“…there is no authoritative definition of the sense of humor, and it is also not yet clear what ‘laughing at oneself’ is, or if it even actually occurs in people’s everyday behavior.”
– explain authors Dr. Ursula Beermann and Prof. Dr. Willibald Ruch, who conducted the very first scientific study on the subject of ‘laughing at oneself’ at the University of Zurich in 2009. The two investigators showed a series of ‘Distorted Pictures of Oneself’ and ‘Distorted Pictures of Strangers’ to 67 experimental participants while a hidden video camera recorded the resulting facial and verbal responses (or lack thereof) [*see note (1) below]. The participants also filled in questionnaires self-rating their level of funniness arousal and aversion etc.
“Using distorted portraits of the participants, it could not only be shown that‘laughing at oneself’ exists and different methods of its measurement converge. It was also demonstrated that the behavior is, indeed, laughing.”
The paper Can people really “laugh at themselves?”—Experimental and correlational evidence is published in the journal Emotion, Vol 11(3), Jun 2011, 492-501 (priced at $11.95) . A previous version can be read in full here for free (scroll to page 101 in the .pdf)
Note (1) “The iterative rate of laughter ranged from 0 (no laughter at all) via 1 (single expulsion of air, such as ‘ha’) to 2 (multiple expulsion of air, such as ‘ha-ha-ha’).”
Note (2) The study complements previous work on self-aimed humor:
“Nevo (1985) studied laughing at one’s own expense in Jewish and Arab participants, who rated funniness of jokes with a Jewish and with an Arab butt.”