In my last post, I described a study that found a link between unhealthy (or maladaptive) humor styles and depression. The study also showed that this relationship has a likely genetic basis. While such a relationship makes sense, it is less clear how humor might be related to personality. A new meta-analysis looked at the various relationships between humor styles and personality.
A meta-analysis is a method used to systematically collect and evaluate all the research available on a given topic. This is the same technique we used for our latest research on sex differences in humor ability. In this case, the researchers focus on the correlations between humor and personality.
The researchers searched for studies that calculated correlations between the four humor styles described in my previous post—Affiliative, Self-enhancing, Aggressive, and Self-defeating—and the Big Five Personality traits. The Big Five is the most reliable and robust measure of personality and includes scores on five dimensions of personality: Extroversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Neuroticism, and Openness to Experience. They found 24 studies and 28 effect sizes that looked at the connection of at least one humor style and a personality trait. The total number of participants in those studies was 11,791. Unlike the previous study I discussed, the current study only included healthy adult participants.
What were the main findings? The two healthy humor styles, affiliative and self-enhancing humor, which include the tendency to share humor with others, to make others laugh, and have a humorous outlook of life, were positively associated with an extroverted personality, agreeableness, and being open to new experiences.
Agreeableness was also strong, but negatively correlated with aggressive humor, meaning that agreeable people do not use much offensive, sexist or racist humor, or humor used to disparage others. This makes sense, as agreeable people get along well with others, and using disparaging humor would not make them very popular.
Conscientiousness was also negatively correlated with aggressive humor, especially for young people. In addition, conscientiousness was negatively associated with self-defeating humor, another unhealthy humor style. It seems that conscientious people do not feel the need to use this malign style which involves making jokes at their own expense to amuse others.
In sum, personality traits were found to be strong predictors of humor styles. This may not be surprising, given that personality can predict many life outcomes, such as job performance and satisfaction in romantic relationships, and mental wellness. Nice, friendly, socially adept people tend to have healthy humor styles, and they are likely to use humor both to help deal with adversities in their own and to support others.
On the other hand, people who scored high on neuroticism tended to score low on the two healthy humor styles. Neuroticism is a good predictor of psychopathology, and neurotic people tend to suffer from more stress and to be more anxious than the less neurotic. Thus, it is not surprising that people high on neuroticism are less likely to use healthy humor styles, or perhaps not to know how to use them effectively.
In sum, this study provides strong evidence that two of the most important human attributes, personality and humor, are strongly connected. Though the review only focused on the correlations between humor and personality, and not the causal relationship, there is little doubt that both influence each other and that more research is needed to examine exactly how.