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The Humor Quotient Newsletter

Vol. 3. No. 3, August, 1997 Winona, MN


Humor, Negotiation, and Administration


[The following abstracts “Using Humor to Crack the Glass Ceiling” by Alleen Pace Nilsen published in Initiatives 56:2 (1994) by the National Association for Women in Education.  The study was observational, conducted over a six-year period when Nilsen as a mid-level administrator  attended high-level management meetings connected with the running of a large public university at both local and state levels.]


As an administrator, Nilsen kept notes on all humorous incidents occurring in  meetings, ranking the incidents on a 5-point scale from barely funny, i.e., the participants smiled politely as if to acknowledge that humor was intended, to genuinely funny, i.e., virtually all participants engaged in hearty laughter.  In relation to gender, notes were taken on the percentages of males and females in attendance, who was in charge of the meeting, and who initiated the laughter.


The humor she observed can be roughly divided into three categories:

--  That which built cohesiveness or served as a social lubricant

--  That which entertained or served as a stimulant

--  That which persuaded a group or served as an influence on thinking.





Women participated in the first category of humor almost as often as men did, but they rarely used the second and third types.  They didn’t tell anecdotes nor did they tease each other or use self-deprecating humor.  What laughs they got came from one-liners and zingers.  Over 50% of the humorous incidents were initiated by the person conducting the meeting, and at these high-level meetings, women were seldom the ones in charge.


The author concluded that the main reasons for the differences revolved around women’s changing roles in society.  As they work their way into high-level administration, many women still feel they are “second-best” and so have to try harder by being “serious.”  They hesitate to break out of their roles as peacekeepers and caregivers.  And even when a woman observes humor being used for effective negotiation and decides to use it herself, she most likely has a lot of catching up to do because the art of storytelling, which in these high-power groups was the most popular form of humor, is a skill developed over a lifetime.


by Alleen Pace Nilsen

Arizona State University


Pain Joke Preference Linked to Brain Laterality and Gender


Prior attempts to display links between brain laterality and humor preference have been unfruitful.  However, new analysis of an expanded data base has exposed significant correlations between brain laterality and Gotcha and Sympathetic Pain jokes when the results were divided by gender.


The Grawe Brain Laterality Operational Preference Test (BLOPT) was devised to test participants’ operatively-dominant brain hemisphere.  Those said to be left-brained tend to be more logical,  structured, organized, verbal, and individualistic.  Those said to be right-brained tend to be more holistic in their thinking, artistic, pictorial, and group-oriented. 


With new additions to the data set, and when analyzed as a function of gender, both Gotcha jokes and Sympathetic Pain jokes were found to be statistically significantly correlated to brain laterality. For women, the right-brained participants showed stronger preferences for both Sympathetic Pain  and Gotcha  jokes than  did the left-brained women.   In other words,



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

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




the right-brained women enjoy jokes that are about human relationships and the struggles and joys that accompany them. 


For men, however, it was the left-brained participants who preferred Gotcha and Sympathetic Pain jokes more than the right-brained men.  Perhaps left-brained men appreciated these jokes because they generally refer to an individual situation, as opposed to Incongruity jokes, which generally refer to the realities of the world as a whole, and Word Play jokes, which generally refer to an individual word taken out of a holistic context.  Note, however, the difference in rationales for the gender results.




High                   20      I            8                        High            14       I            2

                                    I                                                                    I            

                                    I                                                                    I

Low                   26      I            8                        Low             5        I            6


            Left-Brained            Right-Brained            Left-Brained            Right-Brained

                     Women                                                     Men


Although neither the women’s results nor the men’s results are statistically significant in themselves, there are clearly contrastive dominant diagonals in the two tables.


Sympathetic Pain


High                   19      I          22                        High              9       I            6

                                    I                                                                    I            

                                    I                                                                    I

Low                   16      I            5                        Low             7        I            5


            Left-Brained            Right-Brained            Left-Brained            Right-Brained

                     Women                                                     Men


The clear movement from low left-brained to high right-brained women’s scores is significant (p<.03), and men’s scores trend to the reverse diagonal.  Thus of the results for women, the Sympathetic Pain results were statistically significant in themselves, but the Gotcha results were not.  For men, neither difference was significant in itself.






However, both types of jokes produced significant results when men and women were contrasted.  This was done by adding the left-brained women to the right-brained men and the right-brained women to the left-brained men.


Gotcha                                                            Sympathetic Pain


High                   22      I            22                      High            25       I            31

                                    I                                                                    I            

                                    I                                                                    I

Low                   32      I            13                       Low          21        I            12


            LBW+RBM           RBW+LBM                LBW+RBM           RBW+LBM



For Gotcha, this combination was significant (p<.05), and the difference for Sympathetic Pain was all the more significant (p<.03).


Elizabeth Grawe

St. Olaf College

Call for Papers


Linda Hughes of the University of Delaware  has announced associated meetings of the Association for the Study of Play (TASP) and the Society for Cross-Cultural Research (SCCR) to be held Feb. 18-22, 1998 at the Marina Beach Resort, St. Petersburg, FL.  Proposal deadline is October 15, 1997.


TASP is a multi-disciplinary organization  primarily of the humanities and social sciences whose goal is to promote the study of play.  SCCR is a multi-disciplinary organization primarily of the social sciences whose goal is to support and encourage interdisciplinary comparative research and to establish scientifically validated generalizations about human behavior.


HQN invites proposal abstracts from these and other conferences for possible reprint in HQN.


 For further informatinon on TASP-SCCR, contact Dorothy J. Sluss, Human Development and Learning, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN 37614,






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