Article | Journal of Personality and Social Psychology | March 2017

Risky Business: When Humor Increases and Decreases Status

by T. B. Bitterly, A.W. Brooks and M. E. Schweitzer

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 and Position; Behavior; Groups and Teams; Perception;

Citation:

Bitterly, T. B., A.W. Brooks, and M. E. Schweitzer. "Risky Business: When Humor Increases and Decreases Status." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 112, no. 3 (March 2017): 431–455.