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Journal ArticleDOI

A twin study on humor appreciation: The importance of separating structure and content.

01 Jan 2014-Journal of Individual Differences (Hogrefe Publishing)-Vol. 35, Iss: 3, pp 130-136

AbstractThe present study focused on genetic and environmental influences on appreciation of structure and content of humor. Monozygotic (n = 135) and dizygotic (n = 60) adult twin pairs rated their trait-like humor appreciation using the 3 WD humor test (Ruch, 1992) which assesses three basic humor stimuli (incongruity-resolution humor; nonsense humor; sexual humor), and two basic components of responses to humor (funniness; aversiveness). Additionally, two indices were derived from these scales, namely structure preference and liking of sexual content (i.e., controlled for humor structure). Intraclass correlations and behavior genetic model-fitting analyses indicated a moderate genetic effect for funniness ratings of liking the sexual content. The remaining funniness scales seemed entirely influenced by environmental effects. Aversiveness scales mainly showed environmental effects represented in reduced CE models, although twin similarity coefficients showed hints of genetic influences as well, which needs to b...

Summary (3 min read)

Introduction

  • The  importance  of   separating  structure  and  content.
  • The results demonstrated clearly that funniness ratings should be separated for structure and content, to obtain detailed information about heritability of humor appreciation.

An approach to humor appreciation

  • Both the incongruity-resolution and the nonsense structure can provide the basis of SEX humor as they do for non-tendentious content.
  • Prior behavior genetic investigations on humor appreciation.
  • The correlations between both groups of twin pairs (all reared together) showed that shared environmental influences were most relevant, followed by non-shared (i.e., unique) environmental influences.
  • While the study by Nias and Wilson (1977) examined content categories, they did not consider that funniness of both sexual and aggressive cartoons also represents liking of the structural properties of humor.

The present study

  • Therefore, the purpose of the present study was to estimate genetic and environmental influences on humor appreciation using a twin-design, and using a more sophisticated, wellvalidated, and reliable inventory that is based on a comprehensive model of humor appreciation (Platt & Ruch, 2014; Ruch, 1992).
  • The 3 WD scales allow both the structure and the content of humor appreciation to be accounted for, and the 3 WD humor test is the only humor appreciation measure that yields a content score for sexual humor.
  • Hence, the present study aimed to clarify the issue of a possible genetic basis of humor appreciation.

Participants

  • A total of 390 adult twins embedded in the Bielefeld Longitudinal Study of Adult Twins (BiLSAT; e.g., Spinath, Wolf, Angleitner, Borkenau, & Riemann, 2005) were investigated.
  • The sample was comprised of 135 monozygotic (MZ) pairs and 60 dizygotic (DZ) pairs.

Measure

  • The 3 WD (“3 Witz-Dimensionen”) humor test (Ruch, 1992) assesses funniness and aversiveness of three humor stimuli: incongruity-resolution humor, nonsense humor, and sexual humor.
  • The first five items are “warm up” items, which are not analyzed.
  • For both funniness and aversiveness of the content of sexual humor, additional indices can be derived via regressing each SEX scale (SEXf, SEXa) for INC-RES and NON, and the standardized residual scores were used as indicators of liking of the content in sexual humor (SEXf-resid, SEXa-resid).
  • The structure preference indices (i.e., SPIf, SPIa) were obtained by subtracting INC-RES from NON, and they reflect the relative dominance of liking of incongruity over resolution.
  • Two sum scores (SUMf, SUMa) were computed by summing up all 24 items for each of the two response modes (for an overview see Table 1).

Procedure

  • In the BiLSAT, test-booklets including several personality tests were mailed to the participants.
  • To minimize participants’ effort, short versions were used whenever existing.
  • Therefore, an abbreviated version of the 3 WD was generated that reduced the number of items per scale from ten to eight.
  • Participants were instructed to complete the questionnaires independently from each other in a non-distracting setting, and without comparing item responses with their twin-sibling.
  • Participants returned the completed material free of charge within a period of five weeks.

Analyses

  • Zygosity was derived from a physical similarity questionnaire (Oniszczenko, Angleitner, Strelau, & Angert, 1993) in which participants were asked to describe and compare themselves with their twin-sibling on selected physical characteristics.
  • Prior to the calculation of twin similarities and univariate behavior genetic analyses, all variables were controlled for age and gender using the standardized residual scores of regression analyses (cf. McGue & Bouchard, 1984).
  • For all investigated variables variance-covariance matrices were analyzed.
  • The estimated models (i.e., ACE, AE, CE) specified additive genetic effects (A), shared environmental effects (C), and non-shared environmental effects (E).
  • In the analysis of manifest variables E confounds variance of both non-shared effects and measurement error.

Preliminary analyses

  • Means, standard deviations, and internal consistencies (Cronbach’s alpha) for all 3 WD scales as well as correlations between 3 WD scales, and age and gender were computed (see Table 2).
  • Insert Table 2 about here Table 2 shows that means of INC-RESf, NONa, and SEXa were higher than expected, whereas the mean of NONf was lower than expected (cf. Ruch, 1992).
  • The correlation pattern for nonsense humor (NONf), sexual humor (SEXf), total funniness score (SUMf), and structure preference (SPIf) suggested substantial environmental influences as the ICC coefficients for MZ and DZ were nearly identical or even DZ correlations were considerably higher (e.g., NONf).
  • Insert Table 4 about here Table 4 shows that intraclass correlations (ICC) of aversiveness ratings suggested for incongruity-resolution humor (INC-RESa), sexual humor (SEXa), total aversiveness score (SUMa), and content of sexual humor (SEXa-resid) small to moderate genetic and substantial environmental influences, because correlations for MZ were numerically higher than correlations for DZ twins.
  • After a careful inspection of the reduced models, CE models appeared to be most meaningful for all aversiveness variables, although INC-RESa might be also affected by genetic influences, which needs to be studied further.

Humorous content

  • This goes along with prior findings as, for example, Eysenck (1976) found a substantial genetic basis for libido in male participants.
  • Kirk, Bailey, Dunne, and Martin (2000) reported additive genetic effects for orientation of sexual fantasies, attitudes to heterosexual or homosexual sex, and number of partners of the opposite sex, as accounting for between 34% and 53% of the variation.
  • Appreciation of content in sexual humor was exactly related to such variables in prior studies (i.e., correlated with sexual libido, behaviors and attitudes; Ruch & Hehl, 1988).
  • It appears that higher libido will make sexual topics in humor more attractive; they will be processed more deeply, the incongruity will be perceived as stronger which, in turn, will lead to a quicker resolution or partial resolution of the incongruity, and thereby also to higher appreciation (higher funniness, lower aversiveness).

Structural humor components

  • Variance estimates for the pure structural component incongruity-resolution humor (INC-RES) showed the tendency of both funniness and aversiveness ratings to be slightly affected by genetic and mainly by environmental effects.
  • As noted above, individuals who score high on INC-RES show a need for structured, stable, and unambiguous stimuli (Ruch, 1992), just as conservatives do, and conservatism is known for its heritability (e.g., Bouchard, 2004).
  • Contrary to INC-RES, both funniness and aversiveness of nonsense humor (NON) seem to be best represented in environmental models.
  • It should also be noted that neither Cherkas et al. (2000) nor Nias and Wilson (1977) found any evidence for heritability of nonsense humor.
  • It is not clear from the descriptions by Nias and Wilson (1977) whether they studied nonsense humor in the sense of unresolvable incongruity or merely “harmless” (i.e., non-tendentious) humor.

Future research

  • The present results seem to be a meaningful step in analyzing humor appreciation based on twin data, but there is a need for further behavior genetic evidence in this field.
  • All in all, the authors know too little about the relative contribution of genetics and environment to humor appreciation and further research is requested.
  • Adjustment of twin data for the effects of age and sex.

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Year:2014
Atwinstudyonhumorappreciation:Theimportanceofseparating
structureandcontent
Weber,Marco;Ruch,Willibald;Riemann,Rainer;Spinath,FrankM;Angleitner,Alois
Abstract: Thepresentstudyfocusedongeneticandenvironmentalinuencesonappreciationofstruc-
tureandcontentofhumor. Monozygotic(n=135)anddizygotic(n=60)adulttwinpairsratedtheir
trait-likehumorappreciationusingthe3WDhumortest(Ruch,1992)whichassessesthreebasichumor
stimuli(incongruity-resolutionhumor; nonsensehumor; sexualhumor),andtwobasiccomponentsof
responsestohumor(funniness;aversiveness).Additionally,twoindiceswerederivedfromthesescales,
namelystructurepreferenceandlikingofsexualcontent(i.e.,controlledforhumorstructure).Intraclass
correlationsandbehaviorgeneticmodel-ttinganalysesindicatedamoderategeneticeectforfunniness
ratingsoflikingthesexualcontent. Theremainingfunninessscalesseemedentirelyinuencedbyenvi-
ronmentaleects.AversivenessscalesmainlyshowedenvironmentaleectsrepresentedinreducedCE
models,althoughtwinsimilaritycoecientsshowedhintsofgeneticinuencesaswell,whichneedsto
beunraveledinfutureresearch.Theresultsdemonstratedclearlythatfunninessratingsshouldbesepa-
ratedforstructureandcontent,toobtaindetailedinformationaboutheritabilityofhumorappreciation.
Futureresearchshouldvalidatethesepromisinginitialndingsbyutilizinglargersamples.
DOI:https://doi.org/10.1027/1614-0001/a000136
PostedattheZurichOpenRepositoryandArchive,UniversityofZurich
ZORAURL:https://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-103052
JournalArticle
AcceptedVersion
Originallypublishedat:
Weber,Marco;Ruch,Willibald;Riemann,Rainer;Spinath,FrankM;Angleitner,Alois(2014).Atwin
studyonhumorappreciation:Theimportanceofseparatingstructureandcontent.JournalofIndividual
Dierences,35(3):130-136.
DOI:https://doi.org/10.1027/1614-0001/a000136

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RUNNING HEAD: TWIN STUDY ON HUMOR APRRECIATION 1
A twin study on humor appreciation: The importance of separating structure and content
Marco Weber and Willibald Ruch
Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Switzerland
Rainer Riemann
Department of Psychology, University of Bielefeld, Germany
Frank M. Spinath
Department of Psychology, University of Saarland, Germany
Alois Angleitner
Department of Psychology, University of Bielefeld, Germany
Author Notes
Marco Weber, Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Switzerland;
Willibald Ruch, Department of Psychology, University of Zurich, Switzerland; Rainer
Riemann, Department of Psychology, University of Bielefeld, Germany; Frank M. Spinath,
Department of Psychology, University of Saarland, Germany; Alois Angleitner, Department
of Psychology, University of Bielefeld, Germany.
Marco Weber is currently at the Department of Psychology, University of South
Carolina, SC, USA.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Marco Weber,
Department of Psychology, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, USA. E-
mail: m.weber@sc.edu

TWIN STUDY ON HUMOR APRRECIATION 2
Abstract
The present study focused on genetic and environmental influences on appreciation of
structure and content of humor. Monozygotic (n = 135) and dizygotic (n = 60) adult twin
pairs rated their trait-like humor appreciation using the 3 WD humor test (Ruch, 1992) which
assesses three basic humor stimuli (incongruity-resolution humor; nonsense humor; sexual
humor), and two basic components of responses to humor (funniness; aversiveness).
Additionally, two indices were derived from these scales, namely structure preference and
liking of sexual content (i.e., controlled for humor structure). Intraclass correlations and
behavior genetic model-fitting analyses indicated a moderate genetic effect for funniness
ratings of liking the sexual content. The remaining funniness scales seemed entirely
influenced by environmental effects. Aversiveness scales mainly showed environmental
effects represented in reduced CE models, although twin similarity coefficients showed hints
of genetic influences as well, which needs to be unraveled in future research. The results
demonstrated clearly that funniness ratings should be separated for structure and content, to
obtain detailed information about heritability of humor appreciation. Future research should
validate these promising initial findings by utilizing larger samples.
Keywords: humor appreciation, twin study, incongruity-resolution humor, nonsense
humor, sexual humor

TWIN STUDY ON HUMOR APRRECIATION 3
A twin study on humor appreciation: The importance of separating structure and content
Introduction
Over the last decades there has been an increase in publications (scientific and non-
scientific) showing that humor is an important topic. For example, humor impacts
individuals’ good mood, and humor shields against the consequences of life stress and daily
hassles (Ruch, 2004). As such effects might be relevant to individuals, it is of importance to
understand genetic and environmental influences on humor appreciation. Previous research
has yielded inconsistent findings; hence, the present study aims at adding further knowledge
by introducing an important structural distinction provided by the two-mode model of humor
appreciation.
An approach to humor appreciation
Ruch (1992; Platt & Ruch, 2014; Ruch & Hehl, 2007) presented a two-mode model of
humor appreciation composed of a stimulus mode and a response mode. The stimulus mode
refers to a taxonomy of jokes and cartoons comprising the dimensions of incongruity-
resolution humor (INC-RES), nonsense humor (NON), and sexual humor (SEX). In the
response mode two orthogonal components in humor appreciation are distinguished:
funniness (
f
) and aversiveness (
a
).
Funniness of humor. Studies of responses to humor show that all positively toned
ratings tend to intercorrelate highly and positively, independent of whether they refer to the
perceived properties of the stimuli (funny, witty, original), or to the recipients' feelings
(exhilarated, amused). This positive response factor also covers both cognitive (clever,
original) and affective (funny, amused) evaluations.
Aversiveness of humor. Negative responses to humor, like indignation,
embarrassment, or boredom were neglected for a long time. However, a humor response
factor of negative affect consistently emerged from the intercorrelations among the negatively
toned response scales (like embarrassing, plain, childish, aggressive) that is orthogonal to the

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