New psychology research finds a link between insecure attachment and comedic style

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  • Professors Mirko Duradoni, Alberto Dionigi and Psychologist Laura Vagnoli have discovered strong links between insecure attachment styles and somebody’s sense of humor.
  • They found that anxious and avoidant individuals who are overly needy for romantic validation or overly avoidant of it tended to find certain types of humor funnier than others.
  • The study has a therapeutic context and will help us understand ourselves and others more fully.

Does your sense of humor relate to how you love and date?

New peer-reviewed research from the University of Florence in Italy indicates a profound connection between our attachment styles and what we find funny.

The findings of this study are important for understanding the link between what we joke about and laugh at and the way we give and receive love.

Let’s take a look at what researchers discovered.

What did the study prove?

Professors Mirko Duradoni, Alberto Dionigi and Psychologist Laura Vagnoli have discovered strong links between insecure attachment styles and somebody’s sense of humor.

They found that anxious and avoidant individuals who are overly needy for romantic validation or overly avoidant of it tended to find certain types of humor funnier than others.

Specifically, anxious individuals who crave reassurance they are loved and wanted found ironic jokes and humor funnier and did not tend to respond well to wit or lighthearted joking.

The avoidant individuals who feel stifled when they feel a lot of intimacy coming their way from a partner find sarcasm and nonsense jokes funny and did not respond in any particular way to the other types of humor.

How was the study done?

The study was carried out with 636 Italian adults from 18 to 81 years old randomly selected and invited to participate in a 48-question online survey. Participants remained anonymous.

Their placement on a scale of determining their tendency to anxious or avoidant attachment style was measured, as well as what kinds of humor they find funny.

Subsequently, any correlation between insecure attachment styles and sense of humor were analyzed.

Eight senses of humor were investigated in relation to insecure attachment styles, namely four “dark” (cynicism, sarcasm, satire, irony) and four “light” (fun, benevolent joking, witty, nonsense).

Why does this research matter?

Attachment theory was developed by the late British psychologist John Bowlby in the 1950s and advanced further by psychologist Mary Ainsworth in the 1970s as well as M. Main and J. Solomon in the mid-1980s.

Follow-up research has tended to corroborate the main claims of attachment theory.

It posits that our earliest experiences giving and receiving attention and love as infants and kids continue to influence us throughout life in our romantic and close relationships.

Attachment theory suggests that we are evolutionarily designed to seek close affection and trust bonds with caregivers for the sake of our survival, particularly in our first year of life.

When we receive an adequate amount of responsible love, often from the mother or the one raising us most directly, we tend to develop a secure attachment style of being able and emotionally sound to give and receive love without running away from it or being needy.

When we receive too little affection and attention from the mother figure, we may develop an insecure attachment style of being anxious for love and validation or feeling we are “not good enough” and need to be reassured of our value.

When we are given an overly stifling and controlling amount of affection or treated poorly in our younger years, we may develop an avoidant attachment style and feel distrustful and repulsed by too much love and attention.

How we give and receive love has a huge impact on our psychological well-being in life, and so does laughter and humor.

How we joke and what we laugh at can help us form bonds, relate to others, lighten difficult situations, reconcile with partners and build strong friendships and romantic relationships.

Its relation to our attachment styles can unlock major advances in therapeutic treatment and working to improve attachment styles and relationship difficulties and frustrations.

Past research has indicated that insecure attachment styles are more prone to sarcastic and cynical types of humor, but it’s never investigated the specifics.

Duradoni, Dionigi and Vagnoli wanted to look into the specific subcategories or humor and see if they were linked to anxious or avoidant attachment styles.

They found that anxiously attached individuals tended to prefer being ironic to reaffirm their feeling of not being adequately appreciated and loved.

Anxiously attached folks also ranked low in use of affiliative or bonding humor that lifts oneself and others up. Instead, they prefer self-deprecating humor or putting themselves down in order to try to gain more approval and love.

As they note in their study:

“Anxiously attached people because of their feeling of not being properly appreciated and loved are more insecure in their relationships, and they are less likely to use a benevolent kind of humor that is strictly related to having a cheerful outlook on life.”

Avoidant individuals, by contrast, prefer sarcasm and nonsense because it helps them stay distant from others and put up a wall to keep people out. They also tended to eschew affiliative humor and prefer a more “aggressive” style of humor and putting people down.

As the researchers note, “sarcasm may be a way to express one’s emotional distress without openly declaring what was intended to be safely protected by the use of a humorous attempt.

Nonsense is based on playing with incongruities and ridiculousness without any purpose.”

The bottom line

This research from Duradoni, Dionigi and Vagnoli  is highly significant. It will likely prove helpful in a therapeutic context, but is also important in order to understand ourselves and others more fully.

Darker humor has its place, and some of the funniest comedians use sarcasm, satire and gallows humor to crack us all up.

There are many situations and events in life which lend themselves to sarcasm, irony, satire and darker humor.

But in a psychological context, it’s beneficial to look at why some of us tend towards more affiliative, detached or aggressive sense of humor, and this research sheds valuable light on that topic.

At the end of the day it’s clear that many of the roots of our earliest traumatic experiences and the patterns that reinforce them can also be found in the way we joke and what we find funny.

This understanding can potentially help unlock many doors to facing the pain and learning to relate healthily and intimately to others in our lives.

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