The article below starts out with the claim -- popular among Leftist psychologists -- that conservatives are dogmatic and rigid and less flexible and less open to new ideas. There was never any good evidence for that, just some methodologically very weak research among college students. See here and here, for instance. It is a very common finding that conservatives are happier though. Whining is basic to Leftism. It is interesting that the findings below seem to have been based on an adult sample. The findings should therefore be more generalizable than the findings from college students -- whom psychologists normally study
In strict accordance with experimental protocol, we begin by asking you to rate, on a scale of 1 (not funny at all) to 9 (hilarious) the following three attempts at humor:
A) Jake is about to chip onto the green at his local golf course when a long funeral procession passes by. He stops in midswing, doffs his cap, closes his eyes and bows in prayer. His playing companion is deeply impressed. "That's the most thoughtful and touching thing I've ever seen," he says. Jake replies, "Yeah, well, we were married 35 years."
B) I think there should be something in science called the "reindeer effect." I don't know what it would be, but I think it'd be good to hear someone say, "Gentlemen, what we have here is a terrifying example of the reindeer effect."
C) If you saw two guys named Hambone and Flippy, which one would you think liked dolphins the most? I'd say Flippy, wouldn't you? You'd be wrong, though. It's Hambone.
Those were some of the jokes rated by nearly 300 people in Boston in a recent study. (You can rate some of the others at TierneyLab, nytimes.com/tierneylab.) The researchers picked out a variety of jokes - good, bad, conventional, absurdist - to look for differences in reactions between self-described liberals and conservatives.
They expected conservatives to like traditional jokes, like the one about the golfing widower, that reinforce racial and gender stereotypes. And because liberals had previously been reported to be more flexible and open to new ideas, the researchers expected them to get a bigger laugh out of unconventional humor, like Jack Handey's "Deep Thoughts" about the reindeer effect and Hambone.
Indeed, the conservatives did rate the traditional golf and marriage jokes as significantly funnier than the liberals did. But they also gave higher ratings to the absurdist "Deep Thoughts." In fact, they enjoyed all kinds of humor more.
"I was surprised," said Dan Ariely, a psychologist at Duke University, who collaborated on the study with Elisabeth Malin, a student at Mount Holyoke College. "Conservatives are supposed to be more rigid and less sophisticated, but they liked even the more complex humor."
Do conservatives have more fun? Should liberals start describing themselves as humor-challenged? To investigate these questions, we need to delve into the science of humor (not a funny enterprise), starting with two basic kinds of humor identified in the 1980s by Willibald Ruch, a psychologist who now teaches at the University of Zurich.
The first category is incongruity-resolution humor, or INC-RES in humor jargon. It covers traditional jokes and cartoons in which the incongruity of the punch line (the husband who misses his wife's funeral) can be resolved by other information (he's playing golf). You can clearly get the joke, and it often reinforces stereotypes (the golf-obsessed husband).
Dr. Ruch and other researchers reported that this humor, with its orderly structure and reinforcement of stereotypes, appealed most to conservatives who shunned ambiguity and complicated new ideas, and who were more repressed and conformist than liberals.
The second category, nonsense humor, covers many "Far Side" cartoons, Monty Python sketches and "Deep Thoughts." The punch line's incongruity isn't neatly resolved - you're left to enjoy the ambiguity and absurdity of the reindeer effect or Hambone's affection for dolphins. This humor was reported to appeal to liberals because of their "openness to ideas" and their tendency to "seek new experiences."
But then why didn't the liberals in the Boston experiment like the nonsense humor of "Deep Thoughts" as much as the conservatives did? One possible explanation is that conservatives' rigidity mattered less than another aspect of their personality. Rod Martin, the author of "The Psychology of Humor," said the results of the Boston study might reflect another trait that has been shown to correlate with a taste for jokes: cheerfulness.
"Conservatives tend to be happier than liberals in general," said Dr. Martin, a psychologist at the University of Western Ontario. "A conservative outlook rationalizes social inequality, accepting the world as it is, and making it less of a threat to one's well-being, whereas a liberal outlook leads to dissatisfaction with the world as it is, and a sense that things need to change before one can be really happy."
Another possible explanation is that conservatives, or at least the ones in Boston, really aren't the stiffs they're made out to be by social scientists. When these scientists analyze conservatives, they can sound like Victorians describing headhunters in Borneo. They try to be objective, but it's an alien culture.
The studies hailing liberals' nonconformity and "openness to ideas" have been done by social scientists working in a culture that's remarkably homogenous politically. Democrats outnumber Republicans by at least seven to one on social science and humanities faculties, according to studies by Daniel Klein, an economist at George Mason University. If you're a professor who truly "seeks new experiences," try going into a faculty club today and passing out McCain-Palin buttons.
Could it be that the image of conservatives as humorless, dogmatic neurotics is based more on political bias than sound social science? Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who reviews the evidence of cognitive differences in his 2005 book, "Expert Political Judgment," said that while there were valid differences, "liberals and conservatives are roughly equally closed-minded in dealing with dissonant real-world evidence."
So perhaps conservatives don't have a monopoly on humorless dogmatism. Maybe the stereotype of the dour, rigid conservative has more to do with social scientists' groupthink and wariness of outsiders - which, come to think of it, resembles the herding behavior of certain hoofed animals. Ladies and gentlemen, what we have here is a terrifying example of the reindeer effect.
Posted by John Ray. For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. For a daily survey of Australian politics, see AUSTRALIAN POLITICS Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me (John Ray) here