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The Humor Profiler® - theoretical and research background

Humor – the good, the bad, and the… complicated

Humor is a universal human activity and an important part of our social interactions and communication (Martin 2007). It is also related to various positive effects, like cohesion building and bounding (e.g. Vinton 1989; Terrion & Ashforth 2002), enhanced learning, improved psychological health, coping with problems and well-being (Svebak & Martin 1997, Martin et al. 2003) and many more. These and other positive effects of humor are important and not excluded from the work context.
Having said that, there are two main difficulties related to humor in the work environment, which prevent its positive effects to evolve: Firstly, too little or lack of humor (Haugen & Melhus 2011), obviously enough; and secondly, as humor is often referred to as a double-edged sword, one cannot discard the negative effects of humor, like aggressive or disparaging humor (e.g. Shiota et al. 2004; Rogerson-Revell 2006) or humor that simply failed (Williams & Emich 2014, Bell 2009).
The lack of humor, little or negative humor can be caused by rigid organizational structures and rules, individual attitudes, or interpersonal differences and problems in communication (Haugen & Melhus 2011). This can especially be true in areas, where humor can make an important positive impact – for example cross-cultural interactions. In such interactions, additionally to individual differences, various other culture-related factors can prevent the positive effects of humor (Bell & Attardo 2010).

Humor Profiler’s goals

In the light of these problems, the Humor Profiler has the following ambitions:
First, from the research curiosity and instrument’s validity point of view, the Humor Profiler was created to map peoples individual differences in experiencing and using humor at work with the focus on its various, interpersonal effects and associated pitfalls. The tool aims to map these individual differences in a way that is applicable in any given culture and thus permits to compare the results between different cultures.
Second, from the practitioner’s point of view, it is created for consultants and facilitators working with teams, with the goal to enhance the teams overall communication, climate and performance while addressing humor; and especially cross-cultural teams, where “humor often comes last, when it should come first”. Used in team environments, the Humor Profiler’s ambition is to be a support-tool, which helps to map and raise team-member’s awareness about the differences in humor preferences and practices within the team, and eventually support them to negotiate a common humor practice in the team.

Theoretical background

The Humor Profiler’s structural domain (phenomena that the tool purports to measure) is rooted in four areas of humor research and theory:

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Social psychology of humor:

investigates situations in which humor emerges, as well as its effects and functions in the context of social interactions (Martin 2007).

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Organizational psychology of humor:

investigates the same as the social psychology of humor, but within a work context and relates to other established organizational variables and research traditions (e.g. leadership, team, employee engagement; Pluta 2014).

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Psychology of individual differences, personality and humor:

investigates how people appreciate and produce different kinds of humor, how they use humor differently, and how conscious they are about using humor. It is often related to bigger models and theories of personality and cognitive styles (Martin et al. 2003).

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Intercultural studies of humor:

is large field of research efforts, with studies representing all the traditions but with the cross-cultural comparison element (i.e. comparing individual differences in one culture to another (e.g. Kazarian & Martin 2004, Murata 2014)); furthermore, it also studies focusing explicitly on the cross-cultural dimension of humor, i.e. humorous interactions between people or groups representing different cultures (e.g. studies of how non-native speakers function in the English joking-culture (e.g. Bell & Attardo 2010, Bell 2007, Rocke 2015)).

Validity efforts

As with any other measure, the work to gather the evidence for the tools validity (i.e. does it measure what it claims to measure) will always be going on. As a matter of fact, for the Humor Profiler it has only just started – but it was a good start:
We managed to gather over 100 international respondents using the first, pilot version of the Humor Profiler questionnaire. It helped us to refine the questions and was an important step towards a more stable factor structure of the tool.
Last year, however, we managed to gather over 300 data pieces from Austrian organizations – a further step to refine our questionnaire, create a German version, gather norm data and – most importantly – gather information about the tools validity. In this study, we used the Humor Profiler together with the Utrecht scale of work engagement. Results from this study will be presented on the Nordic Academy of Management conference in Bodø, Norway, in August 2017.

Humor Profiler

We hope that we have sparked your interest to learn more about the Humor Profiler

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