Humor, personality and implications for learning situations

Leo Gürtler   University of Tuebingen,  Germany

This is a  work-in-progress paper on interindividual differences in humor and its impact on education. Humor is rarely discussed as a distinct, autonomous personality factor in education, specifically educational interactions. Additionally, there exists no satisfying general scientific definition of humor in literature. Instead, humor is often confounded with terms like laughter, wit or comic. Empirical studies operationalize humor according to these terms and fail to catch that phenomenon on aspects of personality and on identifying important effective situational determinants.
There are interesting correlations between humor and personality psychology. Most of them were found between Five Factor Model (FFM) scales sensu Costa & McCrae (1985, Neo-PI) and humor measures by Ruch (3WD, 1995d). The 3WD is divided into three scales: incongruity-resolution (INC-RES), nonsense (NON) and sexual wits. Items are rated for funniness (f) or aversiveness (a). In 1998 Ruch reports significant correlations between INC-RESf/ agreeableness (r=.25), INC-RESf/ openness (r=-.22), NONf/ openness (r=.27) and NONa/ openness (r=-.27). They are low, but consistent.
These results point towards humor as a reliable, important but relative independent aspect of personality that contributes to the understanding of interindividual differences. To establish these findings on a broader base, it is necessary to widen the area of research. Also, it is recommended to describe the actual process of communication and interaction in terms of humor as a contributing factor that might interact with personality and learning styles.
An interesting and hopefully successful approach may be to establish a linkage between humor, the FFM and certainty/ uncertainty orientation (CO/ UO, Huber & Roth 1999). CO learners tend to avoid explicit searching for new, surprising and abnormal learning techniques and are not attracted by seeking for incongruent information. Huber states, they may constitute the majority of the learning population. On the other side UO learners exactly do the opposite. They prefer unclear and not well structured situations. They often try new ways of thinking, learning and are seeking for incongruent information. With the CO/ UO concept, it is possible to describe not only learning behavior and style in different teaching situations but to have a new personality style as a narrativ to do research on interactions within these situations.
One step towards this goal is to find existent correlations of CO/ UO with FFM scales. Results from Huber (unpublished) will be shown that give scores on two dimensions: ambiguity and structure/ need for authority, that describe certainty/ uncertainty orientation. Significant correlations were found between these scales and exraversion, openness to experience, neuroticism and conscientousness. Now, it is necessary to identify corresponding correlational matrices between humor preferences and actions. My ongoing study at the moment is to find correlations between FFM, 3WD and CO/ UO. Results and practical conclusions will be presented in the final paper.

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