ITCHS Home        HQN Contents         Permissions



The Humor Quotient Newsletter

Vol. 6,  No. 1,  September 2000, Winona, MN


Humor Preference and Safety Related


A recent study at Winona State University using the Grawe Humor Quotient Test and the Wellness Inventory published by the National Wellness Institute, Inc. ("Testwell"TM) indicates significant correlations between humor preference and various measures of wellness.


The Grawe HQT asks participants to indicate a preference for one of two jokes in each of 42 pairs.  Jokes represent four types of humor of the mind:  Gotcha, Sympathetic Pain, Incongruity, and Word Play.  (See HQN 1.1.) TestwellTM  asks test-takers to rank themselves from 1-5 ("almost never" to "almost always") for various practices and attitudes deemed to contribute to wellness.  Questions are divided into 10 subcategories:


      Physical Fitness/Nutrition                    Sexuality/Emotional Awareness

      Medical Self-Care                              Emotional Management

      Safety                                                 Intellectual Wellness

      Environmental Wellness                       Occupational Wellness

      Social Awareness                               Spirituality and Values





The study administered both tests to 34 students, 27 members of a women's health class and 7 majors in health-related fields volunteering as  members of a cardiac health club. The participants were all under the age of 30 and overwhelmingly but not exclusively women .  (It is the practice of the researchers not to insist that participants identify their gender when a very small minority might feel exposed in the process.)


Results showed a very high confidence negative correlation (p< .01) between preference for Gotcha humor and student-reported Safety.  Gotcha jokes derive humor from some idiot getting what he or she deserves, frequently from doing something foolish, reckless, or exhibitionist. Safety in TestwellTM included such practices as wearing seatbelts and the judicious use of alcohol.


These results suggest a panoply of possible interpretations:


Cautious people find Gotcha humor reckless.

Cautious people find Gotcha behavior reckless, and thus foreign, threatening and


Cautious people are stodgy and uptight and find Gotcha tacky.

Cautious people feel that laughing at the comeuppance of others might itself be dangerous. Incautious people (who act foolishly?  recklessly?) appreciate Gotcha humor because they

     feel that, unlike the joke butt, they have escaped the consequences of recklessness.


The study also showed with high confidence (p< .05) a negative correlation between Gotcha preference and Medical Self-Care, which included health-cautious practices such as flossing and regular breast/testes self-examination.


It should be noted that since the participant pool was overwhelmingly women in their late teens and early 20's, results might prove different for a largely male subject group or for older participants. Further research is planned to investigate these possibilities.


Robin Jaeckle Grawe



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

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





An Economic Use for the Gotcha/Sympathetic Pain Duality


[Can the four humor sensibilities of the HQT be reinterpreted to have practical consequences in serious affairs, as for example, in Economics?  Early results—Ed.]


While popular with men, undergraduate economics attracts few women.  Past explanations for the sex difference have focused on the mathematical content and the topic matter (money, government policy, business). Dissatisfied with these explanations, I have sought alternative factors influencing female enrollment.  Robin Jaeckle Grawe suggested a new hypothesis developed from recent research in humor studies.  If women resonate with Sympathetic Pain more than with Gotcha humor, perhaps the presentation of economic material explains the enrollment patterns. 


Indeed, as a teacher of economics, I have found that the field often presents its findings in a Gotcha frame.  For example, the luxury tax intends to raise revenue at the expense of the wealthy. But the imposition of the tax results in a reduction in the consumption of luxury goods. Government revenue falls if lost income tax and increased welfare benefits are counted. Gotcha! However, the same facts could be framed in a Sympathetic light by presenting the policy from the perspective of workers whose jobs are eliminated by the tax.  As the government vacillates in its tax treatment of their products, skilled workers are driven from their jobs and then encouraged to return.


In an effort to test the hypothesis, I prepared four policy lessons.  Each was written in both a Sympathetic and a Gotcha frame.  Students from two sections of Principles of Microeconomics were given four essays—2 Gotcha and 2 Sympathetic.  (If section A read the Gotcha version of essay 1, section B read the Sympathetic version etc.)  Eight women and 14 men participated.  Students were asked five questions to measure how the essay stimulated their interest.  For each question that was asked, I recorded which essay had inspired the most interest, second most interest, third most interest, and least interest.


Figure 1 plots the difference between the average rank assigned to Sympathetic and Gotcha essays.  A low score indicates that a student responds with more interest when the essay is in a  Sympathetic frame.   From simple  examination of the scatter, it appears  





that women do respond more to a sympathetic presentation.  A test for a difference in the mean score confirms this (one-tailed p=.021).  A Wilcoxon rank test produces the same result with roughly the same degree of significance (one-tailed p=.030).


While small sample results warrant caution, the consistency of the results in the study is encouraging.  In each of the five questions, women reported more interest (relative to men and in absolute terms) when the Sympathetic frame was used.  A research agenda lies ahead to better understand sex differences in responses to policy analysis both in and out of the classroom.

Nathan D. Grawe,

Economics Carleton College



ITCHS Home        HQN Contents         Permissions