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The Psychology of Humor. What is the difference between a theory of comedy and a theory of humor? The first may be simply sociological The second must have a psychological component This must include a theory of pleasure (i.e., “fun”) This must also include theory of humor (i.e., “funny”)

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the psychology of humor
The Psychology of Humor

What is the difference between a theory of comedy and a theory of humor?

  • The first may be simply sociological
  • The second must have a psychological component
    • This must include a theory of pleasure (i.e., “fun”)
    • This must also include theory of humor (i.e., “funny”)
    • Rat’s have fun. Do they feel funny? How could you tell?
  • According to Billig, what is the pleasure of humor?

Q:

the psychology of humor1
The Psychology of Humor

A:

What is the pleasure in seeing somebody embarrassed? What is the pleasure in behaving inappropriately?

  • It is different than the pleasure of play. (E.g., rats can’t feel it.)
  • Billig never explains!His implicit theory is something like this:
    • The pleasure of humor is innate, like the sweetness of sugar.
    • When somebody steps out of line, it feels good to either bring him back or push him out, with a mental nudge.
      • Social groups with no discipline wouldn’t do well, in evolution.
      • Social groups with only violent discipline wouldn’t do well, either.
    • When somebody draws a line for us to toe, it feels good to rub it out, with mental dismissal.
      • Individual selection favors the socially dominant.
      • Dominance through violence is risky to the individual and the group.
    • The pleasure of “disciplinary” humor is the pleasure of social domination.
      • It’s fun to be a bully.
      • It’s funny to be a bully in a way that entails little risk.
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The Psychology of Humor
  • Some Basic Discoveries:
  • Arousal
  • Fear and funny produce the same physiological responses
  • What’s the difference?
  • There must be different different brain structures involved
  • There is no discrete “funny” center
    • Neocortex,mesolimbicsystem, and connections between all involved
    • Parallel processing, mostly non-conscious
      • Some direct, e.g. infectious laughter
      • Some mediated by associations or schemas
      • Laughter mechanisms discrete from “funny” mechanisms
    • Pleasure is the incentive
      • The pleasure of “fun” is different than the pleasure of “funny”
      • Laughter and smiling have different origins (baby laugh; sticky joke)
      • Pleasure and pain can be simultaneous
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The Psychology of Humor

Simultaneous Pleasure and Pain

Melodrama:

Steel Magnolias (1989, Herbert Ross)

“Sometimes laughter is about life and death.”

Stella Dallas (1937, King Vidor)

“Smiling through tears.”

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