Which humour is advisable in a discussion with your partner?
To clear the air it’s always good to make a joke, right? It releases the tension, which could especially come in handy during a serious discussion with your partner. But don’t be too jolly. Some jokes only make it worse. Two researchers at the University of Minnesota attempted to quantitavely investigate which humour is advisable to use in certain romantic situations, and which is not.
The researchers videotaped couples that were together for at least a year, having given one of them the assignment to bring up a discussion about something he or she wanted to change about his or herself. This mostly led to conversations about school or work, personality or health, or relationships with friends and family. The conversations lasted for seven minutes, whilst a team of trained observers took note of what exactly happened. Before and after, the participants also rated their own mood.
Aggressive vs. affiliative humour
The observers looked at what kind of support the partners gave each other when talking about their desired personal change. They categorized the humour used as either aggressive or affiliative. Examples and definitions you find in the following table, in which the ‘recipient’ is the one talking about personal change and therefore ‘receiving’ support. To make it very simple, affiliative humour is ‘nice’, whereas aggressive humour is ‘not so nice’.
When you look at the results in this simple way, you won’t be surprised by most of the results. Overall partners recieving support in the form of aggressive humour were negatively affected in their mood, while partners receiving affiliative humour as support were positively affected in their mood. Another finding: people that were assessed as having a relatively anxious attachment (as opposed to secure attachment) were generally more negatively affected by aggressive humour.
Confident individuals react differently to aggresive humour
But there were also some surprising findings, like more securely attached individuals reporting improved outcomes when their partners directed more aggressive humor at them during the support discussions. This effect, having already showed up in earlier research, makes the researchers suspect that “less anxious (more secure) individuals are more motivated to work extra hard to improve, smooth over, and see the best in their partners during support discussions, particularly when their partners display more aggressive humor.”
So conversations of loved ones about personal problems are far from simple. This is just one example. Whether it is wise to use humour or not seems to depend on a lot of factors: which type of joke you make, in what situations you do this and, also very important, what kind of person you’re talking to. We already knew this, of course, but a quantitative analysis does give us a fresh perspective.
Maryhope Howland, & Jeffry A. Simpson (2014). Attachment orientations and reactivity to humor in a social support context Journal of Social and Personal Relationships DOI: 10.1177/0265407513488016