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Ford and Others, 2011. Effects of Exposure to Sexist Humor on Perceptions of Normative Tolerance of Sexim

Ford and Others, 2011. Effects of Exposure to Sexist Humor on Perceptions of Normative Tolerance of Sexim

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The results of an experiment supported the hypotheses that (1) for men high in hostile sexism, exposure to sexist humor creates a perceived social norm of tolerance of sexism relative to exposure to nonhumorous sexist communication or neutral humor, and (2) due to this 'relaxed' normative standard in the context of sexist humor, men high in hostile sexism anticipated feeling less self-directed negative affect upon imagining that they had behaved in a sexist manner. Finally, exposure to sexist humor did not affect the evaluative content of men's stereotypes of women relative to exposure to neutral humor or nonhumorous sexist communication for participants high or low in hostile sexism.
The results of an experiment supported the hypotheses that (1) for men high in hostile sexism, exposure to sexist humor creates a perceived social norm of tolerance of sexism relative to exposure to nonhumorous sexist communication or neutral humor, and (2) due to this 'relaxed' normative standard in the context of sexist humor, men high in hostile sexism anticipated feeling less self-directed negative affect upon imagining that they had behaved in a sexist manner. Finally, exposure to sexist humor did not affect the evaluative content of men's stereotypes of women relative to exposure to neutral humor or nonhumorous sexist communication for participants high or low in hostile sexism.

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European Journal of Social PsychologyEur. J. Soc. Psychol.
31
, 677±691 (2001)
DOI
: 10.1002/ejsp.56
Effects of exposure to sexist humor on perceptionsof normative tolerance of sexism
THOMAS E. FORD*, ERIN R. WENTZELand JOLI LORION
Western Michigan University, USA
 Abstract The results of an experiment supported the hypotheses that (1) for men high in hostile sexism, exposureto sexist humor creates a perceived social norm of tolerance of sexism relative to exposure tononhumorous sexist communication or neutral humor, and (2) due to this `relaxed' normative standard in the context of sexist humor, men high in hostile sexism anticipated feeling less self-directed negativeaffect upon imagining that they had behaved in a sexist manner. Finally, exposure to sexist humor did not affect the evaluative content of men's stereotypes of women relative to exposure to neutral humor or nonhumorous sexist communication for participants high or low in hostile sexism. Copyright 
#
2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
The public sentiment over the use of disparaging humor (e.g. racist or sexist humor) in public domainshas become increasingly critical (Apte, 1987; Barker, 1994). At the core of this criticism is a belief thathumor provides a `socially acceptable' mechanism for demeaning, harrassing and oppressingdisadvantaged groups (e.g. Bill & Naus, 1992; Mackie, 1990). For instance, as LaFrance andWoodzicka (1998) pointed out, lawsuits have been ®led against corporations (e.g. Chevron Corpora-tion in 1995) claiming that disparaging humor (i.e. sexist jokes) in the workplace constitutes a form of harassment; and survey research (e.g. Frazier, Cochran, & Olson, 1995) indicates that the generalpublic is increasingly de®ning sexist humor as a form of sexual harassment.In keeping with these changes in the social climate, researchers have begun to shift their attentionaway from the traditional focus on understanding the conditions that moderate people's amusementwith disparaging humor (e.g. Cantor & Zillmann, 1973; La Fave, McCarthy, & Haddad, 1973; Wicker,Barron, & Willis, 1980) to an examination of the social consequences of disparaging humor. Hobdenand Olson (1994), for instance, found that telling `lawyer jokes' led participants to report having morenegative attitudes toward lawyers. Also, Maio, Olson, and Bush (1997) found that Canadianparticipants who recited humor material that disparaged Newfoundlanders reported having a morenegative stereotype of Newfoundlanders. So, it appears that
telling
disparaging jokes can have anegative impact upon the joke teller's attitudes and stereotypes of the disparaged outgroup.
 Received 23 September 2000
Copyright
#
2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Accepted 30 January 2001
*Correspondence to: Thomas E. Ford, Department of Sociology, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI 49008, USA.E-mail: fordt@wmich.edu
 
Exposure to disparaging humor, however, may not affect stable, internal knowledge structures suchas stereotypes of the disparaged out-groups. Olson, Maio, and Hobden (1999) found that exposure todisparaging humor did not affect the evaluative content or the accessibility of stereotypes of thedisparaged outgroup relative to nonhumorous disparagement or neutral humor. As Olson
et al.
suggested, this ®nding was surprising given the assumption made by the general public and humortheorists alike that disparaging humor functions to develop and reinforce shared stereotypes of outgroups (e.g. Berger, 1993; La Fave,Mannell, & Guilmette, 1977; Stephenson, 1951; Zenner, 1970).Indeed, according to the in¯uential incongruity-resolution theory of humor appreciation, a mutualunderstanding of the stereotype would be required for the jokes to be humorous (Suls, 1972, 1983).There is evidence, however, suggesting that exposure to disparaging humor does have a negativesocial consequence. Ford (2000) demonstrated that exposure to sexist jokes led to greater tolerance of a sexist event in comparison with exposure to neutral jokes or nonhumorous sexist communications,but only among participants high in `hostile sexism' (peoplewhose attitudes toward women are rootedin antagonism and indignation) (Glick & Fiske, 1996). These ®ndings cannot be easily explained interms of a priming effect. If exposure to sexist humor simply functioned to prime or trigger chronicmotivation to respond in a sexistmanner among people high in hostile sexism(e.g. Bargh, 1990; Bargh& Barndollar, 1996), then exposure to sexist material should have increased tolerance of the sexistevent when presented in a humorous or nonhumorous manner. Exposure to sexist material, however,only affected tolerance of the sexist event when it was presented in a humorous manner.Accordingly, Ford (2000) suggested that humor, as a medium for communicating disparagement,played a critical role above and beyond the speci®c content of the sexist communication. Speci®cally,by communicating derision of women in a light-hearted or jovial manner, sexist humor expands thebounds of appropriate conduct in the immediate context creating a social norm of tolerance of discrimination against women. Furthermore, Ford argued that people high in hostile sexism are moreprone to responding to a sexist event in accordancewith the norm implied by the sexist humor becausethey are likely to have less strongly internalized convictions that regulate their behavior independentof such normative standards of conduct. Indeed, research has shown that people high in hostile sexismare less internally motivated to respond toward women in a nonsexist manner relative to people low inhostile sexism (Ford & Lorion, presentation at the annual conference of the National CommunicationAssociation, Seattle, WA, 2000).A couple of ambiguities still remain, however. First, Ford (2000) did not directly examine theeffects of sexist humor upon perceptions of social normsÐwhat others in the immediate contextconsider appropriate or inappropriate conduct. Thus, he could not assess whether sexist humor hasdifferent effects upon perceptions of social norms as a function of individual differences in hostilesexism, or whether the effect of sexist humor on tolerance of a sexist event for people high in hostilesexism was indeed mediated by a perceived norm of tolerance of sexism.Second, stereotypes of women were not measured in the research by Ford (2000). Furthermore,individualdifferencesinprejudicewerenotmeasuredintheresearchbyOlson
etal.
(1999)whichfoundno effects of disparaging humor on the evaluative content of participants' stereotypes of disparagedoutgroups. Thus, it remains possible that disparaging humor could affect the evaluative content of stereotypes of an outgroup for people who are high in prejudice toward that group. In the context of thepresent research, sexist humor might affect not only tolerance of sexism among men high in hostilesexism,butalsotheevaluativecontentoftheirstereotypesofwomen.Also,Olson
etal.
(1999)measuredtheeffectsofdisparaginghumoronstereotypesofoutgroupsthatwerehighinstatusorsocialpower(e.g.men, lawyers). Olson
et al.
concluded that disparaging humor might only affect the perceiver'sstereotypes insofar as the targeted outgroup is relatively disadvantaged or low in status (e.g. women).The present research was designed to address these ambiguities. Speci®cally, we investigated morefully the effect of sexist humor upon perceptions of social norms among people high in hostile sexism678
Thomas E. Ford 
et al.
Copyright
#
2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Eur. J. Soc. Psychol.
31
, 677±691 (2001)
 
and people low in hostile sexism. In addition, we examined the role that those perceptions play inmediating the effect of sexist humor on tolerance of sexism more generally. Finally, we examinedwhether individual differences in hostile sexism moderate the effect of sexist humor on men'sstereotypes of women.
EFFECTS OF SEXIST HUMOR UPON PERCEPTIONS OF SOCIAL NORMS
Humor as a medium for communicating derision undermines the seriousness of the underlyingsentiment (e.g. Attardo, 1993; Berlyne, 1972; Bill & Naus, 1992; McGhee, 1972). Speci®cally, itactivates a conversational rule to switch from the usual serious mindset to a playful or noncriticalmindset for interpreting the underlying message (Attardo, 1993; Berlyne, 1972; Mannell, 1977;McGhee, 1972; Sev'er & Ungar, 1997; Ziv & Gadish, 1990). Berlyne (1972), for instance, suggestedthat, `Humor is accompanied by discriminativecues, which indicate that what is happening, or isgoingto happen, should be taken as a joke. The ways in which we might react to the same events in theabsence of these cues become inappropriate and must be withheld' (p. 56). Accordingly, Ford (2000)suggested that by making light of the expression of sexism, sexist humor communicates a `meta-message' (Attardo, 1993) or normative standard that, in this context, sexism need not be takenseriously or scrutinized in a critical manner.Wepropose,however,thatwhetherornotsexisthumoractuallycreatestheimplicitnormoftoleranceofsexismdepends onwhether ornotitissuccessfulÐwhetherthereceiveralso switches toa noncriticalmindsetforinterpreting the underlyingderision. When the receiverswitchestoa noncriticalmindset,heor she tacitly consents to a shared understanding (a social norm) that it is acceptable in this context tomakelightofsexismÐtotreatitinalight-hearted,noncriticalmanner(seeEmerson,1969;Francis,1988;Khoury, 1985 for similar arguments regarding the communication of socially inappropriate sentimentsthroughhumor).Thereceiver'sacceptanceofthesexisthumor,then,contributestotheconstructionofanimplicit local norm of tolerance of sexism. Furthermore, as a result of its salience in the immediatecontext, this local norm of tolerance of sexism may essentially replace broader norms of appropriateconduct(Bodenhausen&Macrae,1998;Cialdini,Kallgren,&Reno,1991).Consequently,inthecontextof sexist humor, instances of sexism are likely to seem
less
socially inappropriate.In contrast, the receiver could recognize the inappropriateness of switching to a playful mindset forinterpreting sexist sentiments (Apt, 1987; Barker, 1994; Mannell, 1977; Sev'er & Ungar, 1997), andthus challenge (reject) the normative standard suggested by the humor (Attardo, 1993; Francis, 1988).The receiver's opposition to sexist humor implies that there is
not 
a shared understanding that it isacceptable to make light of sexism.In fact, whenthe joke teller knows that the receiverhas rejected thehumor he or she is likely to `take it back' and similarly oppose a noncritical interpretation of theunderlying sentiment (Johnson, 1990; Kane, Suls, & Tedeschi, 1977). The receiver's opposition tosexist humor, then, prevents the construction of a local normative standard of tolerance of sexism. As aresult, the broader nonsexist standards of conduct should not be displaced by the sexist humor, andinstances of sexism should still be perceived as socially inappropriate. Consistent with this reasoning,Ford (2000, Experiments 2 and 3) found that when participants high in hostile sexism were induced tointerpret sexist jokes in a serious or critical manner (as they would nonhumorous communication), theeffect of the sexist humor on tolerance of a sexist event was nulli®ed.
Individual Differences in Hostile Sexism
We further propose that individual differences in hostile sexism moderate the extent to which peopleconsent to or oppose the implication of sexist humor that derision of women need not be taken
Sexist humor 
679
Copyright
#
2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Eur. J. Soc. Psychol.
31
, 677±691 (2001)

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