Doctoral thesis

Humor in neurodevelopmental conditions : cognitive competencies, individual differences, and expressivity in relation to humor in individuals with autism spectrum disorder and Williams syndrome


  • Fribourg (Switzerland), 2024

1 ressource en ligne (219 pages) ; 1 fichier pdf

Thèse: Université de Fribourg (Suisse), 2023

English Humor is an important component of human communication that enhances the
quality of social interactions and fosters social bonding. Moreover, humor can enrich
psychological well-being, notably through its role in emotion regulation. Indeed, humor can help people to deal with their negative emotions, either through distraction, by occupying their mind with a humorous thought, or through helping them to reinterpret a given situation differently. However, humor also presents with a darker side. When it is intentionally hurtful, it can have strong negative consequences on the well-being of victims of mockery. Similar consequences can result if humor is wrongly perceived. It is thus important to better understand humor processing in individuals with different conditions, who might develop specific positive or negative relationships with humor. The goal of this cumulative thesis was, therefore, to contribute to ongoing research regarding the understanding of humor processing in individuals with neurodevelopmental conditions, specifically autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and Williams syndrome (WS), two conditions that appear to be at two extreme poles of the social motivation spectrum. Moreover, this thesis takes on a transdiagnostic perspective, to read individual differences regarding humor processing and appreciation
beyond specific developmental condition classifications. This thesis is situated around three main components of humor: cognitive competencies, individual characteristics, and behavioral responses. These components are explained and developed in the introductory chapter (Chapter 1: Introduction). First, the cognitive foundations of humor are briefly presented, with a particular focus on incongruityresolution theories of humor. It is argued and demonstrated that humor is a complex cognitive task to process, much more than it might initially appear. Second, this chapter addresses how humor can be differentially perceived according to the individual characteristics that influence the development of specific humor styles, how humor is appreciated, and the
general temperament of people toward humoristic interactions. The third part of this
introductory chapter describes the behavioral responses that are commonly related to the appreciation of humor, namely smiles and laughter. To convey the conceptual foundations of the concept of humor as it is approached in this thesis, a section on the functions of humor highlights why the study of humor in neurodevelopmental conditions is necessary and important. Next, since this thesis focuses on ASD and WS, these conditions are briefly described and presented. So too is Down syndrome (DS), a third group of investigation. This chapter also clarifies why and how ASD and WS appear as two extremes of a social motivation spectrum and addresses what research has already brought to the knowledge base on humor in these two conditions. Finally, the Introduction chapter closes with a discussion of the goals and methodological context of this thesis. This cumulative thesis is based on four articles: Articles 1 to 4. The discussion of these is presented in Chapter 2: Articles. Article 1 presents a conceptual overview of the research and knowledge base on humor processing in individuals with ASD and WS, and suggests several lines of thought for future research. Article 2 presents the results of a survey-based study on gelotophobia (i.e., the fear of being laughed at), which was distributed to the parents of young individuals (5–25 years of age) with ASD (N = 48), WS (N = 43), and DS (N = 139). The results confirmed that autistic individuals are particularly prone to developing gelotophobia and this tendency is in line with their high-level seriousness and bad mood. These results also suggest to understand these individual differences from a transdiagnostic perspective. Article 3 presents the results of a second survey-based study that investigated
different humor styles; this was distributed to the parents of young verbal individuals (5–25 years old) with ASD (N = 31), WS (N = 34), and DS (N = 82). The results showed that autistic individuals seem to engage more in self-defeating humor and from a transdiagnostic perspective, this is linked to their tendency to develop conduct problems. Finally, Article 4 presents an experimental study that investigated expressive responses to humorous and non-humorous stimuli, and a general understanding of simple types of humor, in individuals with WS (N = 8) and typically developing (TD) children (N = 9). The results revealed that individuals with WS are able to understand and appreciate simple humor in much the same way as TD children, but they tend to express more “extreme” responses in the sense that they more easily engage in laughing out loud. The final chapter of this thesis (Chapter 3: General discussion and conclusion) presents a general overview and discussion of the main findings of all four articles and examines what they bring to the ongoing knowledge base on humor in general as well as in neurodevelopmental conditions. This chapter also resumes the strength and importance of interpreting the survey-based findings presented in Articles 2 and 3 from a transdiagnostic perspective and offers several practical implications and suggestions for future research. This final chapter also presents the main limitations and strengths of the research presented in this thesis and closes with some concluding remarks. Overall, this thesis refines our understanding and raises awareness of individual differences in relation to humor processing.
Faculté des lettres et des sciences humaines
  • English
  • Bibliographie
Open access status
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