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Big Laugh at a Big Wheel

A look at some current research that merits a raised eyebrow or a painful grin.

This Just In: Man on a Unicycle Earns Mockery, Derision From Passersby*

Humor is just another form of testosterone-fueled aggression, according to Professor Sam Shuster, and he should know: He spent a year riding a unicycle through the streets of Newcastle upon Tyne in England. Surprised by the attention his hobby drew, Shuster decided to make an observational study. More than 90 percent of people responded physically to the unexpected sight of a unicycling professor, giving an exaggerated wave or stare, and almost half responded verbally — more men than women. Indeed, the differences between the two sexes in verbal responses were striking: 95 percent of adult women expressed encouragement, praise or concern, but almost none let fly with a snide remark or a pebble.

Men, on the other hand, were pigs; only one in four responded with compliments or concern. About 75 percent of males poked fun at Professor Shuster. Fully two-thirds of the put-downs referred to the number of wheels. (A variant on “Lost your wheel?” was the most popular jibe, while the lack of handlebars also drew negative attention.)

Unsurprisingly, late-teenage males were the most disparaging, and young men in cars were particularly aggressive. Shuster explains the age connection by noting that post-puberty put-downs conceal a latent aggression in men who are at the peak of their virility, and the use of humor is very much intertwined with mating rituals. As Shuster wrote: “The present finding that humor may reflect androgen-induced aggression could provide a Darwinian explanation both of its attraction and its continued use as a sexually useful tool.”

* Yes, this was written by a male.

A Bunch of Bozos
Since we’re on the subject of unicycles, researchers from the University of Sheffield who were exploring ways to enhance the decor of hospital children’s wards made a startling discovery: All 250 patients between the ages of 4 and 16 who were surveyed said they disliked clowns. “We found that clowns are universally disliked by children,” said one of the researchers. “Some found them quite frightening and unknowable.”

Recommended Reading
“Can 12 large clowns fit in a Mini Cooper? Or when are beliefs and reasoning explicit and conscious?” — Developmental Science, September 2004

Sarcasm? Yeah, That’s a Great Research Subject
Humor, it seems, is hot in academics. The first study to demonstrate regional and gender differences in the use of sarcasm was published in the March issue of the Journal of Language and Social Psychology. According to the authors, who subjected college students in New York and Tennessee to tasks designed to measure their use of sarcasm, Northerners and men turned to it the most. A “‘culture of honor’ would predict that Southern participants should view sarcastic comments as less humorous,” the authors wrote. “…The United States has a great deal of internal migration (e.g., Northeasterners retiring to the Gulf Coast), and differing views of verbal irony may be a source of confusion.”

When the Party Starts to Drag, Mention You Just Finished Reading …
“Kernel Conditional Quantile Estimation for Stationary Processes with Application to Conditional Value-at-Risk” in the latest Journal of Financial Econometrics.

And, Finally, the Last Word …
“I’m receiving salmon sperm from researchers around the world wanting to see if their sperm is good enough.” University of Cincinnati Professor Andrew Steckl, a leading expert in light-emitting diodes, is intensifying the properties of LEDs by introducing biological materials — specifically salmon DNA — into them, in collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory. We wish him the best of luck.
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