement.


Chris Phul

Winona State University





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