General Question

wundayatta's avatar

Does self-deprecating humor confer a survival advantage on those who use it?

Asked by wundayatta (58367 points ) May 6th, 2009

If so, how does it work?

* Gil Greengross and I [Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico] showed that women are more attracted to men who use self-deprecating rather than other-deprecating humor during courtship (but only if the men are fairly high in social status). This is consistent with the costly-signalling idea that self-mockery is a virtue that only the successful can afford.

* Martie Haselton and I showed that women at peak fertility, just before ovulation, show a stronger preference for creativity as opposed to wealth in potential mates. This supports the idea that creativity is an indicator of “good genes” rather than of potential as a “good provider.”

* Vladas Griskevicius, several colleagues, and I showed that if men are put in a romantic mood rather than a neutral mood, they are more likely to spend money on conspicuous luxuries, whereas women spend more time on conspicuous charity, such that each sex is signalling a trait (social status or kindness) that is relatively more desired by the other sex.

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8 Answers

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

Not real sure on it from scientific diagnostical viewpoint, but personally I do know that self-deprecating humor works in a myriad of ways among one’s peers. I have used it to great success when interacting with people who are not quite sure how to take my humorous jibes. Great question though.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Well I suppose it does if you listen to those studies – but I am always wary of studies that have social subjects being explained in purely evolutionary ways. You have to understand the anthropological context as well. What women are these, what men, what race, what income brackets, what religion?

Obviously, men who have high social status can self-mock without reproach, you don’t need a study to get that and it is attractive, to some, because it shows that the person can laugh at themselves…the fertility study you mention…I’d want to know more…how’s creativity defined and how can you really link that to ‘proof of good genes’...and haven’t people been saying that these days wealth/status matters more than actual genes…

this is all interesting but not inherent…it’s all gendered and socialized…as always

gailcalled's avatar

I have found it a very useful tool and used and use it often. It is much more useful than mocking or teasing or playing practical jokes on others.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

I see why it works for those who are successful or established because they have nothing to lose by sharing humor and a bit of humility. It doesn’t question their status or lower it. This kind of humor doesn’t work well for insecure or compromised people (unless they’re professional comedians) because it comes off as though they’re trying to make light in order to be given a social pardon or excuse of some sort for their failings and humans don’t respect the weak or irresponsible.

YARNLADY's avatar

Could it be the social status rather than the humor? What did the control group show?

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

When people surpass a certain self deprecation threshold, it gets really tired.

bright_eyes00's avatar

often times people use self-deprecating humor as a means to hide the truth or things that they fear. its a rather useful weapon when one is in an unfamiliar situation.

drpoop's avatar

from personnal experiences the people that use self depreciating humor often attract many people to themselves, maybe because it shows confidence in one’s esteem?

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