Risqué Business? Interpersonal Anxiety and Humor in the #MeToo Era

Jamie L. Gloor, Cecily D. Cooper, Lynn Bowes-Sperry, Nitya Chawla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Interpersonal anxiety (i.e., the fear of negative consequences from interacting with someone) may be more prominent in post-#MeToo organizations when interacting with someone of a different gender. Initial exchanges may particularly trigger this anxiety, obfuscating key organizational decisions such as hiring. Given humor’s positive, intrapersonal stress-reduction effects, we propose that humor also reduces interpersonal anxiety. In three mixed-methods experiments with hiring managers, we examined the effects of applicant and evaluator gender (i.e., same-/mixed-gender dyad), positive applicant humor (i.e., a pun), and context (i.e., gender salience) in job interviews. Results showed that mixed-gender (vs. same-gender) interactions elicited more interpersonal anxiety, particularly when gender was more salient; mixed-gender interactions also predicted downstream attitudinal outcomes (e.g., social attraction and willingness to hire) and hiring decisions (e.g., selection and rejection) via interpersonal anxiety. Although humor reduced interpersonal anxiety and its consequences for female applicants, the opposite was true for male applicants when gender was salient, because it signaled some of the same expectations that initially triggered the interpersonal anxiety: the potential for harmful sexual behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)932-950
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Oct 7 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research received funding from a Swiss National Science Foundation Grant (#176358). However, the funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021. American Psychological Association


  • Gender
  • Hiring
  • Humor
  • Intergroup relations
  • Interpersonal anxiety


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