Theories of humor

There are many theories of humor which attempt to explain what humor is, what social functions it serves, and what would be considered humorous. Among the prevailing types of theories that attempt to account for the existence of humor, there are psychological theories, the vast majority of which consider humor to be very healthy behavior; there are spiritual theories, which consider humor to be an inexplicable mystery, very much like a mystical experience.[1] Although various classical theories of humor and laughter may be found, in contemporary academic literature, three theories of humor appear repeatedly: relief theory, superiority theory, and incongruity theory.[2] Among current humor researchers, there is no consensus about which of these three theories of humor is most viable.[2] Proponents of each one originally claimed their theory to be capable of explaining all cases of humor.[2][3] However, they now acknowledge that although each theory generally covers its own area of focus, many instances of humor can be explained by more than one theory.[2][3][4][5] Incongruity and superiority theories, for instance, seem to describe complementary mechanisms which together create humor.[6]

Relief theory

Relief theory maintains that laughter is a homeostatic mechanism by which psychological tension is reduced.[2][3][7] Humor may thus for example serve to facilitate relief of the tension caused by one's fears.[8] Laughter and mirth, according to relief theory, result from this release of nervous energy.[2] Humor, according to relief theory, is used mainly to overcome sociocultural inhibitions and reveal suppressed desires. It is believed that this is the reason we laugh whilst being tickled, due to a buildup of tension as the tickler "strikes".[2][9] According to Herbert Spencer, laughter is an "economical phenomenon" whose function is to release "psychic energy" that had been wrongly mobilized by incorrect or false expectations. The latter point of view was supported also by Sigmund Freud.

Superiority theory

The superiority theory of humor traces back to Plato and Aristotle, and Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan. The general idea is that a person laughs about misfortunes of others (so called schadenfreude), because these misfortunes assert the person's superiority on the background of shortcomings of others.[10] Socrates was reported by Plato as saying that the ridiculous was characterized by a display of self-ignorance.[11] For Aristotle, we laugh at inferior or ugly individuals, because we feel a joy at feeling superior to them.[12]

Incongruous juxtaposition theory

A beer glass made by Camden Town Brewery (London). The physical presence of beer in the glass's lower part, exactly where the inscription is: 'HALF EMPTY', sets a collision between two frames of reference. This incongruity results in a humorous effect at the moment of its realization.

The incongruity theory states that humor is perceived at the moment of realization of incongruity between a concept involved in a certain situation and the real objects thought to be in some relation to the concept.[10]

Since the main point of the theory is not the incongruity per se, but its realization and resolution (i.e., putting the objects in question into the real relation), it is often called the incongruity-resolution theory.[10]

Francis Hutcheson expressed in Thoughts on Laughter (1725) what became a key concept in the evolving theory of the comic: laughter as a response to the perception of incongruity.[13] Arthur Schopenhauer wrote that the perceived incongruity is between a concept and the real object it represents. Hegel shared almost exactly the same view, but saw the concept as an "appearance" and believed that laughter then totally negates that appearance.

The first formulation of the incongruity theory is attributed to the Scottish poet Beattie.[14]

The most famous version of the incongruity theory, however, is that of Kant, who claimed that the comic is "the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing."[15] Henri Bergson attempted to perfect incongruity by reducing it to the "living" and "mechanical".[16]

An incongruity like Bergson's, in things juxtaposed simultaneously, is still in vogue. This is often debated against theories of the shifts in perspectives in humor; hence, the debate in the series Humor Research between John Morreall and Robert Latta.[17] Morreall presented mostly simultaneous juxtapositions,[18] with Latta focusing on a "cognitive shift" created by the sudden solution to some kind of problem.

Humor frequently contains an unexpected, often sudden, shift in perspective, which gets assimilated by the Incongruity Theory. This view has been defended by Latta (1998) and by Brian Boyd (2004).[19] Boyd views the shift as from seriousness to play. Nearly anything can be the object of this perspective twist; it is, however, in the areas of human creativity (science and art being the varieties) that the shift results from "structure mapping" (termed "bisociation" by Koestler) to create novel meanings.[20] Arthur Koestler argues that humor results when two different frames of reference are set up and a collision is engineered between them.

Other theories

Script-based Semantic Theory of Humor

The Script-based Semantic Theory of Humor (SSTH) was introduced by Victor Raskin in "Semantic Mechanisms of Humor", published 1985.[21] While being a variant on the more general concepts of the Incongruity theory of humor (see above), it is the first theory to identify its approach as exclusively linguistic. As such it concerns itself only with verbal humor: written and spoken words used in narrative or riddle jokes concluding with a punch line.

The linguistic scripts (a.k.a. frames) referenced in the title include, for any given word, a "large chunk of semantic information surrounding the word and evoked by it [...] a cognitive structure internalized by the native speaker".[22] These scripts extend much further than the lexical definition of a word; they contain the speaker's complete knowledge of the concept as it exists in his world. Thus native speakers will have similar but not identical scripts for words they have in common.

To produce the humor of a verbal joke, Raskin posits, the following 2 conditions must be met:

  • "(i) The text is compatible, fully or in part, with two different [semantic] scripts
  • (ii) The two scripts with which the text is compatible are opposite [...]. The two scripts with which the text is compatible are said to overlap fully or in part on this text."[23]

Humor is evoked when a trigger at the end of the joke, the punch line, causes the audience to abruptly shift its understanding from the primary (or more obvious) script to the secondary, opposing script.

As an example Raskin uses the following joke:

"Is the doctor at home?" the patient asked in his bronchial whisper. "No," the doctor's young and pretty wife whispered in reply. "Come right in."[24]

For this example, the two scripts contained in the joke are DOCTOR and LOVER; the switch from one to the other is triggered by our understanding of the "whispered" reply of the "young and pretty wife". This reply only makes sense in the script of LOVER, but makes no sense in the script of a bronchial patient going to see the DOCTOR at his (home) office. Raskin expands further on his analysis with more jokes, examining in each how the scripts both overlap and oppose each other in the text.[25]

In order to fulfill the second condition of a joke, Raskin introduces different categories of script opposition. A partial list includes: actual (non-actual), normal (abnormal), possible (impossible), good (bad), life (death), obscene (non-obscene), money (no money), high (low) stature.[26] A complete list of possible script oppositions for jokes is finite and culturally dependent. For example, Soviet political humor does not use the same scripts to be found in Jewish humor.[27] However, for all jokes, in order to generate the humor a connection between the two scripts contained in a given joke must be established. " cannot simply juxtapose two incongruous things and call it a joke, but rather one must find a clever way of making them make pseudo-sense together".[28]

General Theory of Verbal Humor

The General Theory of Verbal Humor (GTVH) was proposed by Victor Raskin and Salvatore Attardo in the article "Script theory revis(it)ed: joke similarity and joke representation model".[29] It integrated Raskin's ideas of Script Opposition (SO), developed in his Script-based Semantic Theory of Humor [SSTH], into the GTVH as one of six levels of independent Knowledge Resources (KRs).[30][31] These KRs could be used to model individual verbal jokes as well as analyze the degree of similarity or difference between them. The Knowledge Resources proposed in this theory are:[32]

  1. Script Opposition (SO) references the script opposition included in Raskin's SSTH. This includes, among others, themes such as real (unreal), actual (non-actual), normal (abnormal), possible (impossible).
  2. Logical Mechanism (LM) refers to the mechanism which connects the different scripts in the joke. These can range from a simple verbal technique like a pun to more complex LMs such as faulty logic or false analogies.
  3. Situation (SI) can include objects, activities, instruments, props needed to tell the story.
  4. Target (TA) identifies the actor(s) who become the "butt" of the joke. This labeling serves to develop and solidify stereotypes of ethnic groups, professions, etc.
  5. Narrative strategy (NS) addresses the narrative format of the joke, as either a simple narrative, a dialogue, or a riddle. It attempts to classify the different genres and subgenres of verbal humor. In a subsequent study Attardo expands the NS to include oral and printed humorous narratives of any length, not just jokes.[33]
  6. Language (LA) "...contains all the information necessary for the verbalization of a text. It is responsible for the exact wording ...and for the placement of the functional elements." [34]

To illustrate their theory, the authors use 7 examples of the light bulb joke, each variant shifted by a single Knowledge Resource.[25] Each one of the KRs, ordered hierarchically above and starting with the Script Opposition, has the ability to "determine the parameters below themselves, and are determined [circumscribed] by those above themselves. 'Determination' is to be intended as limiting or reducing the options available for the instantiation of the parameter; for example, the choice of the SO [script opposition] DUMB/SMART will reduce the options available to the generation in the TA (in North America to Poles, etc.)" [35]

One of the advantages of this theory (GTVH) over Raskin's script-based semantic theory (SSTH) is that through the inclusion of the Narrative Strategy (NS) any and all humorous texts can be categorized. Whereas Raskin's SSTH only deals with jokes, the GTVH considers all humorous text from spontaneous one-liners to funny stories and literature. This theory can also, by identifying how many of the Knowledge Resources are identical for any two humorous pieces, begin to define the degree of similarity between the two.

As to the ordering of the Knowledge Resources, there has been much discussion. Willibald Ruch, a distinguished German psychologist and humor researcher,[36] wanted to test empirically the ordering of the Knowledge Resources, with only partial success.[37][38] Nevertheless, both the listed Knowledge Resources in the GTVH and their relationship to each other has proven to be fertile ground in the further investigation of what exactly makes humor funny.[39]

Computational-Neural Theory of Humor

The Computer Model of a Sense of Humor theory was suggested by Suslov in 1992.[40] Investigation of the general scheme of information processing shows the possibility of a specific malfunction, conditioned by the necessity of a quick deletion from consciousness of a false version. This specific malfunction can be identified with a humorous effect on psychological grounds: it exactly corresponds to incongruity-resolution theory. However, an essentially new ingredient, the role of timing, is added to the well-known role of ambiguity. In biological systems, a sense of humor inevitably develops in the course of evolution, because its biological function consists of quickening the transmission of the processed information into consciousness and in a more effective use of brain resources. A realization of this algorithm in neural networks[41] justifies naturally Spencer's hypothesis on the mechanism of laughter: deletion of a false version corresponds to zeroing of some part of the neural network and excessive energy of neurons is thrown out to the motor cortex, arousing muscular contractions.

The theory treats on equal footing the humorous effect created by the linguistic means (verbal humor), as well as created visually (caricature, clown performance) or by tickling. The theory explains the natural differences in susceptibility of people to humor, absence of humorous effect from a trite joke, the role of intonation in telling jokes, nervous laughter, etc. According to this theory, humor has a pure biological origin, while its social functions arose later. This conclusion corresponds to the known fact that monkeys (as pointed out by Charles Darwin) and even rats (as found recently) possess a sense of humor.[42]

A practical realization of this algorithm needs extensive databases, whose creation in the automatic regime was suggested recently.[43]

Ontic-Epistemic Theory of Humor

The Ontic-Epistemic Theory of Humor (OETC) proposed by P. Marteinson (2006) asserts that laughter is a reaction to a cognitive impasse, a momentary epistemological difficulty, in which the subject perceives that Social Being itself suddenly appears no longer to be real in any factual or normative sense. When this occurs material reality, which is always factually true, is the only percept remaining in the mind at such a moment of comic perception. This theory posits, as in Bergson, that human beings accept as real both normative immaterial percepts, such as social identity, and neological factual percepts, but also that the individual subject normally blends the two together in perception in order to live by the assumption they are equally real. The comic results from the perception that they are not. This same result arises in a number of paradigmatic cases: factual reality can be seen to conflict with and disprove social reality, which Marteinson calls Deculturation; alternatively, social reality can appear to contradict other elements of social reality, which he calls "Relativisation". Laughter, according to Marteinson, serves to reset and re-boot the faculty of social perception, which has been rendered non-functional by the comic situation: it anesthetizes the mind with its euphoria, and permits the forgetting of the comic stimulus, as well as the well-known function of communicating the humorous reaction to other members of society.[44]

Sexual selection

Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller contends that, from an evolutionary perspective, humour would have had no survival value to early humans living in the savannas of Africa. He proposes that human characteristics like humor evolved by sexual selection. He argues that humour emerged as an indicator of other traits that were of survival value, such as human intelligence.[45]

Detection of mistaken reasoning

In 2011, three researchers, Hurley, Dennett and Adams, published a book that reviews previous theories of humor and many specific jokes. They propose the theory that humor evolved because it strengthens the ability of the brain to find mistakes in active belief structures, that is, to detect mistaken reasoning.[46] This is somewhat consistent with the sexual selection theory, because, as stated above, humor would be a reliable indicator of an important survival trait: the ability to detect mistaken reasoning. However, the three researchers argue that humor is fundamentally important because it is the very mechanism that allows the human brain to excel at practical problem solving. Thus, according to them, humor did have survival value even for early humans, because it enhanced the neural circuitry needed to survive.

Misattribution theory

Misattribution is one theory of humor that describes an audience's inability to identify exactly why they find a joke to be funny. The formal theory is attributed to Zillmann & Bryant (1980) in their article, "Misattribution Theory of Tendentious Humor", published in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. They derived the critical concepts of the theory from Sigmund Freud's Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious (note: from a Freudian perspective, wit is separate from humor), originally published in 1905.

Benign violation theory

The benign violation theory (BVT) is developed by researchers A. Peter McGraw and Caleb Warren.[47] The BVT integrates seemingly disparate theories of humor to predict that humor occurs when three conditions are satisfied: 1) something threatens one's sense of how the world "ought to be", 2) the threatening situation seems benign, and 3) a person sees both interpretations at the same time.

From an evolutionary perspective, humorous violations likely originated as apparent physical threats, like those present in play fighting and tickling. As humans evolved, the situations that elicit humor likely expanded from physical threats to other violations, including violations of personal dignity (e.g., slapstick, teasing), linguistic norms (e.g., puns, malapropisms), social norms (e.g., strange behaviors, risqué jokes), and even moral norms (e.g., disrespectful behaviors). The BVT suggests that anything that threatens one's sense of how the world "ought to be" will be humorous, so long as the threatening situation also seems benign.

There is also more than one way a violation can seem benign. McGraw and Warren tested three contexts in the domain of moral violations. A violation can seem benign if one norm suggests something is wrong but another salient norm suggests it is acceptable. A violation can also seem benign when one is psychologically distant from the violation or is only weakly committed to the violated norm.

For example, McGraw and Warren find that most consumers were disgusted when they read about a church raffling off a Hummer SUV to recruit new members. However, many consumers were simultaneously amused. Consistent with the BVT, people who attended church were less likely to be amused than people who did not. Churchgoers are more committed to the belief that churches are sacred and, consequently, were less likely to consider the church's behavior benign.

Humor as defense mechanism

According to George Eman Vaillant's (1977) categorization, humor is level IV defense mechanism: overt expression of ideas and feelings (especially those that are unpleasant to focus on or too terrible to talk about) that gives pleasure to others. Humor, which explores the absurdity inherent in any event, enables someone to "call a spade a spade", while "wit" is a form of displacement (level 3). Wit refers to the serious or distressing in a humorous way, rather than disarming it; the thoughts remain distressing, but they are "skirted round" by witticism.

Sense of humor, sense of seriousness

One must have a sense of humor and a sense of seriousness to distinguish what is supposed to be taken literally or not. An even more keen sense is needed when humor is used to make a serious point.[48][49] Psychologists have studied how humor is intended to be taken as having seriousness, as when court jesters used humor to convey serious information. Conversely, when humor is not intended to be taken seriously, bad taste in humor may cross a line after which it is taken seriously, though not intended.[50]

Metaphor and metonymy

Tony Veale, who takes a more formalised computational approach than Koestler, has written on the role of metaphor and metonymy in humour,[51][52][53] using inspiration from Koestler as well as from Dedre Gentner's theory of structure-mapping, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson's theory of conceptual metaphor, and Mark Turner and Gilles Fauconnier's theory of conceptual blending.

O'Shannon model of humor

The O'Shannon model of humor (OMOH) was introduced by Dan O'Shannon in "What Are You Laughing At? A Comprehensive Guide to the Comedic Event", published in 2012.[54] The model integrates all the general branches of comedy into a unified framework. This framework consists of four main sections: context, information, aspects of awareness, and enhancers/inhibitors. Elements of context are in play as reception factors prior to the encounter with comedic information. This information will require a level of cognitive process to interpret, and contain a degree of incongruity (based on predictive likelihood). That degree may be high, or go as low as to be negligible. The information will be seen simultaneously through several aspects of awareness (the comedy’s internal reality, its external role as humor, its effect on its context, effect on other receivers, etc.). Any element from any of these sections may trigger enhancers / inhibitors (feelings of superiority, relief, aggression, identification, shock, etc.) which will affect the receiver’s ultimate response. The various interactions of the model allow for a wide range of comedy; for example, a joke needn’t rely on high levels of incongruity if it triggers feelings of superiority, aggression, relief, or identification. Also, high incongruity humor may trigger a visceral response, while well-constructed word-play with low incongruity might trigger a more appreciative response. Also included in the book: evolutionary theories that account for visceral and social laughter, and the phenomenon of comedic entropy.

Unnoticed fall-back to former behavior patterns

This model defines laughter as an acoustic signal to make individuals aware of an unnoticed fall-back to former behaviour patterns. To some extent it unifies superiority and incongruity theory. Ticklishness is also considered to have a defined relation to humor via the development of human bipedalism.[55]


In Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, French philosopher Henri Bergson, renowned for his philosophical studies on materiality, memory, life and consciousness, tries to determine the laws of the comic and to understand the fundamental causes of comic situations.[56] His method consists in determining the causes of comic instead of analyzing its effects. He also deals with laughter in relation to human life, collective imagination and art, to have a better knowledge of society.[57] One of the theories of the essay is that laughter, as a collective activity, has a social and moral role, in forcing people to eliminate their vices. It is a factor of uniformity of behaviours, as it condemns ludicrous and eccentric behaviours.[58]

In this essay, Bergson also asserts that there is a central cause that all comic situations are derived from: that of mechanism applied to life. The fundamental source of comic is the presence of inflexibility and rigidness in life. For Bergson, the essence of life is movement, elasticity and flexibility, and every comic situation is due the presence of rigidity and inelasticity in life. Hence, for Bergson the source of the comic is not ugliness but rigidity.[59] All the examples taken by Bergson (such as a man falling in the street, one person's imitation of another, the automatic application of conventions and rules, absent-mindedness, repetitive gestures of a speaker, the resemblance between two faces) are comic situations because they give the impression that life is subject to rigidity, automatism and mechanism.

Bergson closes by noting that most comic situations are not laughable because they are part of collective habits.[60] He defines laughter as an intellectual activity that requires an immediate approach to a comic situation, detached from any form of emotion or sensibility.[61] A situation is laughable when the attention and the imagination are focused on the resistance and rigidity of the body. Thus somebody is laughable when he or she gives the impression of being a thing or a machine.

See also


  1. ^ Raymond Smullyan, "The Planet Without Laughter", This Book Needs No Title: A Budget of Living Paradoxes (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1980). Copyright (c) 1980 by Raymond M. Smullyan
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Buijzen, M.; Valkenburg, P. M. (2004). "Developing a Typology of Humor in Audiovisual Media". Media Psychology. 6 (2): 147–167. doi:10.1207/s1532785xmep0602_2.
  3. ^ a b c Meyer, J. C. (2000). "Humor as a Double-Edged Sword: Four Functions of Humor in Communication". Communication Theory. 10 (3): 310–331. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2885.2000.tb00194.x.
  4. ^ Berger, A. A. (1993). An Anatomy of Humor. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
  5. ^ Veatch, T. C. (1998). "A theory of humor". Humor. 11 (2): 161–215. doi:10.1515/humr.1998.11.2.161.
  6. ^ Vandaele, J. (2002). "Humor Mechanisms in Film Comedy: Incongruity and Superiority". Poetics Today. 23 (2): 221–249. doi:10.1215/03335372-23-2-221.
  7. ^ Berlyne, D. E. (1972). "Humour and its kin", in J. H. Goldstein & P. E. McGhee (Eds.), The Psychology of Humour (pp. 43–60). New York: Academic.
  8. ^ C. George Boeree. "Humor". Retrieved 11 December 2012.
  9. ^ Schaeffer, N. (1981). The Art of Laughter. New York: Columbia University Press.
  10. ^ a b c M.P. Mulder, A. Nijholt (2002) "Humour Research: State of the Art"
  11. ^ Plato, Philebus 49b ff.
  12. ^ Poetics, 1449a, p. 34-35.
  13. ^ Peter Ludwig Berger Redeeming Laughter: The Comic Dimension of Human Experience (1997) p.22
  14. ^ J.Beattie, Essays (William Creech, Edinburg, 1776).
  15. ^ Laurie, Timothy; Hickey-Moody, Anna (2017), "Masculinity and Ridicule", Gender: Laughter, Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference: 216–217
  16. ^ Henri Bergson, Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic (1900) English translation 1914.
  17. ^ Robert L. Latta (1999) The Basic Humor Process: A Cognitive-Shift Theory and the Case against Incongruity, Walter de Gruyter, ISBN 3-11-016103-6 (Humor Research no. 5)
  18. ^ John Morreall (1983) Taking Laughter Seriously, Suny Press, ISBN 0-87395-642-7
  19. ^ Boyd, B. (2004). "Laughter and Literature: A Play Theory of Humor". Philosophy and Literature. 28 (1): 1–22. doi:10.1353/phl.2004.0002.
  20. ^ Koestler, Arthur (1964): "The Act of Creation".
  21. ^ Victor Raskin (1985). Semantic Mechanisms of Humor (302 pp.). Dordrecht - Boston - Lancaster: D. Reidel.
  22. ^ Raskin (1985), pg. 46.
  23. ^ Raskin (1985), pg. 99.
  24. ^ Raskin (1985), pg. 100.
  25. ^ a b Krikmann, A. (2006). "Contemporary Linguistic Theories of Humour". Folklore: Electronic Journal of Folklore. 33: 27–58. doi:10.7592/FEJF2006.33.kriku.
  26. ^ Raskin (1985), pp. 113 - 114.
  27. ^ Raskin (1985), see Table of Contents.
  28. ^ Katrina E. Triezenberg (2008). "Humor in Literature", pg. 537. In Primer of Humor Research, ed. Victor Raskin. Mouton de Gruyter: Berlin, New York.
  29. ^ Attardo, S.; Raskin, V. (1991). "Script theory revis(it)ed: joke similarity and joke representation model". Humor. 4 (3–4): 293–347. doi:10.1515/humr.1991.4.3-4.293.
  30. ^ Robert Lew (1996). "An ambiguity-based theory of the linguistic verbal joke in English. A Thesis submitted to the faculty of Adam Mickiewicz University in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy April 1996". Poznan, Poland, unpublished thesis.
  31. ^ The other 5 KRs had been previously identified in Attardo's five-level joke representation model. See Hofstadter, D.; Gabora, L.; Raskin, V.; Attardo, S. (1989). "Synopsis of the Workshop on Humor and Cognition". Humor. 2 (4): 417–440. doi:10.1515/humr.1989.2.4.407.
  32. ^ Salvatore Attardo (1994). Linguistic Theories of Humor, pp. 223 - 226. Mouton de Gruyter: Berlin, New York.
  33. ^ Salvatore Attardo (2001). Humorous Texts: A Semantic and Pragmatic Analysis. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter
  34. ^ Attardo (1994), pg. 223.
  35. ^ Attardo (1994), pg. 227.
  36. ^ de:Willibald Ruch
  37. ^ Ruch, W.; Attardo, S.; Raskin, V. (1993). "Toward an empirical verification of the General Theory of Verbal Humor". Humor. 6 (2): 123–136. doi:10.1515/humr.1993.6.2.123.
  38. ^ Both the test structure and the results are described in Krikman (2006), pp. 38-39.
  39. ^ Tarez Samra Graban (2008). "Rhetoric, composition, and humor studies", pg. 425 ff. In Primer of Humor Research, ed. Victor Raskin. Mouton de Gruyter: Berlin, New York.
  40. ^ I.M.Suslov, Computer Model of "a Sense of Humour". I. General Algorithm. Biofizika SSSR 37, 318 (1992) [Biophysics 37, 242 (1992)];
  41. ^ I.M.Suslov, Computer Model of "a Sense of Humour". II. Realization in Neural Networks. Biofizika SSSR 37, 325 (1992) [Biophysics {\bf 37}, 249 (1992)]
  42. ^ Panksepp, J. (2005). "Beyond a Joke: From Animal Laughter to Human Joy?". Science. 308 (5718): 62–63. doi:10.1126/science.1112066. PMID 15802592.
  43. ^ I.M.Suslov, How to Realize "a Sense of Humour" in Computers?
  44. ^ P. Marteinson (2006) On the Problem of the Comic, Legas Press, Ottawa, ISBN 978-1-894508-91-9
  45. ^ 2001, The Mating Mind, by Geoffrey Miller
  46. ^ Hurley, Matthew M., Dennet, Daniel C., and Adams, Reginald B. Jr. (2011). Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind. The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-01582-0.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  47. ^ McGraw, A. P.; Warren, C. (2010). "Benign Violations". Psychological Science. 21 (8): 1141–1149. doi:10.1177/0956797610376073. PMID 20587696.
  48. ^ Dukore, B. F. (2010). "Seriousness Redeemed by Frivolity: Ayckbourn's Intimate Exchanges". Modern Drama. 53 (4). pp. 447–470. doi:10.1353/mdr.2010.0026.
  49. ^ Yarwood, D. L. (2001). "When Congress makes a joke: Congressional humor as serious and purposeful communication". Humor. 14 (4): 359–394. doi:10.1515/humr.2001.010.
  50. ^ Emerson, J. P. (1969). "Negotiating the Serious Import of Humor". Sociometry. 32 (2): 169–181. doi:10.2307/2786261. JSTOR 2786261.
  51. ^ Veale, Tony (2003): "Metaphor and Metonymy: The Cognitive Trump-Cards of Linguistic Humor" (
  52. ^ Veale, T.; Feyaerts, K.; Brône, G. (2006). "The cognitive mechanisms of adversarial humor". Humor. 19 (3): 305–339. CiteSeerX doi:10.1515/HUMOR.2006.016.
  53. ^ Veale, T. (2004). "Incongruity in humor: Root cause or epiphenomenon?". Humor. 17 (4): 419–428. doi:10.1515/humr.2004.17.4.419.
  54. ^ O'Shannon, Dan (2012). What Are You Laughing At? A Comprehensive Guide to the Comedic Event.
  55. ^ Dramlitsch, T., 2018: "The Origin of Humor", ISBN 978-1720264637
  56. ^ Henri Bergson, Le Rire, Avant-Propos on Wikisource (in French)
  57. ^ Bergson, Henri. Le Rire, "Préface" on Wikisource (in French)
  58. ^ Bergson, Henri. Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, Chapter I (II) - online version on Project Gutenberg
  59. ^ Bergson, Laughter, Chapter I (III)
  60. ^ Bergson, Laughter, Chapter I (V)
  61. ^ Bergson, Laughter, Chapter I (I)

Further reading

  • Weems, Scott (2014). Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why. ISBN 978-0465031702.

In a story, we detect an allotopy when two basic meaning traits (semes) contradict each other, that is when they trace two incompatible interpretations. It was conceived as being the opposite of an isotopy, which is the homogeneity resulting from repetition of the same seme. This concept has been coined in the 1970s by the Belgian semioticians known as Groupe µ.


In a modern sense, comedy (from the Greek: κωμῳδία, kōmōidía) refers to any discourse or work generally intended to be humorous or amusing by inducing laughter, especially in theatre, television, film, stand-up comedy, or any other medium of entertainment. The origins of the term are found in Ancient Greece. In the Athenian democracy, the public opinion of voters was influenced by the political satire performed by the comic poets at the theaters. The theatrical genre of Greek comedy can be described as a dramatic performance which pits two groups or societies against each other in an amusing agon or conflict. Northrop Frye depicted these two opposing sides as a "Society of Youth" and a "Society of the Old." A revised view characterizes the essential agon of comedy as a struggle between a relatively powerless youth and the societal conventions that pose obstacles to his hopes. In this struggle, the youth is understood to be constrained by his lack of social authority, and is left with little choice but to take recourse in ruses which engender very dramatic irony which provokes laughter.Satire and political satire use comedy to portray persons or social institutions as ridiculous or corrupt, thus alienating their audience from the object of their humor. Parody subverts popular genres and forms, critiquing those forms without necessarily condemning them.

Other forms of comedy include screwball comedy, which derives its humor largely from bizarre, surprising (and improbable) situations or characters, and black comedy, which is characterized by a form of humor that includes darker aspects of human behavior or human nature. Similarly scatological humor, sexual humor, and race humor create comedy by violating social conventions or taboos in comic ways. A comedy of manners typically takes as its subject a particular part of society (usually upper-class society) and uses humor to parody or satirize the behavior and mannerisms of its members. Romantic comedy is a popular genre that depicts burgeoning romance in humorous terms and focuses on the foibles of those who are falling in love.


Gelotology (from the Greek γέλως gelos "laughter") is the study of laughter and its effects on the body, from a psychological and physiological perspective. Its proponents often advocate induction of laughter on therapeutic grounds in alternative medicine. The field of study was pioneered by William F. Fry of Stanford University.

Holy laughter

Holy laughter is a term used within charismatic Christianity that describes a religious behaviour in which individuals spontaneously laugh during church meetings. It has occurred in many revivals throughout church history, but it became normative in the early 1990s in Neo-charismatic churches and the Third Wave of the Holy Spirit. Many people claimed to experience this phenomenon at a large revival in Toronto, Ontario, Canada known as the Toronto Blessing,

Humor research

Humor research (also humor studies) is a multifaceted field which enters the domains of linguistics, history, and literature. Research in humor has been done to understand the psychological and physiological effects, both positive and negative, on a person or groups of people. Research in humor has revealed many different theories of humor and many different kinds of humor including their functions and effects personally, in relationships, and in society.


Humour (British English), also spelt as humor (American English; see spelling differences), is the tendency of experiences to provoke laughter and provide amusement. The term derives from the humoral medicine of the ancient Greeks, which taught that the balance of fluids in the human body, known as humours (Latin: humor, "body fluid"), controlled human health and emotion.

People of all ages and cultures respond to humour. Most people are able to experience humour—be amused, smile or laugh at something funny—and thus are considered to have a sense of humour. The hypothetical person lacking a sense of humour would likely find the behaviour inducing it to be inexplicable, strange, or even irrational. Though ultimately decided by personal taste, the extent to which a person finds something humorous depends on a host of variables, including geographical location, culture, maturity, level of education, intelligence and context. For example, young children may favour slapstick such as Punch and Judy puppet shows or the Tom and Jerry cartoons, whose physical nature makes it accessible to them. By contrast, more sophisticated forms of humour such as satire require an understanding of its social meaning and context, and thus tend to appeal to a more mature audience.

Index of aesthetics articles

This is an alphabetical index of articles about aesthetics.

Interpretive discussion

An interpretive discussion is a discussion in which participants explore and/or resolve interpretations often pertaining to texts of any medium containing significant ambiguity in meaning.

Isotopy (semiotics)

In a story, we detect an isotopy when there is a repetition of a basic meaning trait (seme); such repetition, establishing some level of familiarity within the story, allows for a uniform reading/interpretation of it. An example of a sentence containing an isotopy is I drink some water. The two words drink and water share a seme (a reference to liquids), and this gives homogeneity to the sentence.

This concept, introduced by Greimas in 1966, had a major impact on the field of semiotics, and was redefined multiple times. Catherine Kerbrat-Orecchioni extended the concept to denote the repetition of not only semes, but also other semiotic units (like phonemes for isotopies as rhymes, rhythm for prosody, etc.). Umberto Eco showed the flaws of using the concept of "repetition", and replaced it with the concept of "direction", redefining isotopy as "the direction taken by an interpretation of the text".


A joke is a display of humour in which words are used within a specific and well-defined narrative structure to make people laugh and is not meant to be taken seriously. It takes the form of a story, usually with dialogue, and ends in a punch line. It is in the punch line that the audience becomes aware that the story contains a second, conflicting meaning. This can be done using a pun or other word play such as irony, a logical incompatibility, nonsense, or other means. Linguist Robert Hetzron offers the definition:

A joke is a short humorous piece of oral literature in which the funniness culminates in the final sentence, called the punchline… In fact, the main condition is that the tension should reach its highest level at the very end. No continuation relieving the tension should be added. As for its being "oral," it is true that jokes may appear printed, but when further transferred, there is no obligation to reproduce the text verbatim, as in the case of poetry.

It is generally held that jokes benefit from brevity, containing no more detail than is needed to set the scene for the punchline at the end. In the case of riddle jokes or one-liners the setting is implicitly understood, leaving only the dialogue and punchline to be verbalised. However, subverting these and other common guidelines can also be a source of humor—the shaggy dog story is in a class of its own as an anti-joke; although presenting as a joke, it contains a long drawn-out narrative of time, place and character, rambles through many pointless inclusions and finally fails to deliver a punchline. Jokes are a form of humour, but not all humour is a joke. Some humorous forms which are not verbal jokes are: involuntary humour, situational humour, practical jokes, slapstick and anecdotes.

Identified as one of the simple forms of oral literature by the Dutch linguist André Jolles, jokes are passed along anonymously. They are told in both private and public settings; a single person tells a joke to his friend in the natural flow of conversation, or a set of jokes is told to a group as part of scripted entertainment. Jokes are also passed along in written form or, more recently, through the internet.

Stand-up comics, comedians and slapstick work with comic timing, precision and rhythm in their performance, relying as much on actions as on the verbal punchline to evoke laughter. This distinction has been formulated in the popular saying "A comic says funny things; a comedian says things funny".

List of humor research publications

This page lists publications in humor research, with brief annotations. The list includes books, scholarly journals that regularly cover articles in humor research, as well as some seminal, frequently cited journal articles about humor.

This list is not intended for humorous books and joke collections that do not have any scholarly analysis of humor.

List of paradoxes

This is a list of paradoxes, grouped thematically. The grouping is approximate, as paradoxes may fit into more than one category. This list collects only scenarios that have been called a paradox by at least one source and have their own article. Although considered paradoxes, some of these are simply based on fallacious reasoning (falsidical), or an unintuitive solution (veridical). Informally, the term paradox is often used to describe a counter-intuitive result.

However, some of these paradoxes qualify to fit into the mainstream perception of a paradox, which is a self-contradictory result gained even while properly applying accepted ways of reasoning. These paradoxes, often called antinomy, point out genuine problems in our understanding of the ideas of truth and description.

Misattribution theory of humor

Misattribution is one of many theories of humor that describes an audience's inability to identify exactly why they find a joke to be funny. The formal theory is attributed to Zillmann & Bryant (1980) in their article, "Misattribution Theory of Tendentious Humor", published in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. They derived the critical concepts of the theory from Sigmund Freud's Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious, originally published in 1905. Freud declared people incapable of knowing exactly what it is they find amusing due to the complex nature of their conscious and subconscious minds. Jokes are crafted by comedians who have experience with causing laughter but who may themselves be blind to the actual cause of humor.


The pun, also called paronomasia, is a form of word play that exploits multiple meanings of a term, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect. These ambiguities can arise from the intentional use of homophonic, homographic, metonymic, or figurative language. A pun differs from a malapropism in that a malapropism is an incorrect variation on a correct expression, while a pun involves expressions with multiple (correct or fairly reasonable) interpretations. Puns may be regarded as in-jokes or idiomatic constructions, especially as their usage and meaning are usually specific to a particular language or its culture.

Puns have a long history in human writing. For example, the Roman playwright Plautus was famous for his puns and word games.


To be ridiculous is to be something which is highly incongruous or inferior, sometimes deliberately so to make people laugh or get their attention, and sometimes unintendedly so as to be considered laughable and earn or provoke ridicule and derision. It comes from the 1540s Latin "ridiculosus" meaning "laughable", from "ridiculus" meaning "that which excites laughter", and from "ridere" meaning "to laugh". "Ridiculous" is an adjective describing "the ridiculous".

In common usage, "ridiculousness" is used as a synonym for absurdity or nonsense. From a historical and technical viewpoint, "absurdity" is associated with argumentation and reasoning, "nonsense" with semantics and meaning, while "ridiculous" is most associated with laughter, superiority, deformity, and incongruity. Reductio ad absurdum is a valid method of argument, while reductio ad ridiculum is invalid. Argument by invective declaration of ridiculous is invalid, while arguments involving declarations of nonsense may summarize a cogent semantic problem with lack or meaning or ambiguity.

Historically, the ridiculous was central to initial theories of humor and laughter as first put forth by philosopher Thomas Hobbes. It is currently used in the theory of humor to create laughter, shock, parody, or satire. Reactions to the ridiculous have been studied in psychology for its effects on memory, attention, and attitude in social hierarchies. These studies have been applied to the theory of advertisement regarding attention, memory, and alleviation of preexisting negative attitudes toward products. The ridiculous is often contrasted with the sublime, one of extreme inferiority, the other of extreme superiority, and often one can suddenly move from one extreme state to the other.

Safety-valve institution

Safety-valve organization or safety-valve institution is a term used in sociology to describe organizations which serve to allow discontented individuals to act out their opposition to other elements, as it were "to let off steam". Safety-valve organizations reduce tensions in society and in the structural-functionalist perspective can be said to have a tension-reducing latent function. Safety-valve organizations are outlets for behavior that is considered deviant, but cannot be eradicated from society, and such organizations prevent tensions from accumulating; thus tolerance of some deviant behavior in various safety-valve organizations prevents more serious problems. Therefore, one of the primary functions of the deviance itself is to act as a safety-valve. Without safety-valve organizations, interactions between certain groups would become much more limited, and conflict much more severe.

Salvatore Attardo

Salvatore Attardo is a full professor at Texas A&M University–Commerce and the editor-in-chief of Humor, the journal for the International Society of Humor Research. He studied at Purdue University under Victor Raskin and extended Raskin's script-based semantic theory of humor (SSTH) into the general theory of verbal humor (GTVH). He publishes in the field of humor in literature and is considered to be one of the top authorities in the area.

He was born March 14, 1962, in Anderlecht, Belgium, to an Italian State Railways employee and a Belgian mother, living thereafter in Como, Italy, until adulthood. He has been a permanent resident of the United States since 1991. He has one daughter, Gaia,

born in 1994. Attardo is a native speaker of Italian and French.

He has served on the thesis and dissertation committees for other humor scholars, including Christian F. Hempelmann and Katrina Triezenberg.


Sophistication has come to mean a few things, but its original definition was "to denature, or simplify". Today it is common as a measure of refinement—displaying good taste, wisdom and subtlety rather than crudeness, stupidity and vulgarity.

In the perception of social class, sophistication can be linked with concepts such as status, privilege and superiority.

Stand-up comedy

Stand-up comedy is a comic style in which a comedian performs in front of a live audience, usually speaking directly to them. The performer is commonly known as a comic, stand-up comic, comedian, comedienne, stand-up comedian, or simply a stand-up. In stand-up comedy, the comedian gives the illusion that they are dialoguing, but in actuality, they are monologuing a grouping of humorous stories, jokes and one-liners, typically called a shtick, routine, or set. Some stand-up comedians use props, music or magic tricks

to enhance their acts. Stand-up comedy is stated to be the "freest form of comedy writing" that is normally regarded as an "extension of" the person performing.

The improvisation of stand-up is often compared to jazz music.

A comedian's process of writing is likened to the process of song writing.

A comedian's ability to tighten their material has been likened to crafting a samurai sword.

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