The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 1, No 4 (2013)

Humour styles, personality and psychological well-being: What’s humour got to do with it?

Willibald Friedrich Ruch,Sonja Heintz


The Humor Styles Questionnaire (HSQ) by Martin et al. (2003) measures four humour styles, namely affiliative, self-enhancing, aggressive and self-defeating. In contrast to former humour instruments, the HSQ has strong relations to various measures of psychological well-being. However, its incremental validity in relation to basic personality traits has not been sufficiently studied. Two studies analysed how much unique variance the HSQ contributed to predicting psychological well-being over and above personality. While the affiliative, self-enhancing and self-defeating humour style were potent predictors of well-being in Study 1, the results also indicated that these humour styles had small effects when personality was controlled for. Study 2 tested a possible explanation for these findings, namely that the context (i.e., non-humorous components) of the HSQ items dominates their humour-specific content. Two questionnaires were utilised to separate context and humour components in the HSQ. Results showed that (a) the HSQ contributed little in predicting personality and psychological well-being once context was controlled for, and that (b) the humour component of each HSQ scale correlated highly with other humour instruments and neither of them were detrimental or maladaptive in terms of psychological well-being. Thus, these two studies showed a low incremental validity of humour styles in predicting psychological well-being beyond personality and hint to a limited role that humour plays in the these relationships. Overall, the humour components of the HSQ rather resemble those of other self-report measures and mainly comprise humour appreciation and humour production in everyday life.


DeNeve, K. M. & Cooper, H. (1998). ‘The happy personality: A meta-analysis of 137 personality traits and subjective well-being’. Psychological Bulletin, 124(2), pp. 197–229. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.124.2.197

Digman, J. M. (1990). ‘Personality structure: Emergence of the five-factor model’. In M. R. Rosenzweig & L. W. Porter (Eds.), Annual review of psychology (Vol. 41, pp. 417–440). Palo Alto, CA: Annual Reviews.

Dyck, K. T. H. & Holtzman, S. (2013). ‘Understanding humor styles and well-being: The importance of social relationships and gender’. Personality and Individual Differences, 55, pp. 53–58. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2013.01.023

Edwards, K. R., & Martin, R. A. (2010). ‘Humor creation ability and mental health: are funny people more psychologically healthy?’ Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 6(3), 196–212.

Eysenck, S. B., Eysenck, H. J. & Barrett, P. (1985). ‘A revised version of the Psychoticism scale’. Personality and Individual Differences, 6(1), 21-29. doi:10.1016/0191-8869(85)90026-1

Freud, Sigmund (1905): Der Witz und seine Beziehungen zum Unbewußten [Jokes and their relation to the unconscious]. Vienna, Austria: Deuticke.

Frewen, P. A., Brinker, J., Martin, R. A. & Dozois, D. J. A. (2008). ‘Humor styles and personality vulnerability to depression’. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 21(2), 179–195. doi: 10.1515/HUMOR.2008.009

Jovanovic, V. (2011). ‘Do humor styles matter in the relationship between personality and subjective well-being?’ Scandinavian Journal Of Psychology, 52(5), 502–507. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9450.2011.00898.x

Köhler, G. & Ruch, W. (1996). ‘Sources of variance in current sense of humor inventories: How much substance, how much method variance?’ Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 9, pp. 363–397. doi: 10.1515/humr.1996.9.3-4.363

Kuiper, N. A., Grimshaw, M., Leite, C. & Kirsh, G. (2004). ‘Humor is not always the best medicine: Specific components of sense of humor and psychological well-being’. Humor: International Journal Of Humor Research, 17(1–2), 135–168. doi:10.1515/humr.2004.002

Kuiper, N. A. & Harris, A. L. (2009). ‘Humor styles and negative affect as predictors of different components of physical health’. Europe’s Journal of Psychology, 5(1). doi: 10.5964/ejop.v5i1.280

Martin, R. A. (1996). ‘The Situational Humor Response Questionnaire (SHRQ) and Coping Humor Scale (CHS): A decade of research findings’. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 9, pp. 251–272. doi: 10.1515/humr.1996.9.3-4.251

Martin, R. A. & Lefcourt, H. M. (1983). ‘Sense of humor as a moderator of the relation between stressors and moods’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 1313–1324. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.45.6.1313

Martin, R. A., Puhlik-Doris, P., Larsen, G., Gray, J. & Weir, K. (2003). ‘Individual differences in uses of humor and their relation to psychological well-being: Development of the Humor Styles Questionnaire’. Journal of Research in Personality, 37, pp. 48–75. doi: 10.1016/S0092-6566(02)00534-2

McGhee, P. E. (1999). The laughter remedy. Health, healing and the amuse system. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.

Páez, D., Mendiburo, A. & Martínez-Sanchez, F. (2012). ‘Incremental validity of alexithymia, emotional coping and humor style on happiness and psychological well-being’. Journal of Happiness Studies, Epub ahead of print. doi: 10.1007/s10902-012-9400-0

Proyer, R. T. (2012). ‘Development and initial assessment of a short measure for adult playfulness: The SMAP’. Personality and Individual Differences, 53(8), pp. 989–994. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2012.07.018

Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W. & Müller, L. (2010). ‘Sense of humor among the elderly: Findings with the German version of the SHS’. Zeitschrift für Gerontologie und Geriatrie, 43, pp. 19–24. doi: 10.1007/s00391-009-0082-0

Radloff, L. S. (1977). ‘The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population’. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, pp. 385–401. doi:10.1177/014662167700100306.

Robins, R. W., Tracy, J. L. Trzesniewski, K. H., Potter, J., & Gosling, S. D. (2001). ‘Personality correlates of self-esteem’. Journal of Research in Personality, 35, pp. 463–482. doi: 10.1006/jrpe.2001.2324

Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Ruch, W. & Heintz, S. (2013). Separating content and context in questionnaire items: How much substance, how much noise? Unpublished manuscript. Department of Psychology, University of Zurich.

Ruch, W., Heintz, S. & Auerbach, A. (2012). Item statistics of the revised SHS. Unpublished data. Department of Psychology, University of Zurich.

Ruch, W., Köhler, G. & van Thriel, C. (1996). ‘Assessing the ‘‘humorous temperament’’: Construction of the facet and standard trait forms of the State-Trait-Cheerfulness-Inventory – STCI’. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 9, pp. 303–340. doi: 10.1515/humr.1996.9.3-4.303

Saroglou, V. & Scariot, C. (2002). ‘Humor Styles Questionnaire: Personality and educational correlates in Belgian high school and college students’. European Journal of Personality, 16(1), 43–54. doi:10.1002/per.430

Sharpe, J. P., Martin, N. R. & Roth, K. A. (2011). ‘Optimism and the Big Five factors of personality: Beyond neuroticism and extraversion’. Personality and Individual Differences,51, pp. 946–951. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.07.033

von Collani, G. & Herzberg, P. Y. (2003). ‘Eine revidierte Fassung der deutschsprachigen Skala zum Selbstwertgefühl von Rosenberg [A revised version of the German adaptation of Rosenberg’s self-esteem scale]’. Zeitschrift für Differentielle und Diagnostische Psychologie, 24(1), pp. 3–7. doi: 10.1024//0170-1789.24.1.3

Watson, D., Clark, L. A. & Tellegen, A. (1988). ‘Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(6), pp. 1063–1070. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.54.6.1063