Why so serious? Researchers warn virtuous people often don’t get jokes, and are seen as ‘sanctimonious and prudish’
- Study found highly moral people are often unable to get the joke
- Claims this actually often makes them unlikable
Mark Twain famously once said ‘there is no humor in heaven’, and new research has found it could be true.
Researchers say that highly moral people are often unable to get the joke.
It claims this actually often makes them unlikeable.
Researchers say that highly moral people are often unable to get the joke. It claims this actually often makes them unlikeable
‘Although highly moral people are often viewed positively are often viewed for displaying admirable traits, they may also be disliked to the extent to which they are viewed as sanctimonious, prudish or unrelatable,’ the researchers, led by Kai Chi Yam, at the National University of Singapore Business School.
‘As noted in the opening quote by Mark Twain that there is no humor in heaven, people have long considered the idea that there is a tension between morality and humor.
DO YOU GET THE JOKE?
The researchers used a series of jokes and memes to test people’s reactions.
They suggested that more moral people would be less likely to let themselves laugh at the joke: ‘I once farted in an elevator. It was wrong on so many levels.’
Two of the memes used by the team to test people’s reactions
The study included inoffensive jokes such as:
‘Knock, knock!’ ‘Who’s there?’ ‘Opportunity!’ ‘Impossible. Opportunity doesn’t knock twice!’
They also posed more offensive gags, including:
‘Two weasels sitting on a bar stool. One starts to insult the other. He screams: ‘I slept with your mother!’ The bar gets quiet. Everyone waits to see what the other weasel will do.
The first again yells: ‘I SLEPT WITH YOUR MOTHER!’ The other says: ‘Go home dad you’re drunk.”
The researchers used a series of jokes and memes to test people’s reactions, including these
The research investigated the links between laughing at jokes, making jokes and people’s sense of their own morality.
‘Both experimental and field data indicate that such tension not only means that morality may impinge upon humor, but that this can come at the expense of likeability and popularity,’ they wrote.
‘Thus, morality can have a downside that was previously overlooked.’
It also tested the theory that a lot of humour comes from violating expected social rules, and the researchers believe that this led to a tension in people who also strongly adhered to those rules.
‘Although highly moral individuals should be no less likely to engage in forms of humour that do not involve any moral violation (eg innocuous linguistic puns), their avoidance of more off-colour jokes that challenge moral norms may lead them to be seen as less humourous overall,’ they wrote.
For instance, they suggested that more moral people would be less likely to let themselves laugh at the joke: ‘I once farted in an elevator. It was wrong on so many levels.’
Virtuous people were ‘less likely to appreciate humor and generate jokes others found funny, especially humor that involved benign moral violations,’ the team found.
‘We also found that participants with a strong moral identity do not generally compensate for their lack of humor by telling more jokes that do not involve moral violations.’
One of the studies found employees and leaders with strong moral identities and who display ethical leadership are perceived as less humorous by their coworkers and subordinates, and to the extent that this is the case are less liked in the workplace.
However, the last of the studies found leaders with strong moral identities are perceived as less humorous but also as more trustworthy.
‘Although having moral employees and leaders can come with many benefits, our research shows that there can be offsetting costs associated with an internalized moral identity: reduced humor and subsequent likability in the workplace,’ the team concluded.