When Humor Widens the Political Divide
A recent study by Thomas Ford, a psychologist at Western Carolina University and editor-in-chief of HUMOR: The International Journal of Humor Research, explores how humor can bring people together and when it can widen political conflicts. Understanding the difference is important to advance the search for a transpartisan politics. Jill Suttie, in an article for Greater Good Magazine, interviews Ford on how disparaging humor increases prejudice--and what we can do to laugh together again...
Thomas Ford: My first investigation with humor had to do with humor as a releaser of prejudice. I found that when people are exposed to racist or sexist humor, they are generally more comfortable expressing prejudices or sexism that they carry with them but would normally suppress.
But exposure to sexist humor or racist humor—or other forms of humor, for that matter—doesn’t seem to affect people’s attitudes or beliefs. For example, in my studies, men exposed to sexist humor didn’t change their attitudes towards women; they didn’t have more negative associations with women. Instead, the sexist humor created a social environment allowing for the expression of negative attitudes that already existed. And that is what resulted in increased prejudiced behavior—like a lack of willingness to help someone in need or an increased willingness to tolerate discrimination of a target group.