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The Humor Quotient Newsletter

Vol. 3, No. 4, November  1997,  Winona, MN 55987


Idea Development, Humor Preference, and Gender Differences


The June, 1997 HQN reported on recent studies that demonstrated a positive link between preference for Incongruity jokes and various forms of  idea development.  The study combined two testing instruments:  the Critical Thinking Inventory surveyed student use of 290 dimensions of critical thinking; the Grawe Humor Quotient Test determined student humor preference among four types of Humor of the Mind:  Incongruity, Word Play, Gotcha, and Sympathetic Pain.  Bush and WSU grants under project director Paul Grawe  funded most of this research.


Results showed that of the 33 dimensions grouped under Idea Development and Problem Solving (ID/PS), 23 showed a stronger positive correlation to preference for Incongruity jokes than to preference for any of the other three joke types.  Idea Development here refers not to novelty or to creativity, but rather to a wide range of thinking skills which can be used to grow ideas from mere thoughts to understood concepts and thus can lead to good answers, not merely new answers.  The ID/PS list included such dimensions as





Discovered themes within a work

Contrasted two or more concepts

Created an analogy or partial similarity

Generated multiple possible solutions to a problem.


From the basis of this across-the-board correlation between the use of ID/PS skills and preference for Incongruity, we can ask whether or not there is a  correlation to a second humor preference and thus a kink between ID/PS and a humor personality.  The HQT, points to not only individual humor preferences but to personality types based on the top two humor preferences.  (See HQN Vol. 1, No. 1.)  While the sample as a whole does not reveal a clear correlation between use of ID/PS and a second humor choice, the sample divided into male and female does.  For both males and females, high ID/SP use was most frequently best-correlated with Incongruity humor (an unlikely yoking of ideas or things).  But the second-best correlation varied for women and men.  For women, the second-best-correlated joke preference was the Gotcha joke (where some idiot gets his or her due), while for men, the second-best-correlated joke preference was Word Play (an unlikely yoking of words or word parts). 


Number of ID/PS Dimensions Best- and Second-Best Correlated to Joke Types


   Joke Type                        Females                              Males


                        Best        2nd Best        Total          Best        2nd Best       Total


   Incongruity     20                4                24            20               8              28

   Gotcha           10              16                26              0               2                2

   Word play        1                6                  7             9               16             25

   Symp. Pain       2                7                  9              4               7              11


The above chart shows a clear predominance of Incongruity and Gotcha correlations for women and Incongruity and Word Play correlations for men, indicating that high use of ID/PS thinking dimensions is associated with different humor-derived personality types for men and women.  The humor type associated with preference for Incongruity and Gotcha, the best-correlated and second-best-correlated for women, is Crusader (someone who perceives  problems  objectively  and  works  to rectify  them),  while the



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

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






humor type associated with preference for Incongruity and Word Play, the best-correlated  and second-best-correlated  for  men,  is  Intellectual (someone  who likes to deal perceptively with facts, words, and ideas).  That is, female idea developers tend to be Crusaders; male idea developers tend to be Intellectuals.


This result is notable because it suggests that students who report high use of ID/PS are not typical of their gender. Over all, women at WSU tend less toward the Crusader personality than men (HQN  Vol. 1, No. 2).  Men at WSU, on the other hand, are much less likely to prefer Word Play than women, and thus they are less likely to test as Intellectual than women.  Thus students who report high use of ID/PS tend to have humor preferences less common for their gender.


This variance from typical gender patterns may suggest that idea development requires a preference to move outside  stock gender responses.   It also may suggest that a society which too rigidly dictates gender behavior and limits the range of gender sensibility will limit itself in idea development.   Idea development demands a wide range of generally accepted patterns of thought.  Stereotypical gender responses to humor do not seem to correlate well with employing that full range of thought dimensions.


by Robin Jaeckle Grawe

Winona State University


Toward a Bergson Centennial—Submissions Invited


In little more than two years, we will mark the centennial of the publication of Henri Bergson’s seminal essay “Le rire” and its vitalistic message that humor is a self-defense mechanism of the living against the overwhelmingly lifeless or dead universe.  HQN invites short descriptions of research deriving from Bergson’s insight as we move toward the centennial date.


About 50 years ago, the American philosopher Suzanne Langer argued in a number of works including Feeling and Form and Philosophy in a New Key for a second side to the vitalist tradition.  Bergson had argued that vitalism explains laughter against the mechanical encrusted on the living.  Langer reversed the focus and argued that there was something delightful in watching life resiliently, tenaciously, gutsily, or brainily battle to stay alive.  Langer described this as a basic rhythm of comedy and gave us the picture of





the fish with partially chopped off tail nevertheless learning to swim with a list, but to swim nevertheless and thus to go on living in a predatory world.


And it is less than a year since Willibald Ruch challenged humor scholars world wide with his assessment that we have moved the discussion from wit to comic to humor, “but what have you accomplished.”


These three key events in the history of humor studies seem to us to point to some obvious conclusions.  First, we use singular words like “wit,” “the comic” and “humor” to cover what are obviously plural realities—or at best Wittgensteinian ropes of meaning made up of strands that interweave and discontinue at various points along the length.  If humor scholarship is to succeed, it will have to have an analytic strength to look at individual strands and to recognize clearly that those strands are not representative of the others.


In its original format, HQN was designed to focus attention on the strand of humor that George Meredith called Humor of the Mind.  The Humor Quotient Test as administered at Winona State University, Holy Family College, and other sites has shown much about the central role of such humor in our emotional and cognitive life.  But that Humor of the Mind is not the vitalistic humor of Bergson or Langer.  Winona State has recently undertaken its first quantitative probes of vitalistic humor, and HQN intends to report on these very different humor realities in coming issues.



9th International ISHS Humor  Conference

        June 25-28, 1998, Bergen, Norway

“At the Radisson SAS HOTEL NORGE in the heart of the historic town of Bergen located on the coast of one of the world’s most beautiful fjordlands”

Proposals due March 20, 1998


Contact:  Sven Svebak.  ISHS Conference

School of Medicine.  ISMUT. N-7005. Trondheim, Norway

Fax: Int.+47 7399 7289






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