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The 4 Styles of Humor

What do you find funny? How do you use humor?

What do you find funny, and what sort of humor appeals to you? Research has focused on different humor styles, and distinguishes four types.

1. Affiliative humor. This involves telling jokes about things that everyone might find funny. The goal is to use humor to bring people together to find the humor in everyday life. The types of jokes told by comedians like Jerry Seinfeld that focus on the comedy in everyday life represents this sort of humor. The goal is to create a sense of fellowship, happiness, and well-being. If you are fond of jokes about animals or everyday occurrences, then you are using affiliative humor.

2. Aggressive humor. This involves put-downs or insults targeted toward individuals. This is the humor that is used by more aggressive comedians—the put-down artists, such as Don Rickles or the late Joan Rivers. When it is intended to threaten or psychologically harm others, it is the type of humor used by bullies. While some of the audience to this type of humor will find it funny, others might laugh to cover up a feeling of discomfort.

3. Self-enhancing humor. This is being able to laugh at yourself, such as making a joke when something bad has happened to you. Trying to find the humor in everyday situations, and making yourself the target of the humor in a good-natured way. It is related to healthy coping with stress. Jon Stewart from the Daily Show often uses self-enhancing humor by saying things such as, “Maybe I just don’t understand," or “I’m not the brightest guy.”

4. Self-defeating humor. Putting yourself down in an aggressive or “poor me” fashion is called self-defeating humor. The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield would be an example (“I don’t get no respect” “I was an ugly baby”). Psychologically, this can be an unhealthy form of humor, and is sometimes used by targets of bullies to try to avoid attacks—making oneself the butt of jokes before others put you down.

Psychologist Rod Martin and his colleagues have studied these types of humor and have developed the Humor Styles Questionnaire, which measures these four humor styles.

So, when we say that someone has a “great sense of humor,” we really need to know what sort of humor the person is prone to use because the humor style will create very different impressions and have different impact on others.


Martin, Rod; Patricia Puhlik-Doris; Gwen Larsen; Jeanette Gray; Kelly Weir (February 2003). "Individual differences in uses of humor and their relation to psychological well-being: Development of the Humor Styles Questionnaire". Journal of Research in Personality 37 (1): 48–75. doi:10.1016/S0092-6566(02)00534-2.

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