Antecedents, Contents and Forms of Humor Manifestations as a Coping Resource


Eleonora L. Nossenko,


Oksana A. Zayvaya,

Department of Psychology and Sociology

Dnipropetrovs’k National University


To substantiate the coping nature of humor the authors suggest the classification of its forms based on the Cognitive-Experiential Self-Theory (S. Epstein, 1973) on the basis of diverse philosophical and psychological literature on the problem as well as the empirical data (including the authors’ own findings) as to different forms of humor manifestation.

The suggested classification specifies:

a)      the sources of humor generation (the implicit personal theories of reality);

b)      basic postulates which caracterize the personal perception of the world (as benign versus malevolent; as meaningful, predictable, controllable and just versus unpredictabe and unjust), others (as being regarded favorably rather than a source of threat) and self (worthy, competent, good and lovable versus unworthy);

c)      actual emotions, states and feelings which stimulate the formation of individual goals, values and plans of behavior depending upon specificity of the personal theory of reality;

d)     the contents of humor manifestations reflecting the basic propositions which connect the theories of reality, self and others;

e)      the corresponding forms of humor manifestations.

It has been demonstrated that in each of the four domains specified as the sources of humor generation (world theory, perception of others and self-theory) sense of humor manifests its coping potential. It helps to cope with a great variety of negative emotions, states and feelings incuding anxiety, fear, anger, fury, frustration, uncertainty, stress, negative affect, feeling of helplessness, humiliation, infringed self-dignity, jealosy, hatred, shame and the like. Humor manifestations allow to make use of a great number of coping efforts which help to “let off the steam” caused by “hot” emotions (even if in the sublimated form). Thanks to switching over of both creators of humor manifestations and their responsive recipients from the affective sphere to the cognitive one humor performs the role of a “temporary heart anaesthetic” (using Bergson’s keen metaphor) thus helping to relieve an individual from the rigid constrains of an affect which prevent to view the situation in a broader perspective.

Among the coping humor manifestations specified in the intended presentation there are: sublimated forms of active protest against social evils, authorities personifying the evil; reduction of the significance of the traumatic social phenomena; sublimated forms of revenging oneself for the harm done; making ridicule of simingly stable and external unjust state of affairs; self-ridicule for the sake of winning social acceptance by the “big shots”; easing social taboos etc. The analysis of the deep structure of the humor manifestations helped to clearly reveal its coping potential.

The empirical data have also been summed up demonstrating how developmental differences in the manifestation of humor show its coping nature (early adolescents’ excessive use of agressive (humiliating) humor as a compensation for their developmental crisis manifested in the form of disobedience punished by the adults; manifestations of the cognitive humor in early childhood in the form of ascribing the phenomena of life which are beyond understanding and thus seeming threatful the qualities of habitual objects etc.)

Our own experimental findings have proved that among the subjects who most frequently manifest their sense of humor there are either overt pessimists or radical optimists. The former observations indicate the coping nature of humor. Teenagers who abuse of agressive humor when asked to rate their peers and themselves as possessing the acute sense of humor  do not rate themselves as possessing this socially approved personal faculty (while their peers might ascribe to them high ranks in the in-group). This finding made us hypothesize that they treat  manifestations of aggressive humor exclusively as a coping resource and do not ascribe any other functions to it (gaining popularity in the in-group or entertaining it).

To conclude with, we dare claim that though our approach to the classification of the sense of humor in some aspects is similar to the approaches of other recognized specialists in the field (R. Martin, S. Sultanoff, A. Clein) it makes the substantiation of the coping potential of humor. The direction of further empirical research presupposes assessing differences in the manifestation of humor in its coping function by the subjects different in the levels of their emotional intelligence.



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