The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 8, No 1 (2020)

Disparagement humor and anti-obesity attitudes

Jacob Burmeister, Robert Carels


People with obesity are often the target of disparaging humour. The typical derision of obesity found in everyday life also extends into the realm of the media. Many assumptions have been made about the effects this type of humour may have on the public’s attitudes toward people with obesity, but little empirical research exists. In the present research, two studies sought to uncover whether jokes and humorous media depictions of people with obesity affect individuals’ attitudes. In Study 1, participants (N = 271) either read a list of derogatory jokes about obesity, read a list of derogatory comments about obesity, or read a list of jokes that were unrelated to obesity. All participants were then asked to report their 1) attitudes toward people with obesity in several domains, 2) level of belief in stereotypes about obesity and 3) judgement of the social acceptability of jokes about obesity. Participants’ scores on these dependent measures did not differ across groups suggesting obesity jokes do not have an immediate impact on attitudes. In Study 2, participants (N = 146) were shown video clips from film and television programmes that featured derogatory humour targeting obese characters. Again, participants’ scores on dependent measures did not differ across groups. The results of these studies suggest that brief exposure to derogatory weight-related humour may not affect individuals’ attitudes toward people with obesity as might be assumed. Longer exposure to disparaging humour may be required to shift individuals’ attitudes about people with obesity.



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