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Is humour a sign of aggression?

August 25, 2009 10:49 IST

Helga Kotthoff, of the Frieburg University of Education, claims that dominant people exploit the ability to make others laugh as a degree of control to show that they are in charge.

"Those 'on top' are freer to make others laugh. They are also freer to be more aggressive and a lot of what is funny is making jokes at someone else's expense," the Telegraph quoted her as saying.

"Displaying humour means taking control of the situation from those higher up the hierarchy and this is risky for people of lower status, which before the 1960s meant women rarely made other people laugh -- they couldn't afford to.

"Comedy and satire are based on aggressiveness and not being nice. Until the 1960s it was seen as unladylike to be funny. But even now women tend to prefer telling jokes at their own expense and men tend to prefer telling jokes at other people's expense," she added.

According to Kotthoff, the differences between men's and women's ability to become comedians starts very young. She supports this by pointing out that boys as young as four can be seen telling more jokes, frolicking, and clowning about, whereas the girls tend to be the ones doing the laughing.

However, she adds, women tend to become funnier at a later age because they feel freer to not be seen as ladylike. Kotthoff thinks that humour, including teasing, is a mix of "bonding and biting", which is often used by women to form social bonds with their friends.

Men, on the other hand, often use humour to vent frustration, she says.

However, according to Kotthoff, both sexes use comedy as a means of controlling others.

She said: "For example, doctors sometimes use humour to comfort patients but also to silence them if, for example, the patient displays too much knowledge of a medical condition. Nurses and midwives tend to tell jokes about patients but not when the doctor is present. And when someone initiates a joke they tend to be ignored if they are in the presence of someone of a higher status."

Kotthoff even suggested that it was because of the fact that most humour is an act of aggression that women rarely became comediennes in public or private until the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

"A study in the late 1980s showed that men use sexual jokes as a way of verbally undressing a woman who rebuts his advances; his humour was aggressive in essence," she said.

The study was published in the Journal of Pragmatics.

Do you agree with the theory that humour can be a sign of aggression?

Have you ever been the butt of a rude joke? 

Have you used humour to put someone down or exert your dominance?

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Source: ANI