I was intrigued by this week’s Headline — each week’s stories end with one, usually with some sort of twist, from a real news source:
‘Class Clowns’ May Also Be the Most Intelligent Students
WGN Chicago headline
As a wanna-be writer I figured I needed to know how to type, so I took typing in high school. I always made sure I got there early so I could get one of the few IBM Selectrics, rather than the old manual machines.
The teacher, Ben Stein (though not this one), usually had us type random stuff for the second half of the class, just so we could get some practice in. Bored with the material in the book, I instead wrote crank letters to Mr. Stein, such as one saying the school hadn’t paid for the typewriters, and they would be repossessed. Would Tuesday work for him?
I can’t remember which college lecturer I harassed with a stream of one-liners all semester in a speech communication class, but it was extra fun because he not only stifled a chuckle each time, he paused trying to think of a comeback …and never could come up with anything good enough.
“Speech Communication” is the name of the department, and I minored in that …with a twist. I designed my own program with them, which they signed off even considering what it really was: my minor, I usually say, is Nonverbal Communication. That’s right: from the Speech Communication department.
The course of study consisted of a number of the department’s regular classes, advanced studies in “implicit communications” (usually referred to as body language), and a year of American Sign Language. The advanced study was particularly interesting: those are some of the few textbooks I kept …and should dig out again. They were written by Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, and the school brought him up to teach a seminar. A few of us went out to dinner with him afterward.
One of the things I learned well from Mehrabian was how body language communicates dominance and submissiveness in social interaction. He even brought a film to demonstrate the points.
Not long after, a few guys and I decided to rent an apartment together. It was a primo location, and the particular apartment we were going for was built specifically for the owner to live in. Even though he never lived there, that apartment was special to him: he wouldn’t rent it until the prospective tenants came to his office for an interview. He was a lawyer.
For some reason my three buddies chose me, the most introverted, to be the spokesman for the group. As he spoke with us, I started getting the feeling that he wasn’t convinced we would be the best tenants. That’s when my education kicked in — first, noticing he was signaling dominance (not surprising for a lawyer!), and then that I was signaling significant submissiveness: sitting at the edge of my chair, leaning toward him, and probably had an unfavorable facial expression.
So I confidently slid back in my chair, leaning into its back. I crossed my legs (one ankle on the opposite knee), which put up a mental barrier. I smiled, and looked away for a moment to break any “eye lock.”
It was astounding to watch as his dominance disappeared and I took control of the meeting — in the matter of less than a minute. Very shortly thereafter, he not only agreed that we could rent the apartment, he said he was going to raise the rent with this particular turnover, but decided not to.
Thank you Dr. Mehrabian!
My Now-Rusty American Sign Language is still useful: I had to call upon it on an ambulance call recently with a deaf patient.
She laughed when I signed that I only remember a little bit, and she replied verbally (she could talk just fine) that she also could only remember a little; she mostly reads lips. But I used signing for various things, such as to ask if she had pain, to ask if something was “a long time ago,” and “wait” — she figured she had to stand up and walk to the ambulance, but for medical reasons that wasn’t a good idea, so I had her wait for the ambulance crew to wheel the gurney inside.
Anyway, the headline refers to an actual study published in the scholarly journal Humor: International Journal of Humor Research (yes, really!), which was established “for the publication of high-quality research papers on humor as an important and universal human faculty.” It’s the official journal of the International Society of Humor Studies.
See? I told you this stuff was important! The full text of the study is available here, should you wonder how humor is researched, in this case among schoolchildren.
Study Summary: researchers rated each student’s humor, and then gave them all I.Q. tests. The more intelligent the student, they found, the better their humor and, particularly, its relevance to what they were commenting upon. Clever research!
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