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J Behav Ther Exp Psychiatry. 2012 Mar;43(1):625-31. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2011.08.007. Epub 2011 Sep 8.

Perception of other people's mental states affects humor in social anxiety.

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Department of Psychology, Stanford University, 450 Serra Mall, Bldg 420, Stanford, CA 94035, USA.



The present study examined the relationship between social anxiety and the appreciation of specific types of humor. It was expected that social anxiety would hinder the enjoyment of jokes particularly if the resolution of incongruity involves processing social cues and assessing the (false) mental states of others. Fifty-six participants rated three types of cartoons and a control condition for comprehensibility and funniness.


High degrees of social anxiety were associated with less enjoyment of cartoons that involved the interpretation of others' mental states (Theory of Mind), but not of semantic cartoons or visual puns. Furthermore, high social anxiety was related to longer response latencies of the funniness ratings, especially in the case of Theory of Mind cartoons.


A possible limitation is that the present study was conducted in individuals with social anxiety in the non-clinical range.


The findings suggest that highly socially anxious people do not have a general humor processing deficit, but may feel threatened by tasks involving the mental states of others. The negative affect evoked by TOM humor may hinder the experience of funniness in highly socially anxious individuals, and it may also make it more difficult for them to rate their own amusement.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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