How can humor help deliberation

Written on:June 6, 2014
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Trust is one of the elements that construct deliberation. When people deliberate they have to trust each other motives in order to work together toward a common goal (Mutz, 2002). Therefore establishing trust between participants is an important element in every deliberative event.
When I have started to work with groups that have very high tension between the members, I usually noticed that no matter what I have done, the partisans turned toward each other pointing the misconducts of the other side. No agreement could be reached. Nice words couldn’t help to calm the tension. It was frustrating. But I didn’t give up. I tried in many ways, to help groups ease the tension more quickly. By trial and error, I have found that groups that contained humorous participants tended to dissolve the tension more quickly. The other parameter I have noticed that helped was the presence of a charismatic motherly female from one of the groups, which could calm the situation, and talked people to ease up the tension.
While preparing for my PhD, I discovered a paper from the late 60s that discovered the power of humor to ease things up. Singer discovered that hostile humor toward the other group reduced tension in the “attacking” group members (Singer, 1968).He also found that kind words, do not reduce the tension, neither neutral humor does. Singer didn’t check the influence of the humor on the receiving group, and it may be interesting check how the humor would have influence them.

I tend to believe that humor can play an important role in deliberation, and can help people get in to PFC mode which is needed for good deliberation. It can help minorities reduce the tension towards the rolling majority, and help elevating trust and mutual understanding.
In one of the events I have participated, the evening started with a well preformed satire about the problems the deliberating society faced. It was very refreshing, and people could share the things that troubled them, in a much calm, manner.
What do you believe? What is your experience?




Mutz, D. C. (2002). Cross-cutting social networks: Testing democratic theory in practice. American Political Science Review, 96(01), 111–126.
Singer, D. L. (1968). Aggression arousal, hostile humor, catharsis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8(1p2), 1.

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