Disparaging Humor, Social Exclusion, and the Power of Allies

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Wesselmann Eric

Mentor Department



Kimberly Schneider

Co-Mentor Department



Individuals have a psychological need to belong (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Whenever someone faces a threat to that belonging they experience negative physical and psychological reactions (e.g., pain, stress, lower self-esteem; Wesselmann et al., 2016). Disparaging humor, jokes that insult or devalue an individual or group of individuals, are often used to express prejudice (Mallett, Ford, & Woodzicka, 2016) and contribute to a hostile environment for members of the targeted group(s) (e.g.; Ford, Boxer, Armstrong, & Edel, 2008; Martinez, Ruggs, Sabat, Hebl, & Binggeli, 2013; Schneider, Wesselmann, & DeSouza, 2017). Our previous research suggests that individuals experience disparaging humor against their group as a social threat, showing similar effects as other threats to belonging (e.g., Wesselmann et al., 2016). In this study, we investigate how the presence of an ally - someone who is not a member of one's in-group yet stands up for them and confronts the person telling the offensive joke - may influence the negative effects of the joke. We predicted that individuals will recall feeling less harmed when someone defends them compared with a situation where no one defends them. We randomly assigned participants (current N=108; desired final N=150) to one of three conditions in which they recalled an autobiographical event. In condition 1, participants recalled the last time they ate breakfast (control condition). In conditions 2 and 3, they recalled a time in which someone made fun a social group to which they belong (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation) and either another person (i.e., the ally) confronted the offender, or no one confronted the offender. Participants then completed a series of measures assessing how they recalled feeling during that event, such as their feelings of being ignored, threatened belonging, and emotional pain. We hypothesize that first that participants who experienced disparaging humor and no one defended them will report feeling more negative than both control group participants and ally group participants. We are uncertain on how participants in the ally group will compare to the control group. Our results will ultimately provide suggestions for future research on understanding the role that allies can play in confronting various forms of discrimination.



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