Humour and group cohesion

2019-07-17

in Psychology, Science, Space and flight

Andy Weir’s hard sci-fi novel The Martian has a protagonist whose sense of humour was part of why he was selected as part of a crew for a Mars mission: “They all showed signs of stress and moodiness. Mark was no exception, but the way he showed it was to crack more jokes and get everyone laughing.”

Apparently, this accords with real research on interpersonal dynamics:

Something researchers have already learned from these experiments is that certain personality characteristics are essential to helping groups work well together. A good group needs a leader, a social secretary, a storyteller and a mixture of introverts and extroverts. Intriguingly, by far the most important role seems to be that of the clown. According to Jeffrey Johnson, an anthropologist at the University of Florida who has spent years examining relations between people in Antarctic crews overwintering at the South Pole, the clown is not only funny, he is also smart and knows each member of the group well enough to defuse most of the tensions that might arise during long periods of close contact. This sounds rather like the role of a jester in a royal court. The clown also acts as a bridge between different groups of people—in Antarctica the clowns linked scientists on the base with the tradesmen who also worked there. In groups that tended to fight most or to lose coherence, Dr Johnson found, there was usually no clown.

Perhaps that helps explain the sometimes childish humour in Mike Mullane’s account of the space shuttle program?

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. July 30, 2019 at 2:07 pm

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