Humor is important for human emotion, socialisation, emotion, and coping. Although laughing is universal, and even common in babies (although we don’t know exactly what they are laughing about, of course), there are jokes that require complex thought and reasoning (cognitive abilities).


Sense of humor: For example how much people laugh about and appreciate jokes.

Style of humor: For example sarcastic, self-defeating, etc.

Anyone knows that that people differ greatly in their sense of humor and styles of humor. A sense of humor is an important psychological trait, because it is relevant to how well people can cope with stress and difficulities, and it plays an important role in success in social interaction, including romantic attraction (a sense of humor is an attractive trait). Further, there are more male than female comedians, suggesting that biological factors play some role in peoples ability to be funny. Altogether, a fascinating topic!

Interesting video about humor by psychologist Peter McGraw

Humor is a concept with multiple dimensions, which can be part of different types of psychological traits (Martin). According to Martin (2003), sense of humor can be conceptualized as:

  1. a cognitive ability (you need to understand jokes, etc)

  2. an aesthetic response (you need to like certain types of jokes)

  3. an habitual behavior pattern (some people have the habit or laughing often, or of telling many jokes)

  4. an emotion-related temperament trait

  5. an attitude

  6. a coping strategy or defense mechanism

The use of humor is not always related to healthy psychological behavior. Some forms of humor are, while others are not (e.g., sarcasm). One of the special features of the HSQ is that it measures two positive and two negative dimensions of humor:

  1. Affiliative humor

  2. Self-enhancing humor

  3. Aggressive humor

  4. Self-defeating humor

For each dimension, there are eight 7-item questions.

In a study with 470 men and 725 women, the following averages were found (Martin et al., 2003):

Dimension Possible range Total Men Women

Affiliative humor





Self-enhancing humor





Aggressive humor





Self-defeating humor





For each dimension, men scored (statistically significant) higher than women.

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You can use the HSQ scale, as long as you acknowledge and cite the paper by Rod Martin and colleages.


This is a standard scale item including reverse coded items, for which the score option in curly brackets is used.

The survey code for PsyToolkit

Copy and paste this code to your PsyToolkit account if you want to use the scale in your own online research project
scale: hsq_agree
- totally disagree
- moderately disagree
- slightly disagree
- neither agree nor disagree
- slightly agree
- moderately agree
- totally agree

l: hsq
q: People experience and express humor in many different ways.<br>
Below is a list of statements describing different ways in which humor might be experienced.<br>
Please read each statement carefully, and indicate the degree<br>
to which you agree or disagree with it.<br>
Please respond as honestly and objectively as you can.
o: width 50%
t: scale hsq_agree
- {reverse} I usually don’t laugh or joke around much with other people.
- If I am feeling depressed, I can usually cheer myself up with humor.
- If someone makes a mistake, I will often tease them about it.
- I let people laugh at me or make fun at my expense more than I should.
- I don't have to work very hard at making other people laugh -- I seem to be a naturally humorous person.
- Even when I’m by myself, I’m often amused by the absurdities of life.
- {reverse} People are never offended or hurt by my sense of humor.
- I will often get carried away in putting myself down if it makes my family or friends laugh.
- {reverse} I rarely make other people laugh by telling funny stories about myself.
- If I am feeling upset or unhappy I usually try to think of something funny about the situation to make myself feel better.
- When telling jokes or saying funny things, I am usually not very concerned about how other people are taking it.
- I often try to make people like or accept me more by saying something funny about my own weaknesses, blunders, or faults.
- I laugh and joke a lot with my friends.
- My humorous outlook on life keeps me from getting overly upset or depressed about things.
- {reverse} I do not like it when people use humor as a way of criticizing or putting someone down.
- {reverse} I don’t often say funny things to put myself down.
- {reverse} I usually don’t like to tell jokes or amuse people.
- If I’m by myself and I’m feeling unhappy, I make an effort to think of something funny to cheer myself up.
- Sometimes I think of something that is so funny that I can’t stop myself from saying it, even if it is not appropriate for the situation.
- I often go overboard in putting myself down when I am making jokes or trying to be funny.
- I enjoy making people laugh.
- {reverse} If I am feeling sad or upset, I usually lose my sense of humor.
- {reverse} I never participate in laughing at others even if all my friends are doing it.
- When I am with friends or family, I often seem to be the one that other people make fun of or joke about.
- {reverse} I don’t often joke around with my friends.
- It is my experience that thinking about some amusing aspect of a situation is often a very effective way of coping with problems.
- If I don't like someone, I often use humor or teasing to put them down.
- If I am having problems or feeling unhappy, I often cover it up by joking around, so that even my closest friends don’t know how I really feel.
- {reverse} I usually can’t think of witty things to say when I’m with other people.
- I don’t need to be with other people to feel amused -- I can usually find things to laugh about even when I’m by myself.
- {reverse} Even if something is really funny to me, I will not laugh or joke about it if someone will be offended.
- Letting others laugh at me is my way of keeping my friends and family in good spirits.

l: affiliative
t: set
- sum $hsq.1 $hsq.5 $hsq.9 $hsq.13 $hsq.17 $hsq.21 $hsq.25 $hsq.29

l: self_enhancing
t: set
- sum $hsq.2 $hsq.6 $hsq.10 $hsq.14 $hsq.18 $hsq.22 $hsq.26 $hsq.30

l: aggressive
t: set
- sum $hsq.3 $hsq.7 $hsq.11 $hsq.15 $hsq.19 $hsq.23 $hsq.27 $hsq.31

l: self_defeating
t: set
- sum $hsq.4 $hsq.8 $hsq.12 $hsq.16 $hsq.20 $hsq.24 $hsq.28 $hsq.32

# Affiliative Humor: 1*, 5, 9*, 13, 17*, 21, 25*, 29*
# Self-Enhancing Humor: 2, 6, 10, 14, 18, 22*, 26, 30
# Aggressive Humor: 3, 7*, 11, 15*, 19, 23*, 27, 31*
# Self-Defeating Humor: 4, 8, 12, 16*, 20, 24, 28, 32
# * Note: Items marked with * are reverse keyed; i.e., 1=7, 2=6, 3=5, 4=4, 5=3, 6=2, 7=1

l: feedback
t: info
q: Your scores:<br>
<li>Affiliative humor: {$affiliative}
<li>Self enhancing humor: {$self_enhancing}
<li>Aggressive humor: {$aggressive}
<li>Self-defeating humor: {$self_defeating}


  • Martin, R.A., Puhlik-Doris, P., Larsen, G., Gray, J., and Weir, K. (2003). Individual differences in uses of humor and their relation to psychological well-being: Development of the Humor Styles Questionnaire. Journal of Research in Personality, 37, 48-75.