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Running head: HUMOR AS COGNITIVE DISSONANCE REDUCTION

Humor as a Cognitive Dissonance Reduction Strategy: A Focus on Speakers

Tara Hack Arizona State University Dr. Paul Mongeau

HUMOR AS COGNITIVE DISSONANCE REDUCTION

Abstract The purpose of this paper is to understand the ways in which humor functions as a communicative strategy for reducing cognitive dissonance in message senders. In order to do so, a comprehensive literature review will be presented whereby humor theories will be analyzed alongside cognitive dissonance theory as guiding theoretical frameworks from which to draw conclusions about this potential phenomenon. This paper is organized by three sections- humor theories and functions (including the role of humor in persuasion research), cognitive dissonance theory and dissonance reduction strategies, and lastly, the connections between these two bodies of research, in efforts to demonstrate that humor may function as a strategy to relieve cognitive dissonance in message senders. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of implications and future directions.

Key words: Humor, Relief Theory, Cognitive Dissonance, Dissonance Reduction, Uncertainty

HUMOR AS COGNITIVE DISSONANCE REDUCTION

Humor as a Cognitive Dissonance Reduction Strategy: A Focus on Speakers Several researchers have focused on the use of humor in everyday interactions. For example, scholars have examined the ways in which humor provides entertainment (Berger, 2001; Hill, 1988), facilitates group cohesion and relationship development (Hopfl, 2007; Porcu, 2005; Ziv, 2010), in addition to how it influences persuasive communication (Meyer, 2000; Markiewicz, 1974; Skalski, Tamborini, Glazer, & Smith, 2009), among other contexts. Humor is understood to be an innately social, goal-driven phenomenon that is constituted of humorist, stimulus, recipient, and reaction (Lili, 2012, p. 95). Humor has been studied as both an individual personality characteristic (e.g. the study of ones sense of humor), and as a social event (e.g., the exchange of jokes between friends) (Lynch, 2002). As a communicative act, humor requires the exchange of messages between individuals, followed by an audience interpretation of the message that renders its content humorous (Wanzer, Booth-Butterfield & Booth-Butterfield, 1995). In some instances, (though not always the case) laughter has served as a reliable indicator/response for researchers interested in the interpretation of humorous communication, as to whether or not speakers messages are understood and appreciated as comical by an audience (Chapman & Chapman, 1974; Lili 2012). By analyzing various responses to humor, researchers gain a better cultural understanding of humorous trends regarding style and content. Furthermore, humor theorists have established organizing principles to describe how humor functions in society by means of three major theories- superiority theory (Keith-Speigel, 1984; Meyer, 2000) incongruity theory (Graham, 1995; Lili, 2012), and relief theory (Freud, 1960; Perks, 2012; Perlmutter, 2002). The latter two of these theories have been used by scholars

HUMOR AS COGNITIVE DISSONANCE REDUCTION

to elaborate on the cognitive and communicative roles of humor in situational meaning making (Brown, 2005; Tracy, Myers & Scott, 2006), including the ways in which various forms of humor function as coping mechanisms to reduce uncertainty and manage social tensions (Graham, 1995; Lili, 2012). Consistent with these claims, a study by Kelly (2002) found that humor is frequently used to reduce stress, anxiety, negative cognitive states and psychological discomfort, while increasing positive affective states. Because humor has been found to effectively manage tensions by introducing positive affective responses and psychological states, thereby alleviating tension and the experience of discomfort (i.e., negative affective states), humor may also function as a communicative strategy for reducing cognitive dissonance (Festinter, 1957). For the purpose of this paper, the term tension will be analyzed in the context of cognitive dissonance theory, first introduced by Leon Festinger, as an undesirable affective state (or conflict) that stems from a discrepancy between message senders thoughts and behaviors (Festinger, 1957). Cognitive dissonance theory asserts that individuals experience psychological discomfort when there is a discrepancy between two or more cognitions (Festinger). According to Festinger, human beings are naturally driven to reduce the experience of cognitive dissonance due to the tension and discomfort this creates. Given this research, this is a space where humor can function as a motivational and communicative strategy to reduce cognitive dissonance in and for message senders during instances of psychological discomfort. Humor allows for the pairing of disjointed ideas, and according to humor theorists, people laugh when they experience ill-suited pairings of ideas, situations, or concepts that are framed as humorous expressions (Keith-Speigel, 1984, p. 19). However, few (if any) communication researchers have established this direct connection between humor and cognitive dissonance. Perhaps this relationship remains unexplored because

HUMOR AS COGNITIVE DISSONANCE REDUCTION

humor has traditionally been studied by psychologists as a form of cognitive relief (Meyer, 2000), and by communication theorists as a purposeful act, focused on audience effects rather than speaker motivations (Romero & Cruthirds, 2006). Perhaps it is because the experience of cognitive dissonance is a sender focused area of research, whereas the study of humor remains dependent upon receivers interpretations. One thing is clear, there is a significant gap in the literature regarding the juxtaposition of these two topics in communication studies. The purpose of this paper is to therefore draw connections between humor research and cognitive dissonance theory in order to understand the role of humor in the experience of cognitive dissonance to contribute to this field of research. Stated as a research question, the study seeks to answer: RQ: How does humor function as a cognitive dissonance reduction strategy for message senders, if at all? Following is a literature review whereby humor theories, specifically relief theory (Freud, 1960; Perks, 2012; Perlmutter, 2002) and research studies, will be integrated with cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957) and reduction strategies as guiding theoretical frameworks from which to draw conclusions about this phenomenon. The literature is organized by the following sections- humor theories and research, including the role of humor in persuasion, cognitive dissonance theory and dissonance reduction strategies, and lastly, the connections between these two bodies of research in support of the aforementioned research question. Integrating Humor and Cognitive Dissonance Theory It is first important to situate humor in the context of communication studies by pairing the existing research from psychology and communication on the functions of humor in society. This discussion includes an analysis of humor as both a cognitive and communicative phenomenon, in addition to a brief summary of humor in persuasion research. Following this

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discussion is an examination of the major functions and theories of humor, concluding with a focus on relief theory, in order to provide a context for the juxtaposition of humor and cognitive dissonance. Study of Humor The study of humor has been approached by social scientists on an individual level (Ziv, 2010), such as examining ones sense of humor via cognitive processes (Meyer, 2000), as well as on a social level by analyzing the humorous exchange of messages and their perceived outcomes (Mintz, 2985). Multiple theorists regard humor as a highly cognitive experience (Brown, 2005) that involves an internal redefining of sociocultural realityresulting in a mirthful state of mind (Meyer, 2000, p. 312). Elaborating on the cognitive functions of humor, Brown (2005) stated, many theorists have noted that humour [sic] mimics reasoning by making abstract conceptual connections (p. 12). According to research by Kelly (2002), the cognitive ability to manipulate and reframe ideas playfully enables individuals with a sense of humor to view unpleasant events as funny (p. 658). For example, Chapple and Ziebland (2004) examined the role of humor in patients with fatal illness, and found that the use of humor provided patients with a means of coping with adversity, exploring ambiguities about their health, and managing psychological tensions about health uncertainties surrounding their diagnoses through cognitive reframing. These assertions raise questions about the likelihood of humor to serve as a cognitive mechanism for reframing cognitive dissonance by adopting a humorous state of mind. Humor has also been analyzed as a form of communication and is typically regarded as persuasive by nature (Meyer, 2000). For example, researchers have concluded that humor is not generally produced for humors sake, but is a goal-oriented expression by a sender with an alternative intended message and/or purpose (Lili, 2012), sometimes as an act of social critique

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(often in the context of stand-up comedy) or as a means of self-disclosure, among other motivations (Madison, 2005). As stated by Lynch (2002), it is communication [that] acts as the medium in humor between the structure of social settings and the motivations of individuals (p. 424). As it relates to the study of persuasion, humor has been shown to increase source likability between sender and receiver due to its affiliative function (Lyttle, 2001; OQuin & Aronoff, 1981). For example, in a study conducted on humor in the workplace, humor was found help new employees negotiate entry into organizations by facilitating the transition from outgroup member to in-group member, increasing their overall likeability (Heiss & Carmack, 2011). This study mimics the results from OQuin and Aronoff (1981), which found that liked communicators carry more social influence and are therefore able to gain greater interpersonal compliance in business setting (p. 349). This study reveals that humorous people may be perceived as more persuasive communicators. Humor has also been studied in the context of persuasion via advertising campaigns. When used in persuasive advertisements, humor has been shown to increase perceived source credibility in consumers by creating positive emotions, such as joy and mirth (Skalski et al., 2009). Moreover, Lyttle (2001) published a report on the effectiveness of humor in persuasion, and reported that humor (in the form of irony) enhanced persuasive message effects by serving as a distraction to receivers from developing counterarguments to senders messages. Lyttle found that the distraction of humor inhibited central processing (a characteristic of the elaboration likelihood model) for message receivers, and resulted in an increase of positive emotions, trust, and overall likeability for the source. These studies highlight the transactional nature of humor and persuasive capabilities for humor to influence affective cognitive states.

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Humor Functions and Theories Although humor theorists have differed in the ways in which they have traditionally defined humor (e.g., as a comedic performance, a personality characteristic, a communicative act, a dyadic/social experience) (Dudden, 1985; Meyer, 2000; Lili, 2012), they have agreed upon three major theories that explain the functions of humor in society. It is important to discuss these theories in order to develop a context for relationship between humor and cognitive dissonance. Historically, these theories have been studied in the context of comedic performances, originating with the rhetoric of Mark Twain as a performative and persuasive attempt at cultural critique (Dudden, 1985); however, researchers have since extended the study of humor to the areas of psychology (Freud, 1960), education (Banas, Dunbar, Rodriguez & Liu, 2011), health (Wanzer, Sparks, Frymier, 2009), persuasion (Skalski et al.), and interpersonal communication studies (Wanzer, Booth-Butterfield, & Booth-Butterfield, 1995) in order to explore its many functions and effects. Superiority Theory. First is the superiority theory of humor, which posits that humor allows audiences to laugh at the foolishness of others as an expression of dominance or superiority (Keith-Speigel, 1984; Perks, 2012). Humor styles congruent with superiority theory include ridicule, teasing, insults, stereotypes, or sarcasm (Berger, 2001; Gilbert, 2004; Meyer, 2000), and are assumed to leave the audience with greater feelings of self-worth after the denigration of a target (Perks, 2012, p. 121). As it relates to cognitions and affective states, superiority theory assumes that humorists experience elation in the form of triumph over and at the expense of others. However, some scholars have argued that this triumph may produce consequent cognitive tensions if their attempt at superiority-driven humor results in feelings of stupidity, immorality or confusion by

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the speakers (Burke, Sparkes, & Allen-Collinson, 2008). The effects of this pattern will be elaborated upon in the following section reviewing cognitive dissonance theory. Incongruity Theory. Incongruity theory describes humor as a process tied to the experience of the inconsistencies found in everyday life. Incongruity, as stated by McGhee, is defined as something unexpected, out of context, inappropriate, unreasonable, illogical, [and/or] exaggerated (as cited in Lili, 2012, p. 10). Incongruity theory assumes that people laugh when situations contain these elements and are framed as humorous message content (Keith-Speigel, 1984, p. 19). According to Graham (1995), incongruity theories focus on the cognitive processes involved in perceiving humor and reacting to incongruities (i.e., humor results from the discovery of an incongruity) (p. 158). Several theorists argue that incongruities are at the core of all humorous messages (Lili, 2012) and that the discovery of an incongruity is an essential condition of humor (Graham, 1995; Perlmutter, 2002). The incongruity theory attempts to highlight the ways in which individuals make sense of conceptual inconsistencies through expressions of humor (i.e., jokes, wit, irony, sarcasm) and/or laughter. Cognitive Relief Theory. Of most relevance to this review is the cognitive relief theory of humor (Wilson, 1979), also referred to as the psychoanalytic theory of humor, originally proposed by Freud (1960). This theory assumes that people laugh in order to relieve cognitive tensions that are otherwise suppressed, thus creating psychological discomfort. Relief theory further suggests that laughter, (as a response to humor) functions as a vehicle to rid of built-up disagreeable emotions, cognitive tensions, and/or nervous energies as an attempt to regain cognitive homeostasis after a struggle or strain has occurred (Lynch, 2002). One form of humor associated with the relief theory is

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contextual irony, meaning that the seriousness (or lack of seriousness) of ones discourse is not consonant with the gravity of a situation (Perks, 2012, p. 124). This type of humor is routinely found in television shows such as The Colbert Report and/or Daily Show with John Stewart, where the show hosts use irony as a means to expose crisis situations. In this way, the humorist attempts to alleviate psychological discomfort (both on behalf of the speaker and audience) through the expression of contextual irony in the form of a joke. Relief theory provides a more comprehensive understanding about speaker motivations to reduce cognitive distress by establishing connections between the experience of psychological distress and the concurrent drive to regain cognitive homeostasis (neither positive or negative affect) through the use of humor. Research by Chapple and Ziebland (2004) on patients with testicular cancer reported that the patients jokes allowed for the expression of a wide range of emotions, including anxiety, guilt, disappointment, anger and group which helped the patients to manage feelings, reduce tensions and share solidarity among other patients (p. 1125). This tension management is made possible because the relief theory assumes an affective change in the message sender and receiver through the use of humor (Perks, 2012). This theory provides a platform for exploring the ways in which humor functions as a cognitive dissonance reduction strategy for message senders by reducing tensions, thus allowing message senders to regain a homeostatic cognitive state during experiences of dissonance. In order to further develop this conclusion, a review of cognitive dissonance theory and dissonance reduction strategies is provided as context for this potential phenomenon.

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Cognitive Dissonance Theory The theory of cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957) is predicated on the assumption that people have certain cognitions, or pieces of knowledge, about ones own behavior and about the surrounding world, including the behavior and opinions of other people, as well as perceived characteristics of the physical world (Brehm, 2007, p. 382). These cognitions are reflective of individuals past experiences and carry potential to shape behaviors and attitudes (Oshikawa, 1968). Cognitive dissonance occurs when two or more cognitions or thoughts are in disagreement with one another, (Festinger, 1957, p. 20) thus creating an uncomfortable cognitive state. Because people have a need for consistency, a discrepancy occurs between cognitions which results in tension (Stiff & Mongeau in press). Cognitive dissonance has typically been studied in situations where individuals are required to make a decision between competing and favorable alternatives (Graham, 2007). A common example of cognitive dissonance can be found in the following circumstance: a smoker continues to smoke regardless of their belief that smoking causes negative or detrimental effects to their health (Dijkstra, 2009). In this example, the smokers belief about their behavior is discrepant with the behavior itself. Cognitive dissonance theory accounts for situations in which an individual may believe one thing, yet acts or behaves in a different way. According to Brehm (2007), the magnitude of dissonance one experiences is directly related to three factors- importance of cognitions, resistance to change, and the relationship of the person to the cognition (i.e., how individuals perceive the cognition in relation to self). In other words dissonance is primarily dependent on the importance ones eventual decision made in order to reduce (and/or cope with) the tension, and [the] relative attractiveness of the unchosen alternative (Stiff & Mongeau, in press). Some individuals self-reported greater

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tolerances and/or tendencies for cognitive dissonance based on various personality characteristics (Hawkins, 1972; Shaffer, Hendrick, Regula, & Freccona, 1973). For example, research by Burke, Sparkes, and Allen-Collinson (2008) showed that people who demonstrated a low tolerance for cognitive dissonance were more likely to display greater efforts to reduce it than people with a high tolerance. High tolerance has been associated with a strong sense of humor or sense of self. Although tolerance in this case was not operationally defined, Hawkins (1972) described these relationships in terms of personality characteristics, suggesting that some individuals are more prone to anxiety under certain conditions, and therefore, the experience of cognitive dissonance. As such, individuals develop differing thresholds over time in order to cope with anxiety and manage cognitive dissonance. Graham (2007) further suggested that different types of moral dilemmas complicate this process and elicit different levels of dissonance based on the moral beliefs of the individual. Moreover, experimental research by Oshikawa (1968) on the theory of cognitive dissonance post decision-making, concluded that the stronger cognitive dissonance is experienced by individuals, the more motivated they were to reduce dissonance by reevaluating their attitudes (p. 429). Researchers agree that humans are naturally driven to reduce cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957) because it is an uncomfortable state (Graham, 2007). Several reduction strategies have been explored including those focused on human development (Egan, Santos, & Bloom), self-concept (Graham, 2007), and psychological discomfort (Graham, 2007; Oshikawa, 1968). For example, a study by Egan, Santos and Bloom (2007) suggested that this innate motivation to reduce dissonance is both a developmental and evolutionary adaptation aimed at resolving internal inconsistencies. Other researchers have concluded that the need to reduce cognitive dissonance occurs as a restorative strategy to regain a preferred self-concept (Stone &

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Cooper, 1999). Research by Stone and Cooper highlighted this relationship and suggested that dissonance occurs when self-standards are discrepant, and when/because cultural or group norms are breached (p. 6). So, if an individual assesses ones actions against perceived normative patterns of behavior, and concludes that their behavior is discrepant, the goal is then, to restore the moral and adaptive integrity of the overall self-system, thus maintaining the integrity of ones self-concept (Stone & Cooper, 1999, p. 2). Cognitive dissonance has also been connected to feelings of increased anxiety, stress, and psychological discomfort (Hawkins, 1972). According to Elliot and Devine (1994), discomfort is a mandatory condition for dissonance to occur, and due to this condition, individuals enter a drive state, much like hunger, to reduce tensions. Overall, cognitive dissonance researchers assume that humans have tendencies toward equilibrium that create these drive states to reduce dissonance (Carter, 1959). It is by these assumptions that the cognitive relief theory of humor provides a further explanation to the ways in which humor functions to alleviate tensions created by cognitive dissonance. Cognitive Dissonance Reduction Cognitive dissonance reduction has traditionally been categorized into three separate strategies (Cooper, 2007; Festinger, 1957; Graham 2007; Stiff & Mongeau, in press), with variations of these strategies elaborated upon by critical-cultural scholars (Burke, Sparkes, & Allen-Collinson, 2008; Mahaffy, 1996). The first strategy to reduce cognitive dissonance requires an individual to alter her/his attitude related to the behavior to make it more consistent with their decision (Festinger, 1957). Thus, cognitive dissonance is reduced by attitude change (Cooper, 1992). In doing so, an individual may reevaluate their original attitudes about their decision and develop more favorable thoughts about their choice or preference, and a more

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negative view of the unchosen option (Oshikawa, 1968). According to Cooper (1992) cognitive dissonance is most easily achieved through these means. The second method occurs when the message sender attempts to add new cognitions (i.e., information) that are consonant with their behavior. Individuals may do so by seeking out new information or emphasizing beliefs that support their behavior. Finally, the third strategy is for individuals to decrease the importance or value of the conflicting beliefs (Carter, 1959; Graham, 2007). Research by Stiff and Mongeau (in press) summarized research that found this process achieved by forming negative attitudes about the decision alternatives that were not chosen. Ones mood has also shown to have an effect on individuals motivation to reduce cognitive dissonance, such that a negative mood and high dissonance experience drives ones motivation to repair the negative affective state (Jonas, Graupmann, & Frey, 2006). In a qualitative study of identity and cognitive dissonance, Mahaffy (1996) explored the tensions between two competing identities- women who identified as both lesbian and Christian, in order to understand the experience of cognitive dissonance that occurs when ones actions go against their theological belief system. After interviewing multiple women, the researchers found that the participants used a variety of strategies to reduce cognitive dissonance in order to maintain consonant cognitions. These strategies included altering ones interpretation of scripture to fit their attitudes, ignoring others perceptions and responses, emphasizing morality a central to their relationship with God (i.e., Gods love for all), reevaluating ones identity in the context of religion, and embracing uncertainty as a leap of faith. Several of these coping mechanisms demonstrate how the three traditional strategies listed above may be creatively contextualized to fit a variety of scenarios. Furthermore, many of the women described the experience of cognitive dissonance reduction as reflexive process, one that occurred over time

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and with social support. Social support was also evident in the study by Chapple and Ziebland (2004) with patients diagnosed with testicular cancer that used joking as a means to communicate shared feelings of sadness, grief, uncertainty, and embarrassment. Burke, Sparkes, and Allen-Collinson (2008) also described cognitive dissonance reduction as a reflective, social process in their ethnographic study of high altitude climbers. In their study, climbers were asked to reflect on their experience of cognitive dissonance when their attempts to climb Mt. Everest were not met with success, despite their expressed intentions to reach the top of the mountain. For the climbers, the resolution of cognitive dissonance was reported as a reflexive experience produced in dialogue with fellow climbers. They were able to resolve dissonance by reconstructing their past alongside others (i.e., experience climbing Mt. Everest) over time and through elaborate stories. Their findings conclude that cognitive dissonance involves a mutually elaborative process in which meaning is accomplished from within the interactions with others who share similar cognitions (p. 352). Earlier research by Hunt (1970) reported comparable results in the study of consumers post-transaction communication as dissonance reduction. Here, the dissonance experienced by discrepant purchasing behavior (i.e., making a purchase then feeling guilty and/or bad for the purchase) was reduced via dialogue between consumers and retail companies when the consumers were thanked for their purchase. Making Connections After thoroughly reviewing the literature on humor theories and functions, alongside cognitive dissonance theory and reduction strategies, there is a clear overlap in the research that suggests the potential for humor as a cognitive dissonance reduction strategy. The aforementioned research on humor and cognitive dissonance suggests compelling evidence that

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humor does relieve cognitive dissonance due to its potential to reduce uncertainty, alleviate negative psychological tensions, and influence positive affective states. It is also clear that there are many parallels between the cognitive relief theory of humor (Freud, 1960) and the experience of cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957), such that relief theory explains the role of humor during experiences of cognitive dissonance. Although there is no existing study that establishes these connections, efforts will be made to highlight research from which this connection may be explored in greater depth. First and foremost, communication scholars have determined that the expression of humor is a deliberative act that requires communicative effort on behalf of the sender (Wanzer, Booth-Butterfield & Booth-Butterfield, 1995). It has also been determined that humor is not typically communicated for the sole purpose of being funny, but that humorists frequently maintain alternative goals, such as rendering laughter to gain favor with audiences (Chapman & Chapman, 1974; Lili, 2012), or to facilitate social interaction (Norrick, 1993). Through laughter and shared humor, social bonds are strengthened (Lili, 2012). Summarizing these findings together, it is safe to assume that humor is a motivated, goal-oriented, and social phenomenon with the power to shape attitudes and/or behavioral outcomes. It is essential to understand that under these conditions, humor as a cognitive dissonance reduction strategy may occur more frequently in the presence of others. However, research has shown that expressions of humor produce a variety of positive and worthwhile internal outcomes for speakers. According to Chapple and Ziebland (2004), under unpleasant psychological conditions of distress, humor provided individuals with a means of exploring ambiguous situations[and] distancing unpleasantness (p. 1124). For example, the researchers found that joking with others frequently allowed speakers to express shared feelings

HUMOR AS COGNITIVE DISSONANCE REDUCTION of anxiety, guilt, disappointment, [and] anger in health settings where fatal health diagnoses were administered to patients with cancer (p. 1125). Kelly (2002) explained that a sense of humor during times of anxiety or worry, or rather the ability to cognitively reframe unpleasant events as humorous, helped individuals decrease depression, loneliness, negative mood, and social inadequacy (p. 658). Given this research, there are several inherent cognitive and social rewards for the speaker through the use of humor to reduce dissonant states. With regard to cognitive dissonance, humor has been studied as a source of dissonance

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on many occasions, but not necessarily as a reduction strategy. For example, Hobden and Olsen (1994) studied the effects of disparagement humor as the source of dissonance by testing whether participants who freely told disparaging jokes about lawyers experienced cognitive dissonance under certain conditions (i.e., when the jokes were tape recorded and participants were told the recordings would be used in a future study with high-school students). The hypothesis was that telling disparaging jokes about lawyers may produce undesirable outcomes for the speakers such as strengthening listeners stereotypes, offending listeners, or damaging ones reputation that could have been anticipated, thus creating dissonance (p. 240). However, this effect was not shown in all cases. The explanation provided was that perhaps humor is recognized as a domain where speakers do not necessarily believe their messages, in which case individuals might feel little self-presentational pressure to appear consistent with their joke telling behavior (p. 247). Although this study aimed to investigate humor as a source of cognitive dissonance, the results carry valuable implications for the study of humor as a cognitive dissonance reduction strategy, due to the nature of humor to allow for these kinds of attitudinal and behavioral deviations in message senders.

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Similar results were reported in a study of African Americans and their experience of cognitive dissonance as a result of showing support for the Chappelle Show (Relevance and racial humor, n.d.). The Chappelle Show has a solid history of showcasing racial discrimination and prejudice of the African American community through humorous acts and discourse, performed by Dave Chappelle and fellow comedians. After interviewing African Americans about the ways in which the various acts conflicted with their racial ideologies, the participants who selected a humorous framework from which to make interpretations reported that the show had little effect on their attitudes because it was just humor. Although humor was not employed by the participants as a means to reduce cognitive dissonance, the experience of humor allowed for a state of reduced dissonance among viewers when attitudes (racial ideologies) and behaviors (support for the show) were inconsistent. This assertion may be supported by the idea that joking lowers the threat of stress and anxiety (Romero & Cruthirds, 2006) such that when individuals make a joke about a stressful situation, one develops a sense of dominance and control over it, which is incompatible with [the production of] stress and anxiety (p. 62). For example, self-enhancing humor has been shown to reduce stress in several work related scenarios between managers and subordinates, demonstrating the cognitive relief theory of humor (Meyer, 2000; Romero & Cruthirds, 2006). In efforts to draw connections between the use of humor under stressful conditions and the potential to relieve cognitive dissonance, Meyer (2000) explained: Communicators take advantage of humor by telling a joke, often at the beginning of their remarks, to defuse a potentially tense situation. Often tension results from dissonance people experience after making a decision or sensing the approach of incompatible and undesirable thoughts or actions. Because people desire and find it

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pleasing to reduce dissonance (Festinger, 1957), speakers who do so can create humor[to] make the situation seem more elastic, or more manageable by showing that difficulties are not so overwhelming. (p. 312). This explanation may be the closest researchers have come to drawing connections between humor and cognitive dissonance reduction. Given this explanation, speakers may produce humor during their experience of cognitive dissonance, thus making light of the situation or their decision. In this way, humor functions as a communicative (re)framing tool and/or a verbal manifestation of dissonance that aims to produce mirth in place of tension. Conclusions, Implications and Future Directions The study of humor as a cognitive dissonance reduction strategy carries several implications for the study of communication. To summarize the above literature, one may assume that under conditions of cognitive dissonance, humor functions as a cognitive and communicative reframing device that enables speakers to reduce tensions. This is achieved through the production of humorous messages during instances of cognitive dissonance after a decision has been made, perhaps best produced in the presence of others due to the affiliative functions of humor including the production of laughter by message receivers and the experience of joy that humor creates among group members. As it relates to cognitive dissonance reduction (Cooper, 2007; Festinger, 1957; Graham 2007; Stiff & Mongeau, in press), one may argue that humor provides a framework from which to employ tension reducing strategies. In other words, humor shapes (i.e., sets the tone for) the experience of cognitive dissonance reduction. There are several implications regarding these assertions: humor carries potential to shape or change peoples attitudes and/or behaviors by adopting a more humorous outlook on the decision elements; humor provides new cognitions in the forms of jokes and/or stories that relieve

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tensions (cognitive relief theory); and humor assists people in devaluing decision alternatives. For example, through ridicule or sarcasm (humor styles consistent with superiority theory), speakers can make their cognitions and subsequent behaviors appear more entertaining. It is also possible that humor functions to temporarily suspend tensions until a future point when an attitude or behavior change occurs, or when uncertainty might be reduced; however, these conclusions have yet to be tested. There are many variables that remain untested and therefore remain a mystery for humor and communication scholars. For example, scholars cannot yet determine whether or not speakers are motivated by humor to reduce cognitive dissonance, what kinds of decisions encourage the use of humor (e.g., moral, ethical, practical, critical), and/or if speakers are aware of this potential. Future directions therefore include the study of speakers motivations, their sense of humor in relation to proneness for cognitive dissonance, and the circumstances that render humor as a cognitive dissonance reduction strategy effective and useful in daily interactions. Future studies should seek to determine whether or not the use of humor is a purposeful strategy, and what characteristics influence this method of cognitive dissonance recovery. The inclusion of these studies in the communication discipline will assist in establishing the sound relationship between the study of humor as a motivated strategy and conceptual framework from which to reduce cognitive dissonance.

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