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Emotional Responses to Ridicule and Teasing

Emotional Responses to Ridicule and Teasing

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Published by: serhio8790 on Feb 15, 2010
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Emotional responses to ridicule and teasing:Should gelotophobes react differently?*
AbstractThe present study examined the hypothesis that gelotophobia blurs theemotional responses between ridicule and good-natured teasing. Ridiculeshould induce negative feelings and teasing happiness and surprise in indi-viduals not su¤ering gelotophobia. Gelotophobes will discriminate less be-tween the two. Their responses to teasing will be similar to ridicule. A sam- ple of adults (N 
105) specified which emotions they would experience innine scenarios of social interactions pre-selected to represent bullying ridi-cule or good-natured teasing. Ridicule elicited strong responses of shame, fear and anger, and other negative emotions but low happiness and surprise.Responses of gelotophobes and non-gelotophobes were highly parallel,with the exception that among extreme gelotophobes stronger shame and  fear were displayed than among non-gelotophobes. Good-natured teasinseemed to elicit happiness and surprise and low levels of negative emotionsamong the non-gelotophobes. Among the gelotophobes, however, it wasthe negative emotions; primarily shame, fear, and anger that were exhibited as the emotional response pattern. In fact, the emotion profile to good-humored teasing was highly similar to the profile in response to thebullying-ridiculing situations. Gelotophobes’ perceptions do not discrimi-nate between playful teasing and good-natured teasing. They do not identifythe safe and non-threatening quality of the teasing situations. Treatment of  gelotophobes should, therefore, involve helping them to identify the play-signals, i.e., the meta-message that the interaction is playful, for fun and that no harm is intended.Keywords: Bullying; gelotophobia; laughter; ridicule; teasing.
212 (2008), 105128 09331719
0021–0105DOI 10.1515/HUMOR.2008.005
Walter de Gruyter
1. Introduction
It is hard to dispute the feel-good factor of laughter. Everyone who hasever laughed long and heartily will recognize the natural high thatcomes with a hearty bout of eye-watering, side-gripping, belly laugheror a fit of the giggles. Why else do people pay to see comedians whotell jokes, poke fun, and whip the audience into peels of laughter? Evenif certain jokes do not suit everyone’s taste, it would be hard for themnot to be caught up in the moment and the infectiousness of grouplaughter and feel their spirits lifted by the joyful episode (Smyth andFuller 1972).There is, however, a converse side of humor, a negative side. Dispar-agement humor (Zillman 1983) relates to mockery and ridicule, which isdirected deliberately at a specific target and is an aggressive form of humor. Negative laughter is a powerful method of controlling behaviorin others. It would seem that, in general, people find being singled out of the group by being laughed at is a shameful, humiliating, and disagree-able experience. As a result, they will consider modifying or changingtheir behavior (Ford and Ferguson 2004; Holmes 2005; Janes and Olsen2000; Panksepp 2000). This form of humor is most definitely not pleasantand is far removed from the beneficial aspects of humor supposed by theapplied humor therapists. Arguably, if positive laughter has a positivepsychological e¤ect (McGhee 1999), are there also negative psychologicalconsequences of being laughed at by others?Social anxiety disorder is a condition where social interaction orpublic activities are avoided due to an extreme, persistent fear of em-barrassment, humiliation, and shame (APA 1994). In social events,social phobics believe they are inferior to others and assume they arebeing evaluated negatively. This belief elicits a shameful emotion, andsu¤erers of this broad spectrum phobia will avoid social situations toprevent shame. Similarly, within a clinical setting, Titze (1996) relatedthe observed behavior of Shame-Anxiety (Titze 1995) to what he de-scribed as the symptomatology of the
Pinocchio Complex
, which ap-plies to the fear of being laughed at, namely, gelotophobia. Here theshame felt by the su¤erers is brought on by the conviction that theyare an object of ridicule and will evoke disparagement laughter inothers.As mentioned above, disparagement humor is a technique of con-trolling and causing conformity in others. This, Titze (1996: 1) claims, is106
T. Platt
‘‘mental abuse; [...] being put-down, being humiliated, laughed at or nottaken seriously.’’ When this method of control is applied to an individualby a significant other a situation of inner conflict arises between the desireto behave naturally and the response expected by others. This conflictelicits shame.Bergson’s (1924) essay, ‘‘Laughter: An essay on the meaning of comic,’’recounts that ‘‘marionettes’’ were thought to be unable to develop a senseof belonging in childhood. Due to not feeling loved by their parents, theywere unable to fit into a group in a relaxed way. Titze (1995, 1996), fol-lowing Bergson (1924), formulated a model of the putative causes andconsequences of gelotophobia (Ruch 2004). One facet of the model pro-poses that humor and laughter are not relaxing and joyful positive socialevents for gelotophobes who have an ‘‘agelotic’’ (unable to appreciatelaughter) attitude. Gelotophobes also allude to being bullied by ridiculein childhood or as adults.If this model is, indeed, a true representation of gelotophobic causesand consequences, a method is needed to shift from a philosophical do-main to a scientific paradigm. The question becomes whether geloto-phobes are unable to see playful forms of humor for what they are andcannot perceive playful social interactions as positive. Therefore, in thepresent study, participants will be confronted with good-humored playfulteasing and malicious ridicule type bullying. If the model is correct, theywill react to good-humored teasing as if it were bullying-ridicule. As priorstudies have shown that gelotophobia can be validly assessed by self-reports (Ruch and Proyer 2008a, 2008b; Ruch et al. 2008) both amongclinical groups and the normal population, this hypothesis can be exam-ined empirically.1.1.
Bullying-ridicule or good-humored teasing 
It is clear from preliminary investigations by Ruch (2002) into a universaltaxonomy of the term ‘‘humor’’ that it has both positive and negativemeanings. Thus, it is imperative to distinguish between hostile laughterand friendly laughter. Unfortunately, even in research, the terms of teas-ing and ridicule are interchangeable.Even the type or the field of study influences how a word will be used.Bullying research defines verbal victimization as something that is doneby teasing and name-calling (Hawker and Boulton 2001). This behavior
Emotional responses

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