Seeking the link between sexist humour and the reasons why: Global Undergraduate Award Profile

Catherine Li

Catherine Li
Global Winner
2020 Global Undergraduate Awards
Category: Psychology

Catherine Li
wanted to understand the link between personality traits and sexist humour as a path to understanding how sexist attitudes still persist in our 21st-century society. 

“We’ve been making strides towards gender equality for decades – and particularly since the feminist movement of the 1970s. However, while overt sexist behaviours are now regarded as socially unacceptable, sexist attitudes have been increasingly pervasive in more subtle ways, such as through humour,” explained Li. 

“Sexist humour stretches the boundaries of what’s acceptable and makes it safer for people to express these attitudes. The research is important because the enjoyment of such humour has been linked to detrimental effects such as increased tolerance of sex discrimination and greater incidence of rape.”   

“A crucial step in reducing sexist attitudes, the associated consequences, and understanding how we can stand up against them, is to understand the individuals who enjoy this brand of humour and why they like it.”

Her project, Seriousness of Humour: Examining the Relationship and Pathways Between Sexist Humour and Dark Tetrad Traits, used a large survey of undergraduate students to understand and analyze their reactions to scenarios involving sexist jokes, statements and events, and how they might be linked to already validated personality trait scales. 

“The findings suggest that those higher on psychopathy, Machiavellianism and sadism tend to enjoy sexist humour because they have difficulties relating emotionally to the harm this appreciation may inflict on others, and because they realize that these attitudes can be expressed with minimal social consequences. Interestingly, only those who scored high on these specific traits in combination with finding it difficult to relate to others emotionally and cognitively were the ones who enjoyed the sexist statements and events.”

The study was the first of its kind and Li is excited about the potential for building upon the findings for future research. “Future studies could investigate the impact of sexist humour through facial expressions, psychophysiological measures and neurophenomenological measures to establish converging evidence for the current findings. It would also be interesting to explore this in the context of racist humour.”

Li, who is completing her Honours Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in French Studies, had an additional paper recognized among the top ten per cent in the Psychology category. For both projects, Li worked with supervisor, Professor Don Saklofske in the Department of Psychology. 

“I feel like my undergraduate degree has been fairly tumultuous,” said Li, who started in business-related studies then switched to psychology as a major. “I’m so grateful to the professors, graduate students, friends and family members who’ve helped and supported me these past couple of years. This accomplishment wouldn’t have been possible without them.”

“I’m hoping to pursue graduate studies in clinical psychology and receiving this award at this time is most fortuitous and encouraging. It also makes me to feel like I’m on the right path.”