Getting a laugh: Gender, status, and humor in task discussions


Journal Article

Humor is a quintessentially social phenomenon, since every joke requires both a teller and an audience. Here we ask how humor operates in task-oriented group discussions. We use theories about the functions of humor to generate hypotheses about who jokes, when and in what situations. Then we use event history techniques to analyze humor attempts and successes in six-person groups. Our results combine to suggest an image of joking as a status-related activity, with men, high participators, frequent interrupters, and those who are frequently interrupted all showing status-related patterns of humor use. We find substantial time dependence in humor use, in which humor may serve to form a status hierarchy early in a group's development and to dissipate task-related tension later in the discussion. We use these results, in conjunction with core insights on status and emotion from the group processes literature, to develop a new theory of humor use in task-oriented groups. The new theory generates predictions about the content of humor episodes, which we examine with additional data from our group discussions. Consistent with the theory, we find that a higher proportion of men's humor is differentiating, while a higher proportion of women's humor is cohesion-building. We find the same general pattern with our other status variable, participation. © 2001 University of North Carolina Press.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Robinson, DT; Smith-Lovin, L

Published Date

  • January 1, 2001

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 80 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 123 - 158

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0037-7732

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1353/sof.2001.0085

Citation Source

  • Scopus