The Elephant in the Room: Using Humor to Acknowledge One's Stigmatized Identity and Reduce Prejudice
AuthorFocella, Elizabeth Sara
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractThe Target Empowerment Model (TEM; Stone, Whitehead, Schmader, & Focella, 2011) advocates that targets can be strong sources of prejudice reduction if they implement a combination of strategies designed to reduce threat and encourage the perceiver to more actively process information about the target and his or her group. Solely using blatant strategies (those that require the perceiver to explicitly process the target's persuasive message) can create backlash against the target (Czopp & Monteith, 2003). In contrast, subtle strategies, (strategies that do not call attention to the perceiver's bias), such as asking self-affirming questions (Steele, 1988), can be more effective in creating a smooth interaction but might only provide the target with a brief respite from bias. Following the logic of the TEM, humor may allow stigmatized targets to subtly address their group membership, put perceivers at ease, and reduce the bias that may be directed against them. This research examines how a target of prejudice can successfully reduce bias directed against him when he uses humor to acknowledge his, potentially threatening, group membership. Using a getting-acquainted task, three experiments tested the hypothesis that using humor that acknowledges the target's stigmatized group membership would put perceivers at ease, thereby increasing liking for the target. Experiment 1 showed that following a getting-acquainted exercise, highly prejudiced perceivers reported significantly greater liking for an Arab American target whose humor also acknowledged stereotypes of his group, compared to a target who told a joke that did not include his ethnic background, and compared to a target who did not use humor at all. Experiment 2 conceptually replicated Experiment 1 and revealed that the effectiveness of the ethnicity-related joke was mediated by how much the joke put highly prejudiced perceivers at ease. Experiment 3 conceptually replicated Experiments 1 and 2 and provided evidence that, unlike disparagement humor, which denigrates the outgroup, humor that acknowledges the target's outgroup membership increases liking toward the target without increasing prejudice toward the group. Taken together, these studies show that using humor that acknowledges the target's stigmatized group membership puts perceivers at ease, thereby increasing liking for the outgroup target.
Degree ProgramGraduate College