Use of self-defeating humor linked to greater satisfaction with life


University of Granada researchers from the Mind, Brain, and Behaviour Research Centre in Spain report that self-deprecating humor is indicative of stronger scores in psychological well-being scales, including happiness, satisfaction with life and hope.

The study was conducted with 1,068 participants. The participants ranged from 18 to 65 years old. Five different samples were drafted to create the Spanish version of the Humor Styles Questionnaire. Sample 1 consisted of 300 adults, in which 44 percent of participants had a university degree; Sample 2 consisted of 261 adults with 59.4 percent of people completing university; Sample 3 included 238 undergraduate students; Sample 4 included 105 undergraduate students and Sample 5 included 164 adults with 52.6 percent completing university. Samples 2 and 5 were obtained from an online questionnaire. Analysts explained to people in all sample groups how much time is needed to fill out the questionnaire.

The Humor Styles Questionnaire, which was used in the study, was created to assess the relationships of humor styles with other traits. The questionnaire creators, which include esteemed psychologist and professor Rod Martin, said there are four different types of humor. Affiliative humor focuses on creating joy among everyone by uniting people through everyday situations.  Aggressive humor, a controversial style, insults individuals. Self-enhancing humor is the ability to laugh at oneself in a light manner.

Finally, there is self-defeating humor, the act of belittling oneself through comedy, which is considered the most dangerous form due to the “negative psychological implications.” A 2006 study titled “The psychology of humor: An integrative approach” found that self-defeating humor can lead to isolation and depression. However, Jorge Torres Marín’s - team at the University of Granada contested this study’s results.

Marín’s study found that people who use self-defeating humor are happier. People who use aggressive humor control their anger poorly.

Nonetheless, researchers emphasized that self-deprecating humor is linked to a greater inclination of concealing anger.

The results of Marín’s team were groundbreaking, contradicting prior research that associated self-defeating humor with negative psychological traits such as low self-esteem.

Marín defended his study by claiming that the field of psychology has failed to address the cultural differences of humor, which vary in every country.  He argued, “Consequently, we believe it is necessary to conduct new studies aimed at analysing potential cultural differences in the use of this kind of humour.”

Marín continued to explain that the sheer amount of behaviors considered humorous has overwhelmed psychologists.  The researcher and his team overcame this hurdle by discerning between styles of humor using their model.

“This should enable us to discern the different behavioral tendencies related to the everyday use of humor, which can be classified in even greater depth by focusing on their adaptive, as opposed to their harmful, natures,” Marín explained.

Their research has opened a new question of analyzing humor, an area that has been undisputed since Martin’s study in 2003.

Johnny Azari, a legendary blues musician turned comedian, explained that perhaps self-defeating humor may be the most intricate form due to one’s ability to master their psychological emotions.

“Self-deprecating humor teaches humility. Humility teaches forgiveness. Forgiveness teaches love. If we cannot laugh at ourselves, how can we laugh at others?” said Azari in an interview.

Azari further explained that from a comedian’s perspective, self-deprecating humor demonstrates one’s ability to balance social situations by selecting themselves as the target.

“In general, comedy is an art form laden with humanity. Because every joke has a victim, the comic has to be caring and careful about who they are injuring,”  added Azari.

In fact, self-deprecating humor has gained a solid following for Brian Regan, a famed comedian known for his two Netflix stand-up specials in 2017. Regan is currently touring the nation.

Lone Bird Comedy, a comedy club located in Gramercy Park, also revealed its thoughts on the study.  The club enthusiastically agreed, and almost seemed relieved, that psychologists finally understood humor in a way that was disregarded in the past.

“I think a lot of comedians believe that stand up allows people to process hardship more quickly because good comedy addresses negativity in a positive/humorous way,” a statement from the comedy club mentioned.

To comedians, comedy is a healing process that is not the cause of negativity. Instead, comedy uses humor in a rewarding manner.

Some Baruch College students, however, disagree with the comedians.  Krystle Kettle, a marketing major, viewed self-defeating humor as a harmful way for the comedians punish themselves.

“I think that it is a way for the person to make fun of themselves before someone else does it,” said Kettle. Furthermore, aggressive humor has some negative undertones. However, Kettle was quick to clarify that “I don’t know if I can say it is linked to anger issues.”

A student who wishes to remain anonymous said, “In terms of self-defeating humor, I think the new study’s result is too simple. Self-defeating humor can be beneficial. I think it allows the person to express their weaknesses and fears that won’t lead to an awkward silence. By expressing these negative thoughts, students will feel better. At the same time, self-defeating humor can be harmful. If the person uses self-defeating humor to get accepted into a group, the group will constantly remind that person of his or her faults. Thus, self-defeating humor can be harmful in this instance. For humor reflecting the characteristics of a person, I disagree with it. People who use aggressive jokes may not be aggressive. They may be just pretending to be aggressive or it may only be one part of their personalities.”

Marín acknowledges his study is just one in the huge field of psychology.

The University of Granada hopes their disruptive results encourage research teams across the world to conduct their own tests in their respective countries.