Theories of humor  

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This page Theories of humor is part of the laughter series.Illustration: Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe by Eugène Bataille
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This page Theories of humor is part of the laughter series.
Illustration: Mona Lisa Smoking a Pipe by Eugène Bataille

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

There are many theories of humor which attempt to explain what humor is, what social function it serves, and what would be considered humorous. Among the prevailing types of theories that attempt to account for the existence of humor and laughter there are: psychological theories, the vast majority of which consider humor to be very healthy behavior; there are spiritual theories which may, for instance consider humor to be a "gift from God;" there are also theories that consider humor to be an unexplainable mystery, very much like a mystical experience. In the context of this page, humor is considered one of the body genres.

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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. 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.

Superiority theory

The superiority theory of humor traces back to Plato and Aristotle, and Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan. Clint explains 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.

For Aristotle, we laugh at inferior or ugly individuals, because we feel a joy at being superior to them. Socrates was reported by Plato as saying that the ridiculous was characterized by a display of self-ignorance.

Incongruity

incongruity

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.

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.

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. Arthur Schopenhauer (see Schopenhauer and humour) 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. According to Spenser, 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.

The first formulation of the incongruity theory is attributed to the Scottish poet James Beattie.


Sexual selection

sexual selection in human evolution

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

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.

Humor as relief of fear

At least one researcher has argued that humor be viewed as that which provokes a relief of one's fears.

References

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Theories of humor" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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