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The Humor Quotient Newsletter

Vol. 4, No. 2, July 1998, Winona, MN 55987


Reading the Comics


[In our last issue, we featured the first results from a Vitalist Humor Test (VHT).  In this issue, we present additional findings from that study.]


The Vitalist Humor Test was given in late November, 1997, to volunteers attending the Central Lutheran Church Bazaar in Winona, Minnesota.  Of fifty respondents,  probably about 80% were life-long Lutherans or of Lutheran background, the rest scattered among Christian denominations.


Since those early hopeful results, we have made an attempt to survey a broader range of Christian response.  We gratefully acknowledge the help of  Margaret McCauley and WSU Professor Emeritus of Physics M. J. McCauley in extending this research to the Catholic community and specifically to the Christian Brothers faculty of St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.  The results presented here thus include ten participants from the Catholic faith, all of them with higher education community background.






Four Vitalist Joke Types


The VHT pairs four types of jokes in their defiant vitalist form (following Bergson, the defiant form laughs at the mechanical encrusted on the living) and their affirmational form (following Langer, the affirmational form laughs with the extraordinarily alive).  VHT is evenly divided between vitalist Potential, Tenacity, Creativity, and Performance jokes.  The defiant form is pitted against the affirmational form in three jokes of each of the four types.  For example, a vitalist Creativity joke can either laugh at the lack of creativity or laugh with the extraordinary presence of creativity; Tenacity jokes can either laugh with extraordinary tenacity or laugh at the failure to be appropriately tenacious.


For the 60 respondents covered in this report, a side test on humor and health was also administered.  One of the questions on the side test was “What do you say to yourself in a health crisis?”  In the last issue, we reported a high confidence result between vitalism and the answer “Count your blessings.”  In future issues of HQN, we intend to report on more advanced statistical evidence from the “said in health crisis” question.


In this report, however, we focus on the question, “Do you regularly read the comics section of a newspaper or magazine?”   The question allowed for a simple “yes”/”no” response.  Multiple regressions were run to test the relationship of VHT variables to comic reading, taking into account partial regressions for gender, age, and religious affiliation.


Generally speaking, the VHT research to date has been undertaken on the assumption that vitalist humor is in fact related to health issues, and more than related, that the appreciation of humor is a key to good health.  We have a further hypothesis that affirmational humor is more subtle than defiant humor, and that affirmational humor is thus a better guide to vitalist appreciation.


From this base, it might be argued that a high affirmational score on VHT should be correlated to enjoying comic performance including the comics and other printed jokes. Even as a one-tailed test, however, the results for 51 useable participants are only 86% confident of this general relationship.


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

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





When we break out the four types of joke pairs tested in VHT, we find that two of them are positively and two are negatively correlated to regular perusal of the comics.  Tenacity and Potential are negatively correlated, though not at significant levels.  That is, the evidence weakly suggests that people who would rather laugh at inadequate tenacity are more likely to read the comics than people who would rather laugh with exemplary tenacity. Also, people who laugh at lack of potential are more likely to peruse the comics than people who laugh with extraordinary potential.


The Creativity/Performance Connection


The situation reverses for Performance and Creativity.  For people who prefer to laugh with extraordinary performance rather than to laugh at inadequate performance, the evidence suggests weakly a higher perusal of comics.


The big news, however, is for Creativity.  Here the evidence is extremely strong          (p<.0015 even as a two-tailed test) that people who prefer to laugh with extraordinary creativity are more likely to peruse the comics than people who prefer to laugh at a lack of creativity. 


Interestingly, age is also highly related to preference for affirmational over defiant Creativity.    Younger people   prefer affirmational Creativity, older people,   defiant (p<.0010, two-tailed).


There were no significant differences between the Lutheran database and the Catholic, the highest correlation found being that for Catholic preference for defiant Tenacity      was more associated with reading the comics than for Lutherans (p <.24 two-tailed).


If we combine Creativity and Performance scores, the combination is significantly correlated to reading the comics (p < .0175, two-tailed).  Creativity and Performance both deal with the physically real and present.  Potential does not.  And Tenacity looks to the future in hope (or else it becomes not tenacity but stubbornness or the like).  So perhaps those who read the comics are those of us more concerned with the physically and presently real rather than with the theoretical and hoped for.

Paul Grawe

Winona State University





Developmental Stages in Negotiation Humor


High School seniors in my class in Oral and Written Communication at New Richland, Minnesota, have continued the Augsburg College-Winona State University Legislative Simulation (LS) experiment reported in previous HQN’s.  After two years of experiments, a developmental difference (p <.01) in use of jokes in negotiation can be reported.


For Augsburg-WSU, only 10 of 53 women high succeeders were also highly recognized by their negotiating partners as jokers.  But 11 of 17 college and graduate male high succeeders  were high jokers.


At NRHEG High School, this powerful adult result was not evident.  For high succeeding high school women, 5 were highly recognized for joking; 6 weren’t.  For males, 10 were; 7 weren’t.  This suggests the complicated twin hypotheses that women as they get older experience less success using proactive humor in negotiation while men are increasingly successful.


Please note in particular the drop in female successful negotiators known for joking from almost half in high school to less than a fifth of the female participants at the college and graduate levels.  Male proportions of successful negotiators known for joking remain largely unchanged.


The huge difference between adult men and women confirms the “Good Ol’ Boy” stereotype of male negotiation practice.   The male/female difference is, however, not particularly apparent at the high school level.


The fact that women heavily outnumer men in the Augburg-WSU database but are virtuallyh identical in number to males in the NRHEG database should be noted.  If w omen experience less joking succedss even when or perhaps particularly when the majority of success-grantors are women, this change may be reflected in a sense of loss and unfairness.

Mark Domeier

NRHEG High School (MN I>S>D> 22168)





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