The psychology of humor
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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

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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:


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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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