Different people, different ways of using humor – the Humor Styles Questionnaire

When describing people you know, you would probably say that they are: interesting / boring, outgoing / introvert, easy-going / difficult to get around, etc.  There’s a good chance that you would also mention whether they have or don’t, a good sense of humor.

But what would you mean, exactly, by “a good sense of humor”? (Really, try to answer that before you go on reading.)

Would it mean that you share the same taste for humor and can laugh hours long together with that person watching Big Lebowski or Monty Python? Or is it that he or she is simply easily amused and laughs at pretty much everything, be it British humor or “funny animal compilations” on YouTube?  Or, would you mean that it comes easily for that person to makes others laugh and always has a funny remark at hand?

These three possible interpretations constitute the qualitativequantitative and productive aspects of the concept of sense of humor (Eysenck, 1972) and this post is about a model that is somewhat related to the last, productive aspect of humor – or more precisely – to how and to what purpose different people use humor on personal and interpersonal levels.

Four humor styles

The Humor Styles Questionnaire and the model it builds upon were developed by Rod A. Martin (et al., 2003). The model attempts to capture the differences in how individuals typically use or express humor and whether these uses are beneficial for the well-being of one and one’s social environment; or to the contrary – even deleterious[1].

The model distinguishes between four different humor styles:

1)      Affiliative. This style is characterized by using humor to foster group cohesion: telling jokes and making fun at things that everybody can safely laugh at and feel included in a merry-fellowship. Non-hostile, non-competitive and benign humor style.

2)      Self-enhancing humor. Refers to how one uses humor on an individual level: a tendency to be amused by various things in one’s life, also when faced with difficult or stressful situations. It can be viewed as a skill used to cope with stress in a proactive way.

3)      Aggressive humor. You remember that guy in your class at school, who always poked fun at this other, slightly obese, poor ginger kid wearing glasses? The aggressive humor style is related to using humor to disparage, manipulate or threat others; it is destructive for group cohesion and can lead to in-group divisions and suffering of certain individuals.

4)      Self-defeating humor. This humor style could, in turn, be applied by the poor ginger kid to intend to mitigate the effects of the aggressive humor: the self-defeating style involves allowing others to make jokes at one’s cost and pretending that one’s having fun along the way; it is also a tendency to use the self-deprecating humor to amuse others[2].

Now, these kids here are having a good laugh together. You guess which “humor style” is the most prominent in this picture…

The Humor Styles Questionnaire has demonstrated consistent correlated with many other concepts typically used to map and describe individual differences, e.g. the Big Five personality model (Martin et al., 2003), Self-esteem (Liu, 2012), and Divergent thinking (Cayirdag & Acar, 2010); and studies employing it will surely be featured on the blog.

And now, a special treat for those of you who read the post ‘til its very end: follow the link below to complete the HSQ questionnaire online and learn what is your humor style…



[1] I will gradually describe also the theories and research with different approach to mapping individual differences related to sense of humor, e.g. Willibald Ruch and his 3WD questionnaire, which comprise a prominent branch of research focused primarily on differences in the kind of humorous content different people appreciate (Ruch, 1992).

[2] However, use of a milder form of self-deprecating humor (e.g. self-irony) is thought to be useful when the intention is to demonstrate modesty, put the listener at ease (Long & Greaser, 1988), or reduce the distance resulting from status differences between partners of interaction (Dews, Kaplan & Winner, 1995).



Cayirdag, N., & Acar, S. (2010). Relationship between styles of humor and divergent thinking. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2, 3236–3240. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.03.494

Dews, S., Kaplan, J., & Winner, E. (1995). Why Not Say It Directly? The Social Functions of Irony. Discourse Processes(19), 347-367.

Eysenck, H. J. (1972). Foreword. In J. H. Goldstein, & P. E. McGhee (Eds.), The psychology of humor: Theoretical perspectives and empirical issues. (pp. xxii-xvii). New York: Academic Press.

Liu, K. W. (2012). Humor Styles, Self-Esteem and Subjective Happiness. Discovery – SS Student E-Journal, 1, 21-41.

Long, D. C., & Greaser, A. C. (1988). Wit and Humor in Discourse Processing. Discourse Processes, 35-60.

Martin, A. R., Puhlik-Doris, P., Larsen, G., Gray, J., & Weir, K. (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), 48-75.

Martin, R. A. (2007). The psychology of humor: an integrative approach. Burlington: Elsevier Academic Press.

Ruch, W. (1992). Assessment of appreciation of humor: Studies with the 3 WD Humor Test. In C. D. Spielberger, & J. N. Butcher (Eds.), Advances in personality assessment (Vol. 9, pp. 27-75). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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