The Effective and Responsible Use of Humor   


Humor is often advocated without much careful consideration of ... anything, really.  Some insist that it is an effective way to change people's hearts and minds.  Does it work?  Sometimes.  I want to think about when it does and does not work, and what the variables are in that process.  That is the first question to be tackled here.  Also, some people think that humor is always appropriate, no matter what the topic is.  But is that a responsible attitude?  Maybe.  I want to think about when it is and is not ethically justified, and what the variables are in that process.  These and other important questions will go unanswered as we do our best to explore the thoughtful application of humor.



Dilbert does business ethics training.

Persuasion theory was used to develop the following predictions about Lockheed-Martin's Dilbert-based business ethics training: (a) cartoon drawings would enhance liking for the source, (b) ironic wisecracks would distract users from counterargument, and (c) self-effacing humor would enhance source credibility.  Canadian business students (n=148) participated in 1 of 4 versions of the game.  Removing the cartoon drawings had little effect on the users changing their minds.  Removing ironic wisecracks reduced persuasion somewhat.  Interfering with the self-effacing combination of cartoons and wisecracks substantially reduced persuasion.  Comes out of a part of my 2001 dissertation.



Provisional ethics of humour.

An attempt is made to define humour by looking at the etymology of the word itself, a conceptual map of labels, and an integration of humour theories.  The process of humour appreciation is assessed along with the use of humour as a tool.  The need for a shared context in order to "decode" humour makes it exclusionary and the existence of a ridiculed target makes humour potentially aggressive.  Humour is ethical to the degree that the butt is consenting and/or deserving, and whether there is a fiduciary duty by the initiator.  It is hoped that this discussion will stimulate scholars to undertake a careful ethical analysis.


"USE of humor" ?

Humor in psychotherapy.

The use of humor as a therapeutic tool is assessed.  Dominant humor theories are applied to analyze when humor can be expected to support therapeutic progress.  Despite the enthusiasm of its advocates, humor is vulnerable to serving as a distraction or avoidance technique and potentially interferes with the client's trust in a therapist.  Considered from the perspective of humor theory, it is easier to predict when humor may go awry and cause clients to simply stop coming to sessions.

Jim Lyttle, Ph.D.

Canadian born and educated thinker.  Recovering academic who taught at Penn State Great Valley and the University of Minnesota Duluth.  Former musician-arranger-lighting designer.  Scholar of humor.

© 2016, Jim Lyttle, Ph.D.