Study finds that right-wing authoritarians aren't very funny

A new study published in Personality and Individual Differences found that while right-wing authoritarians have a hearty sense of humor for jokes that make fun of low-status and marginalized people, they struggle to produce funny material.

Highlights from the study:

  • Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) was associated with humor production.
  • People low in RWA created funnier jokes, based on raters' scores.
  • Openness to Experience and Conscientiousness did not account for this effect.
  • Overall, people high in RWA appear to be much less funny.

From Psych News Daily:

For this study, the researchers recruited 186 adults from a university in North Carolina. The participants' average age was 19, though they ranged in age from 18 to 53. They were 77% female, and ethnically diverse.

The researchers measured the participants' humor production skills on several creative tasks. Throughout these tasks, the instructions encouraged them to be funny, to express themselves freely, and to feel comfortable being "weird, silly, dirty, ironic, bizarre, or whatever," as long as their responses were funny.

In the first task, the participants generated funny captions for three cartoons. One depicted an astronaut talking into a mobile phone. Another showed a king lying on a psychologist's couch. The third showed two businessmen, one with a gun, standing over a body on the floor.

The second task presented the participants with unusual noun combinations, such as "cereal bus" or "yoga bank," and asked them to come up with funny definitions for them.

The final task asked the participants to complete a quirky scenario with a punchline. One scenario, for example, involved telling people about a horrible meal. The other two scenarios involved describing a boring college class, and giving feedback on a friend's bad singing.

Eight independent raters scored the responses on a 3-point scale (not funny, somewhat funny, or funny). The raters did not know anything about the participants, including their responses on other items.

Image by Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0