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The science of 'banter': Men crack inappropriate jokes about women when they feel their masculinity is threatened

  • Disparaging humour is often used by men to enhance their own social identity
  • Researchers found that sexist and anti-gay jokes make men feel more masculine
  • They hope the findings could help tackle inappropriate humour in the workplace

Some people may dismiss disparaging sexist jokes by men as harmless 'banter'. 

But a new study suggests that these jokes are a way for some men to reaffirm their shaky sense of self – especially when they feel their masculinity is being threatened.

The researchers hope their findings will help to tackle cases of sexist or anti-gay humour in the workplace.

The mystery behind why some men insist on cracking sexist and anti-gay jokes may have finally been solved by science (stock image)

Heterosexual men were asked to complete online questionnaires designed to test their social attitudes and personalities, and their prejudice levels against gay men, and women.

The types of humour they preferred were also tested, and whether the men believed their take on humour would help others form a more accurate impression about them.

The results showed that sexist and anti-gay jokes provided self-affirmation to the men who had more precarious beliefs about their masculinity.

This was especially the case when they felt that their masculinity was being challenged or threatened.

Disparaging humour is often used by men to enhance their own social identity by positively reinforcing their 'in-group' from an 'out-group.'

Researchers from the Western Carolina University were interested in understanding how this plays out in the context of sexist and anti-gay jokes.

Their study involved 387 heterosexual men.

Participants were asked to complete online questionnaires designed to test their social attitudes and personalities, and their prejudice levels against gay men, and women.

In the questionnaire, the men were asked how much they agreed with various statements, including 'Women seek to gain power by getting control over men' and 'Once a woman gets a man to commit to her, she usually tries to put him on a tight leash.'  

The types of humour they preferred were also tested, and whether the men believed their take on humour would help others form a more accurate impression about them.

The results showed that sexist and anti-gay jokes provided self-affirmation to the men who had more precarious beliefs about their masculinity.

This was especially the case when they felt that their masculinity was being challenged or threatened.

Dr Emma O'Connor, lead author of the study, said: 'Men higher in precarious manhood beliefs expressed amusement with sexist and anti-gay humour in response to a masculinity threat because they believe it reaffirms an accurate, more masculine impression of them.

'It appears that by showing amusement with sexist and anti-gay humour, such men can distance themselves from the traits they want to disconfirm.'

The researchers believe the key is educating managers on why this humour happens, to help them prevent incidences of sexist humour (stock image)

The researchers hope their findings will help to prevent this type of humour from being used in the workplace.

Dr O'Connor said: 'Work settings where women occupy positions of authority might inherently trigger masculinity threats for men higher in precarious manhood beliefs and thus sexist joking.

'Given the social protection afforded to humour as a medium for communicating disparagement, it is possible that men use sexist humour in the workplace as a safe way to reaffirm their threatened masculinity.

The researchers believe the key is educating managers on why this humour happens, to help them prevent incidences of sexist humour.

Dr O'Connor added: 'For instance, they might more closely monitor workplace settings that could trigger masculinity threats and subsequent sexist joking, or they might attempt to reduce the extent to which men perceive masculinity threats in those settings in the first place.' 

A study has discovered that your nearest and dearest could be the ones responsible for your punch lines falling flat.

Academics at the University of Strathclyde have dispelled the myth that people are drawn to those who find the same things funny.

Instead, it seems we develop the same sense of humor as our friends when we're younger, and this could help make friendships last.

In the first study of its kind, more than 1,200 boys and girls aged between 11 and 13 in the Midlands were asked which classmates they were closest to.

They also answered a series of questions designed to categorise their sense of humor into one of four types.

Affiliative humor involves telling jokes with broad appeal and is thought to bring people together.

By contrast, aggressive humor involves teasing others. This may be a popular strategy initially but could be isolating over time.

Those who favor self-defeating humor put themselves down to raise a laugh, while fans of self-enhancing humor also poke fun at themselves but in a good-natured way.

The process was repeated six months later and the answers given by pupils whose friendships had stood the test of time were analysed.

This revealed that, initially, best friends did not find the same things funny.

However, if one liked affiliative humor, the other grew to enjoy it. 

 

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