08-18 The power of humor – Debates over offensive humor and its psychological impact

Posted in Humor, Mental Health, Treatment

The power of humor - Debates over offensive humor and its psychological impact

Humor has the power to affect lives for the positive, shedding a light on important topics while providing a means of venting life’s frustrations in a healthy way. On the other side are times when humor could go too far, upsetting an audience sensitive to the subject. Lines between offensive and edgy can be so blurred it’s difficult to know where to stop. Nevertheless, offensive humor could have effects on mental health.

Scott Weems, a cognitive neuroscientist and author of “Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why,” cites different studies focusing on the impact of potentially offensive humor toward particular attitudes and behaviors (Wheems, September 2014)

One is from Annie Kochersberger, who created a study for the International Journal of Humor Research. She asked over 100 men and women to evaluate both sexist jokes and more neutral humor. Questions were also asked to ferret out potentially problematic views, such as sexist thought processes. Lastly, each were asked if they “psychologically identified with women.”

Her results found gender immaterial when it comes to enjoying sexist humor.

Weems fears that sexist humor can be a weapon, or a way to unearth sexist attitudes running through attitudes of many people. Sexism is a harmful concept, as found by Stephenie Chaudoir and Diane Quinn, from the University of Connecticut in a study published for the journal Sex Roles.

They asked 114 women to watch a video and imagine themselves witnessing events of misogyny, such as catcalls and other forms of sexual harassment that single out an individual. As a result, the subjects had a more negative view toward men in general and feel their gender is slighted as a whole (“Negative Effects of Sexism”, Nauert)

“Women are obviously implicated because they suffer direct negative consequences as targets of prejudice and, as the current work demonstrates, indirect consequences as bystanders,” wrote Chaudoir and Quinn.

Paul MacInnes of The Guardian has developed guidelines for preventing offensive humor from hurting individuals, such as acknowledging power dynamics. For example, those who are rich, famous and powerful should generally remain targets of satire. Advantages present a strong defense against teases (MacInnes, April 2009).

The concept of choice also presents questions. Race and sexual orientation, for example, are innate characteristics and less worthy of mockery. There are also historical considerations as racism and homophobia has existed in history for many a year. These tensions remain today and shouldn’t be tested.

Offensive humor is difficult to quantify at times, MacInnes reminds, and his advice is far from conclusive in settling the debate. Telling edgy jokes can actually break down barriers of conversation and change the world for the better. On the other hand are those trying to maintain their mental health in the face of adversity. In those cases, the wrong joke can hurt mental health and needlessly offend to the point of depression or other mental illnesses.

Depression Treatment Centers of California is valuable for patients in need of sensitivity and treatment. To get started on the path to emotional strength, call 855-678-0400.


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