Humor as a Way to Determine the Health of the Mind

A new questionnaire was developed that allows assessment of humor styles to determine the health of the mind. The new test is called the Humor Styles Questionnaire and was designed by psychologists in the Department of Psychology at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. The study results were reported in the Journal of Research in Personality.

The Humor Styles Questionnaire assesses four dimensions of humor that are related to psychosocial well-being. The four dimensions are humor that is relatively benign but enhances the self (self-enhancing), humor that enhances one’s relationships with others (affiliative), humor that enhances the self at the expense of others (aggressive) and humor that enhances relationships at the expense of self (self-defeating). Two of the dimensions were considered to be good for psychosocial well-being (self-enhancing and affiliative) and two were considered to be harmful (aggressive and self-defeating).

The psychologists who carried out the study looked at the relation of the questionnaire results to peer ratings of humor styles and to measures of mood, which were cheerfulness, depression, anxiety and hostility. They also looked at the questionnaire results in relation to optimism, self-esteem, well-being, intimacy and social support.

The results of the study showed that the two dimensions of humor that were considered to be good for well-being were positively related to the assessments of psychosocial health and well-being. Also, the two dimensions of humor that were thought to be detrimental to psychosocial health and well-being were negatively related the health of the mind. Males scored higher on the aggressive and self-defeating humor scales than females.

The researchers also compared results from the Humor Styles Questionnaire with the Five Factor Model, a model that described five basic personality traits, and the Agency and Communion fundamental dimensions of social adaptation and emotional adjustment. The Humor Styles Questionnaire results were validated in showing that self-enhancing and affiliative humor style results overlapped with previous results from other tests. Also, they successfully showed that aggressive and self-defeating humor scales tapped different dimensions.

The famous Sigmund Freud wrote a book on humor during his career as a psychologist. The title of this book is Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. In this book, Freud suggests that analyzing jokes (and other types of humor) can provide insight into the mind in a similar way to analyzing dreams. Jokes were seen as a way for the conscious mind to express thoughts that were usually suppressed. In Freud’s terms, the superego allowed the ego to be humorous. Freud said there were three different categories of humor, which were joke, comic and mimetic (mimicry). An interesting point about this book by Freud is that when reading through it, one does not find one single joke. Some may even think the writing style is glum.

The researchers suggested that the Humor Styles Questionnaire will become useful in future research endeavors on humor and psychological well-being. Humor assessment may be particularly useful in attempts to assess the health of the mind. Employment of certain types of humor may indicate poor psychological health or good psychological health and this newly designed questionnaire is meant to become a useful measurement tool for psychologists in the field.

By Margaret Lutze

Journal of Research in Personality
Humor Styles Questionnaire
Sigmund Freud, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious (print source)

One Response to "Humor as a Way to Determine the Health of the Mind"

  1. Matthew Osborn   July 20, 2014 at 6:40 am

    It’s not true that there are no jokes in Freud’s book on humor; there are at least two jokes in that book. It’s just that he doesn’t tell them very well.

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