Risky Business: When Humor Increases and Decreases Status

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Forthcoming

Posted: 9 Sep 2015 Last revised: 28 Sep 2016

T. Bradford Bitterly

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School

Alison Wood Brooks

University of Pennsylvania - Operations & Information Management Department

Maurice E. Schweitzer

University of Pennsylvania - Operations & Information Management Department

Date Written: August 24, 2016

Abstract

Across eight experiments, we demonstrate that humor can influence status, but attempting to use humor is risky. The successful use of humor can increase status in both new and existing relationships, but unsuccessful humor attempts (e.g., inappropriate jokes) can harm status. The relationship between the successful use of humor and status is mediated by perceptions of confidence and competence. The successful use of humor signals confidence and competence, which in turn increases the joke teller’s status. Interestingly, telling both appropriate and inappropriate jokes, regardless of the outcome, signals confidence. Although signaling confidence typically increases status, telling inappropriate jokes signals low competence and the combined effect of high confidence and low competence harms status. Rather than conceptualizing humor as a frivolous or ancillary behavior, we argue that humor plays a fundamental role in shaping interpersonal perceptions and hierarchies within groups.

Keywords: Status; Humor; Competence; Confidence; Interpersonal Perception; Power

Suggested Citation

Bitterly, T. Bradford and Brooks, Alison Wood and Schweitzer, Maurice E., Risky Business: When Humor Increases and Decreases Status (August 24, 2016). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2656617 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2656617

T. Bradford Bitterly (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

Alison Wood Brooks

University of Pennsylvania - Operations & Information Management Department ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
215-573-0506 (Phone)
215-898-3664 (Fax)

Maurice E. Schweitzer

University of Pennsylvania - Operations & Information Management Department ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
215-898-4776 (Phone)
215-898-3664 (Fax)

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