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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

Sense of Humor: My personality Characteristic

Sense of Humor: My personality Characteristic

Student Name

Salt Lake Community College

 

Introduction

The personality characteristic that I will be evaluating is sense of humor. I chose sense of humor because I believe this one of my most important personality characteristics. Humor is, and always has been, a huge part of my life. Some of my best memories growing up include cracking jokes, playing pranks, and watching comedy in the forms of movies and TV shows. I would say my sense of humor is pretty boundless. I don’t mind well intentioned, even cheesy humor every once in a while, but what really entertains me is non-censored, non-politically correct, brutally honest, raunchy humor. I’m not one to easily get offended and I think that has a lot to do with my sense of humor. I’m always curious to learn more about how my sense of humor affects, and is related to, my personality.

The first personality theory I will be exploring is that of Sigmund Freud and his theory on the structure of personality. Next, in order to help explain my particular sense of humor, I will be looking into the five-factor model (FFM), also known as the Big Five personality traits. And finally, I will be examining the approach of Positive Psychology to discover if there is a connection between my sense of humor and positive psychological outcomes.

Sigmund Freud and His Theory on the Structure of Personality

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist, physiologist, and regarded by many as the father of psychoanalysis. Freud was born on May 6, 1856 in Freiberg, Moravia. His family moved to Vienna when he was just four years old, where he was to spend the majority of his life learning, working, and developing his influential theories. (Thornton, 2019).  Although Freud trained as a physiologist and neurologist, he considered himself first and foremost a scientist who aspired to expand the reach of human knowledge (Thornton, 2019).

Freud believed that the mind (or personality) is constituted by three structural elements, which he called the id, ego, and superego. The id is the part of the mind that is driven by primitive, instinctual, and sexual desires, which require a never-ending need for satisfaction. The superego is the part of the mind analogous to what many people think of the “conscience”. It is the internalization of social norms and customs, imparted first by the parents and progressively matured by other authority figures, as well as social institutions.  The ego is the conscious self that is faced with the bewildering task of negotiating and reconciling the conflicting demands of the id and superego, all while making decisions based on the requirements of external reality (Thornton, 2019).

Recent Personality Research

I was unable to find a recent academic study relating to Freud’s theory that I could realistically connect in any way to my chosen personality characteristic. So instead, I chose to analyze a fascinating peer reviewed article called Freud’s Theory of Humor, written by Maria Christoff and Barry Dauphin from the University of Detroit Mercy (Christoff & Dauphin, 2017).  The article was written with the purpose of describing Freud’s views on jokes and humor. The main takeaway from the article is that Freud regarded the unconscious processes involved in jokes as being almost indistinguishable to those involved in dreaming (Christoff & Dauphin, 2017). In the same way that dreams present, in a disguised manner, repressed impulses of the id (i.e. aggression, sexual desires) to consciousness, jokes transform these typically inaccessible, and socially unacceptable thoughts and emotions into a forms that are non-threatening to the conscious self (Christoff & Dauphin, 2017). This process creates a release of tension to both the joke-teller and the listener, which manifests itself in an intense feeling of pleasure and laughter (Christoff & Dauphin, 2017). The article concludes that Freud considered humor as a form of defense mechanism: a strategy that the ego uses to reduce psychic anxiety. But unlike most defense mechanisms, which aim to deflect and repress, humor acknowledges the threat and converts it into a pleasurable affect (Christoff & Dauphin, 2017).

Application of Theory to My Sense of Humor

Having been relatively familiar with Sigmund Freud’s work, I was not too surprised at what I had learned regarding his theory on humor. However, after deeply reflecting on it, I realized how accurately it seemed to describe my own sense of humor, or at least part of it. As I mentioned in the introduction, I tend to find humor in things that many would find inappropriate, such as the humor portrayed in the adult animated TV Show, South Park. Perhaps Freud is right. Perhaps my sense of humor is a defense mechanism that allows me to find joy in things that I would normally find reprehensible. This of course means that the development of my sense of humor would be highly associated with the development of my superego. I don’t think Freud’s theory can explain the totality of my particular sense of humor, or sense of humor in general, but it has definitely given me plenty to think about.

The Five-Factor Model (Big 5)

Early theories of personality suggested that human behavior and attitudes were shaped by a multitude of individual traits. Two of these early theories include Gordon Allport’s list of 4,000 personality traits and Raymond Cattell’s 16 personality factors (Cherry, 2019). In 1987, Paul Costa and Robert McCrae were able to narrow the amount of influential traits down to five core personality traits. These five personality traits are known as openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (Cherry, 2019). The main idea of the five-factor model is that these five dimensions can be used as a basis to fully understanding a person’s personality (Cherry, 2019).

Recent Personality Research

In 2015, a meta-analysis was done, using results from 15 different studies, to describe the relationship between the Big Five Personality traits and different humor styles. The Big Five traits were measured using several different scales, the main ones being the Personality Inventory NEO PI-R and the HEXACO Personality Inventory (Mendiburo-Seguel et al., 2015). The four humor styles, measured by the Humor Styles Questionnaire (HSQ), are described as affiliative humor, self-enhancing humor, aggressive humor, and self-defeating humor (Mendiburo-Seguel et al., 2015).  Affiliative humor is described as fun and well-intentioned humor; generally used to interact positively with others. Self-enhancing humor refers to having a humorous perspective on life, not taking things to seriously, and maintaining an optimistic view in adverse situations. Aggressive humor is almost self-explanatory; it is using humor as a form of manipulation and hostility by using devices such as sarcasm, threats, and ridicule. Self-defeating humor – also easy to discern – is humor related to low self-esteem and self-denigrating attitudes (Mendiburo-Seguel et al., 2015). The sample of participants used in all 15 studies varied considerably. Most samples consisted of hundreds of university students, both male and female. However, there were many older adults involved in the studies; up to 71 years of age (Mendiburo-Seguel et al., 2015).

The findings of the meta-analysis uncovered many correlations between humor styles and the Big Five personality traits. For instance, self-enhancing and self-affiliative humor were found to correlate positively with extraversion; the former scoring a mean r of 0.29 and the latter a mean r of 0.42. This makes sense as extraverts typically enjoy social interaction and tend to be happier in general. Trait neuroticism on the other hand, correlates positively with self-defeating humor (mean r 0.23) and negatively with self-enhancing humor (mean r -0.24) (Mendiburo-Seguel et al., 2015). Other traits showed adequate relations, but with less consistency. For example, openness is associated with affiliative humor (mean r 0.22) and, as was easily predicted, agreeableness is negatively correlated with aggressive humor, with a mean r of -0.33. Trait conscientiousness did not have any significant correlations with any of the humor styles (Mendiburo-Seguel et al., 2015).

Application of Theory to My Sense of Humor

In order to see where I score in each of the Big Five personality dimensions, I completed an assessment on openpsychometrics.org. My highest score was in openness (I scored in the 96th percentile); this trait is characterized by possessing a broad range of interests and being open to new experiences (Cherry, 2019). As previously mentioned, trait openness is related to affiliative humor. This makes sense to me, as I strongly feel that I use humor as a means to connect with others. With this being said, it must be stated that I scored lowest in extraversion (37th percentile). I was initially surprised by this result, but I do admit that I’m a bit introverted and I don’t typically like being the center of attention. Perhaps this could mean that my humor style is not quite self-enhancing, or used as a means to keep a positive, happy-go-lucky perspective on life. Either way, I know for a fact that aggressive humor is not my thing. I don’t like to use humor to put people down. It appears that the Big Five personality test confirms this, as my second highest score on the assessment is agreeableness – my capacity for empathy and caring for others – in which I scored in the 87th percentile.

Positive Psychology

Positive Psychology is often viewed as the fourth wave in the evolution of psychology. The first three waves, respectively, are the disease model (which includes psychoanalysis), behaviorism, and humanism (Pennock, 2015). What separates positive psychology from the first three approaches is its alternative standpoint when it comes to understanding human emotion, behavior, motivation, and potential. Whereas early psychology focused primarily on mental ailments (with good reason), often with a negative focus, positive psychology is oriented more towards a positive perspective on the human condition (Pennock, 2015). Many view Abraham Maslow as the founding father of positive psychology; in fact he actually coined the term in his 1954 book, Motivation and Personality (Maslow, 1954).

The main idea of positive psychology is to move the focus of psychology towards the direction of human happiness and flourishing, in other words, it is a psychological approach concerned with what makes a good life. The humanistic movement helped set the foundation for positive psychology, as it focused on what drives us to want to grow and achieve self-actualization. Positive psychology took these ideas a little further by asking what it is that brings about well-being, contentment, cheerfulness, excitement, and most importantly, meaning (Pennock, 2015).

Application of Theory to My Sense of Humor

People often say, “laughter is the best medicine”; as cliché as it is sounds, I believe there is a deep truth embedded in this statement. For a brief moment, no matter how long it is, one gets to experience a break from the never-ending list of hardships that characterize the human experience during the peculiar activity we call laughter. During a moment of laughter (and I mean real laughter), we don’t think about how we’re going to pay the bills, or our past mistakes, or our future worries and anticipations. Instead, we find ourselves in a rare moment of bliss and complete presence. This, I would say, is how positive psychology is related to my sense of humor. The way I see it, you can’t have a good life without humor. After all what would happiness be without the ability to laugh? To laugh, not only at things that are supposed to be funny, but to laugh at the comedy of life itself.

Conclusion

I absolutely learned a lot from this experience. Not only did I gain a deeper understanding of the theorists and theories that I mentioned, I think gained a deeper understanding of myself as well. I learned that my sense of humor isn’t easy to pin down and observe under a microscope, as it were. However, the theories and recent academic studies that I researched helped me dissect the necessary components of my sense of humor and derive meaningful conclusions from them. I believe all of the theories that I looked into, regardless of their current practical applications, are still relevant in today’s society. I believe this to be the case because, even though some these theories may be regarded as unscientific (Freud, I’m looking at you), nevertheless, they are all part of the conversation with respect to the wide-ranging evolution of personality theory.

References

Cherry, K. (2019). The Big Five Personality Traits: 5 Major Factors of Personality. https://www.verywellmind.com/the-big-five-personality-dimensions-2795422

Christoff, M. & Dauphin, B. (2017). Freud’s Theory of Humor. Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_588-1.

Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and Personality. Oxford, England: Harpers.

Mendiburo, S. A., Páez, D., & Martínez, S. F. (2015). Humor styles and personality: A meta-analysis of the relation between humor styles and the Big Five personality traits. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology56(3), 335–340.

Open-Source Psychometrics Project (2019). Big Five Personality Test.  https://openpsychometrics.org/tests/IPIP-BFFM/

Pennock, S. F. (2015). The 5 Founding Fathers and a History of Positive Psychology. https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/founding-fathers/

Thornton, P. S. (2019). Sigmund Freud (1856 -1939). ISSN 2161-002. http://www.iep.utm.edu/freud/.

 

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