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The Humor Quotient Newsletter

Vol. 7, No. 1 and 2, March 2001, Winona, MN 55987


Serious Priorities and Humor Preferences


Ever since Aristotle's jaundiced remarks in the early sections of the Poetics, literary criticism has been biased in favor of the idea that humor and comedy are the products of trivially-minded people and presumably appeal to the more trivial aspects of our character as audience.


Just as the world of philosophy was revolutionized and invigorated when Aristotle turned Platonic idealism on its head, so too perhaps progress in understanding humor has required precisely  the counter-hypothesis that humor relates to some of our most centrally serious concerns in life.  In particular, we need empirical evidence to that effect if we are to get beyond what seems to be an instinctive distrust of humor as soon as it becomes the subject of contemplative thought.  Perhaps all of us have been too deeply hurt by slings and arrows of malicious humor directed at ourselves not to have such an inborn distrust as soon as we sit down to think about humor rather than to react spontaneously to humor or act spontaneously in the generation of humor.



The large databases that have been built up for the Humor Quotient Test (HQT) over the last decade are perhaps a start for such empirical evidence.  Moreover, the HQT lends itself to the formulation of new experiments that may empirically demonstrate the serious importance of humor.


American Realities Test


At Winona State University over the last two years just such a new experiment has been underway, testing whether fundamental, serious responses to America are somehow related to one's humor of the mind preferences.  This experiment required the formulation of a separate test instrument on American attitudes.  Like the HQT, the American Realities Test (ART) defines four characteristics and allows researchers to subsequently map six personal priority types based on overall preference for any two of these characteristics.


ART first defines four central truths about America that are empirically demonstrable despite the general sense that all generalizations about America are inadequate and flawed. These are:


1)      America is immense.  Compared to all the nations of world history, America is more geographically spread out than virtually any other nation, stretching from Protectorates in the South Pacific through Guam, Midway and the Hawaiian and Aleutian Islands to Caribbean possessions east of Florida.

2)      America commands vast resources.  The American lands themselves are a cornucopia of natural resources.  Moreover, in one strategic category after another, America has been in a position to buy and use half of the world's production of materials.

3)      America is complex.  The 2000 census only reveals what is acceleratingly true of America, that it is a nation built on all other nations, interacting massively in commerce with other nations, accepting into itself the value systems of virtually all nations.

4)      America is inclusive.  While closely related to  complexity, inclusivity is a separate

American characteristic, a characteristic of  intellectually and  philosophically rejecting the idea of superiority of ideas or culture unless demonstrated on some purely pragmatic   ground.  American inclusivity begins with a colonial  heritage  of   multiple religious  minorities—Congregationalists,  Catholics,  Quakers—establish-ing a  home  in the   wilderness alongside "mainstream" Anglicans. Inclusivity is the story of Anglican Virginia





joining in rebellion with Catholic Maryland, Quaker Pennsylvania, and Congregational Massachusetts.  It continues with Constitutional guarantees for freedom of association against establishment of any particular religion.


ART then goes on to formulate five questions and asks respondents to split ten points for each question among the four American Characteristic categories in terms of what the participant values in America.  ART thus generates four sub-scores for the four American characteristics with a normal total score of 50 for the four sub-categories.


American Realities Priority Types


Like the HQT, ART allows respondents to be categorized among six personal priority types, each priority type defined by the two highest ART sub-scores.  These types have each been given a mathematical definition and a corresponding rubric selected from key American values.  The types are:


1)      Resources and Complexity (R+C) = Richness.  Richness here is analogous to richness of texture in a fabric and contrastive to plainness, ordinariness, and utility.

2)      Resources and Immensity (R+Im) = Greatness.  Greatness here refers to long-term American perception that the United States must take its place among the great nations of history.  In the American case, Greatness is often equated with specialness. Long term and despite recent countertrends, Americans have had a strong tendency to believe that their nation holds a unique place in world history, a place often talked about in the past as a “New Jerusalem” or “New Zion” and in the 20th century often talked about in terms of “The Arsenal of Democracy,” “Policeman for the World,”  “The American Century” and the like.

3)      Resources and Inclusivity (R+In) = the American Dream.  Many American schoolchildren learn the song, “When I first came to this land, I was not a wealthy man.”  The song embodies a characteristic American immigrant attitude that the resources of America can be appropriated because America  includes the immigrant and allows  that immigrant a chance to make a personal go of things with the resources available.

4)      Inclusivity and Immensity (In+Im) = Brotherhood.  The immensity of the United

States allows for a sense of brotherhood among nations contrastive to national relations in the Old World.  At the same time, the immensity with inclusivity, demands Brotherhood to keep such a stupendous expanse operating as a single national entity.




5)      Inclusivity and Complexity (In+C) = Tolerance.  Complexity becomes a positive value of accepting into oneself much of what others have to offer and appreciating that offer by a consistent self-discipline not to judge and condemn.

6)      Complexity and Immensity (C+Im) = Intellectual Challenge.  It is less challenging intellectually to live without complexity.  The immense complexity of American realities creates intellectual challenges of unprecedented scope.


It should be noticed that the six personal priority types move in a circle the first half of which includes Resources, followed by a half that embodies Inclusivity, followed by a half that embodies Complexity.  That leaves Immensity which is seen as a natural “intensifier” and thus the combination with Immensity is always placed at the center of the half circle defined by the combined characteristic (thus C+Im is at the center of the C Half Circle (See Figure 1A.)


American Realities Circle















Text Box: Richness
Text Box: R + C
Text Box: Im + C
Text Box: Intellectual
Text Box: Greatness
Text Box: Im + R
Text Box: Tolerance
Text Box: C + In
Text Box: American Dream
Text Box: In + R
Text Box: Brotherhood
Text Box: Im + In





Figure 1A





As so constructed, the American Realities Circle is analogous to the Humor Personality Natural Order  Circle  with its use  of Word Play (W) as the intensifier for Gotcha (G), Sympathetic Pain (SP) and Incongruity (I) (See Figure 1B).


Humor Personality Natural Order Circle


Text Box: Crusader
Text Box: Intellectual
Text Box: I + G
Text Box: I + W
Text Box: Advocate
Text Box: G + W
Text Box: Reconciler
Text Box: I + SP
Text Box: Bridgebuilder
Text Box: Consoler
Text Box: SP + W
Text Box: G + SP
















Figure 1B


With the paraphernalia of the American Realities Test thus defined, we have undertaken at WSU to administer both the HQT and ART to several general education courses concerned with American studies:  American Masterpieces (Fall 2000), American Personality (Fall 2000), and American Film Comedy (Spring 2001).  More than 90 students were involved in the testing, of which 63 produced data useful for the experiment (the non-compulsory nature of the process resulted in many students not completing all parts of the experiment).  Students in such courses are generally drawn from all majors at WSU.  The student clientele is heavily weighted toward first- and second-year students but more advanced students are well-represented.





Testing Serious American Priorities Against Humor


Now it should be noted that America's Founders thought of American realities as ultimately serious, the "Last, Best Hope of Mankind" that the People could rule themselves.  At the time, the Founders were willing to risk their "lives and sacred honor" for the cause and to be considered blasphemers of God's order of government for conducting what they themselves considered an Unfinished Experiment.  At the Revolution, American idealists stood virtually alone in a world dominated by vastly different political order.  Today, American political ideas are widely imitated in younger democracies around the world, and that may diminish our sense of the seriousness of American realities for all of world history.  Nevertheless, American realities continually focus the attention of the world and dominate power and trade relations among all nations.  Certainly then, American realities are serious—and from an Aristotelean point of view, nothing related to humor.


Since empirical knowledge about humor is still in its earliest infancy, making a hypothesis for almost any humor experiment is pretty much making a guess.  For the present experiment, our hypothesis is very general but hardly a guess: in stark contradistinction to Aristotle, we posit that humor is related to one's most serious concerns and therefore that results from the HQT and ART will show some correlation.  Since we posit no particular correlation, we are clearly involved in a statistically two-tailed test.




Having administered the HQT and ART to 63 respondents as thus described, we could then compile a 6 x 6 table of results (Table A), each participant having been labeled as one of six Humor Personality types and one of six American Realities Priority types. (In cases of ties, we were willing to assign half and even third scores—a participant might thus be half Consoler and half Bridgebuilder in Humor Personality or, for another example, one third Richness, Greatness, and American Dream in American Realities Priority. Participants who were split in both Humor and American Realities Priority were not included in the study.


Review of the data revealed that participants were generally high in Gotcha scores (probably an age-related characteristic of the sample group) and thus are disproportionately labeled as Crusaders, Advocates, and Bridgebuilders.  On ART, the group  as a  whole fell  disproportionately  into three  alternating sectors of the ART




HQT vs. ART Types

Am. Realities              Humor Personality Types













5 1/2


2 1/2


4 5/6


1 1/2






Am. Dr.




4 1/3


6 /13


2 1/3












2 5/6










3 1/2




2 5/6




1 1/3


1 5/6






























Table A


Circle:  disproportionately many respondents reported priorities of Tolerance, American Dream, and Richness (we do not yet have sufficient data to say whether this too is an age-related result.)


Four of the six Humor Personality types (Crusaders, Advocates, Bridgebuilders, and Intellectuals) ranked Tolerance, American dream, and Richness as their highest American Realities categories; two of the six Humor Personality types (Consolers and Reconcilers) were not so inclined.  As a matter of fact, a Kendall Coefficient of Rank Correlation showed no positive or negative correlation for Consolers and Reconcilers with the American Realities Priorities of the other four Humor Personality types.


A Chi-Square analysis was then undertaken, combining the four conforming Humor Personality results and the two non-conforming Humor Personality results (Table B).  Because of the skews already mentioned, there were many fewer respondents in the Reconciler-Consoler group.





Chi Square:  HQT vs. ART Types


        Cr., Ad., Bri., Int.                    Con., Rec.



Tol, AmD., Rich                   45.67   I     3.0



 Great., Bro., IntCh.               9.67   I     4.67


Table B


The Chi Square analysis revealed a p<.008 that  Crusaders, Advocates, Bridgebuilders, and Intellectuals as a group were more likely to be labeled as holding one of the three consensus American Realities Priorities (Tolerance, American Dream, Richness) than were the remaining two Humor Personalities, (Consolers and Reconcilers).


Mathematically identical is the result that Consolers and Reconcilers are more drawn to the non-consensus American Realities categories (Greatness, Brotherhood, and Intellectual Challenge).




Again, our hypothesis in this experiment was very general and allowed for finding unusual strength or weakness in any combination of Humor Personality and American Reality types.  We present the results therefore as merely tentative and deserving further study.





However, there is something inherently appealing about the described result.  Notice that the consensus result among American Realities Priorities is for three types, none of which include Immensity but rather include all the other American Realities.  Evidently early-college-career respondents have not focused much on the Immensity issue as it relates to their American priorities.  But people in two Humor Personality types did, at least relative to the other groups.


Second, notice that the rubrics assigned to the American Realities Circle point to a difference between the Immensity and non-Immensity categories: the Immensity categories (Greatness, Brotherhood, and Intellectual Challenge) all put demands on the individual—to honor and defend so great an undertaking, to share so great an undertaking in brotherhood, to recognize and grapple with the intellectual challenge of such an undertaking.  Immensity demands a lot.


The non-Immensity categories seem to speak to what America offers rather than what it demands: Richness, an American Dream (often defined as the Pursuit of Happiness), and Tolerance (for one’s own deviations from the norm).


Please notice, then, that Consolers and Reconcilers are noted for a relatively high response to the demanding aspects of the American Realities Circle.  And on the Humor Personality Circle, it is Consolers and Reconcilers who can be most easily defined as people who throw themselves into the hurts and problems of other people.  In other words, there seems to be a similar value for the demanding in life which is reflected in the two Humor Personalities that relatively prefer the Immensity-related American Reality Priorities..


As already indicated, there may be some other factors involved, like age-group dispositions.  Nevertheless, the results found are 1) very high confidence, 2) mathematically clean (Immense categories versus non-Immense; adjoining sectors of the Humor Personality Natural Order Circle), and 3) easily translatable from mathematical proof to rhetorical argument based in types of value. Further testing is anticipated to check these tentative results.

Paul Grawe

Winona State University


HQN Editor:  Paul Grawe, Institute for Travesty, Comedy, and Humor Studies, 678 Sioux Street, Winona, MN 55987. Tel: 507-454-4141. email:




The HQT Revisited


As reported at the International Conference for Humor Studies, in Ithaca, New York, in summer 1994, the Humor Quotient Test queries for participants’ preference for one type of humor of the mind over another, pitting 21 jokes of each of four types against one another in 42 pairs, asking the participant which joke he/she finds funnier.  Jokes are equally divided between cartoons and word jokes and screened for likely religious, political, ethnic, sexual, or anatomical offensiveness.


The four joke types are:


         Word Play:  we laugh at words combined in a way that seems unfitting

         Incongruity:  we laugh at the juxtaposition of seemingly unlike things

 or ideas

         Gotcha:  we laugh because some idiot gets what he/she deserves

         Sympathetic pain:  we laugh in sympathy for an undeserving victim


The participant’s two highest joke preferences are combined to create a humor-generated personality type.  Four joke types create six personality types:


         G + SP = Bridge-builder:  someone who works with people with

 sympathy but also a desire to right wrongs

         G + I = Crusader:  someone who perceives problems objectively and

 works to rectify them

         G + W = Advocate:  someone who uses verbal flair to rectify problems

         I + W = Intellectual:  someone who likes to deal perceptively with

              facts, words, and ideas

         SP + I = Reconciler:  someone who joins with others in their

 difficulties for betterment

         SP + W = Consoler:  someone who empathizes with people in

 difficulty and soothes the pain by knowing what to say


Today participation in the HQT surpasses 1000, representing three institutions of higher learning and a variety of adult church, professional, and study groups.

Robin Jaeckle Grawe, Executive Director

Institute for Travesty, Comedy, and Humor Studies




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