In a recent blog, our research had shown that both men and women on eHarmony report that a great sense of humor is the most important thing they are looking for in their match, and that men and women use humor differently in their dating lives. But what does it mean to have a sense of humor? Are there different types?
In a recent study by Martin et al (2003), the researchers developed a questionnaire that identified 4 different types of humor: affiliative, self-defeating, self-enhancing, and aggressive.
- Affiliative – This style of humor is what most people associate with a sense of humor. It can include telling jokes or just saying funny things that are not at the expense of anybody. People use this type of humor to nurture relationships between themselves and others, to bring groups together, and create a more light-hearted and enjoyable atmosphere.
- Self-defeating – Do you remember the class clown you had in your classes in school? Well those class clowns were using self-defeating humor, in which they amuse others at their own expense. They’ll make themselves the butt of their own jokes, and make fun of themselves to gain approval from others. They’ll even laugh with everyone when others put them down.
- Self-enhancing – People who use self-enhancing humor seem to always find the humorous side of life, and deal with stress or any of life’s challenges by finding the brighter side of it. Not only is it having the ability to find the funny in everyday situations, but it is mainly a way of coping with any adversity, and not letting negative emotions take over.
- Aggressive – This type of humor is exactly how it sounds. Aggressive humor can include teasing, making fun of others, some types of sarcasm, and putting others down. This type of humor is mostly hurtful, and can be used to manipulate and alienate others. People who use more aggressive humor can have trouble holding back in saying funny things.
Every person is going to use a little bit of each of these, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing to use a little self-defeating or aggressive humor every now and then. For example, aggressive humor can be useful in confrontational situations, or even showing off your wittiness using sarcasm. Self-defeating humor can be useful in not taking yourself so seriously, or even showing others that you can tolerate a little jabbing. In essence, it’s good to have a mixture of these humor styles.
We gave this questionnaire to about 1,000 eHarmony users to get an idea of how common these types of humor are for both men and women, and what a person’s sense of humor style can reveal about their personality. Overall, men were significantly more likely to use self-defeating or aggressive humor than women, although these types of humor were not as common as self-enhancing or affiliative.
Over time, humor just isn’t as important to us anymore. Another interesting thing I found in the analysis was older age groups don’t find themselves as funny and don’t value humor as much as the younger age groups. The rates of aggressive humor drop dramatically in older age groups, but the rate of decline of self-enhancing humor isn’t as striking.
But what does your usage of the different humor styles say about your personality?
Funny people love to be around other people. Each humor style was significantly associated with a higher level of extraversion. This makes sense, given that to be funny, someone has to hear your humor. If you really wanted to get philosophical about it, you might ask yourself, “If no one hears a joke, is it still funny?”
People who use any affiliative, self-enhancing, and aggressive humor more were found to be significantly more intelligent. Making jokes, or at least successful jokes, is no easy feat. A person has to be pretty smart in order to come up with humorous ideas, and understand the jokes of others. However, those who use a lot of self-defeating humor weren’t found to be significantly more intelligent.
Affiliative humor users were also found to be significantly more secure in their relationships, value their friendships more, and be less athletic. When you meet somebody who, in general, is funnier or thinks a sense of humor is very important, they’ll be more likely to build more emotionally close relationships with you, and trust you to show their true selves. They’ll be more equipped to build a more intimate and close relationship with you than someone who doesn’t use affiliative humor as much.
People who use self-enhancing humor to help them cope through hard times must be doing it right. Users of self-enhancing humor were found to be significantly happier in general than those who don’t use this type very often. They were found to be more confident in themselves, felt more fortunate, and overall more satisfied with themselves. Rather than letting the world get them down, their use of humor to look at the bright side of any situation is doing wonders for their everyday mood.
Dating somebody who uses self-defeating humor can be great, but can have its drawbacks as well. These individuals who are not afraid to laugh at themselves are also more likely to trust others with having a closer relationship, and are not afraid to show their true selves. However, they were also found to be significantly more anxious, depressed, and neurotic, as well as less confident in their own physical attractiveness.
If you meet somebody who uses a lot of hurtful humor, makes fun of others, or is overly sarcastic, it can really tell you a lot about them. Aggressive humor users are significantly less kind and caring, more neurotic, more bossy and dominating, less confident in their physical attractiveness, and less likely to want a close relationship with their partner than those who don’t use aggressive humor as often. They may be more intelligent and more interested in sex, but the cons definitely outweigh the pros in this case. It may be the case that their own insecurities are driving them to tease and take the focus off of themselves.
Humor is a very important part of our social interactions. It can get us through the good and bad times, make a partner seem more attractive (Bressler & Balshine, 2006), and it can even help strangers feel closer together (Fraley & Aron, 2004). So next time you are exchanging messages or out on a date with somebody new, keep in mind what type of humor you are both using, it can tell you a lot more than you think.
Are you interested to see your humor style? Take our questionnaire here