Beneath the Guffaws - A Deep Sea Dive Into the Mysterious Mechanics of Humor

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Laughter is an essential human behavior and researchers have been trying to deconstruct it. There have been various attempts at explaining its effect, offering various imperfect models that attempt to explain this phenomenon.

For instance, the Mercer Threshold Theory suggests that something can be funny when its intensity lies just at the threshold of awareness and then suddenly increases. Classical conditioning can produce weak humor responses by pairing conditional stimuli.

Mechanics of Humor

Researchers have long attempted to understand humor. A popular theory proposes that laughter occurs due to juxtaposing incompatible ideas; another states they find amusement in breaking from expectations; while yet a third theory called Resolution of Incongruity asserts laughter occurs when someone discovers a way of diffusing an apparent incongruity such as realizing double meaning jokes.

Other theories propose that humans have developed an instinctive sense of humor to facilitate social interactions and ensure species survival. Sigmund Freud proposed that humor serves as a defensive mechanism by helping us avoid unpleasant situations by suppressing them; Herbert Spencer shared Freud's view, believing humor provides an outlet for pent-up energy.

However, these theories present certain disadvantages. First and foremost is their failure to provide precise definitions of "humor" and "laugh." Furthermore, many fail to distinguish what constitutes funny material from non-funny ones.

Recent and more advanced theories of humor attempt to define what is humorous by listing necessary conditions that must exist for something to count as humorous, while other approaches focus more on understanding why something is funny rather than providing an exhaustive list.

These more advanced theories aim to make humor simpler to understand and replicate in the laboratory, as an example, one study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to observe participants as they created humorous captions for 30 cartoons using functional magnetic resonance imaging, then rated them for humor rating. This approach demonstrated certain neural mechanisms involved with humor such as script opposition (real vs unreal, normal vs abnormal), as well as puns.

Incongruity Theory

History shows us that humor theories emphasize incongruity. Schopenhauer suggested that humor relies upon playing with what would otherwise be taken seriously, which would allow audiences to release energy they might otherwise use to respond seriously to pain or danger - perhaps explaining why so many hilarious acts involve physical comedy or the use of slapstick.

Other historical theorists have explored various other elements that contribute to what makes something funny, including grotesqueness, macabreness, absurdity and solving of logical problems. Unfortunately these approaches have often been criticised as they fail to provide sufficient details or mix up what constitutes humor with what causes its reaction.

Contemporary cognitive psychology researchers have also proposed various theories of humor, many closely aligned with incongruity theory. These models assume that humor occurs as the result of violating our mental patterns and expectations; these ideas often combine anthropology concepts as well. Some theories even propose that our sense of humor may have evolved with us over time as cultures.

Incongruity theory is an established, sophisticated approach to humor research. It has widespread acceptance by scholars in multiple disciplines and is frequently the starting point for their investigations in other areas. Unfortunately, its main criticisms include conflating object with reaction; failing to explain why certain things are funny; and not accounting for some forms of humor such as satire. Although revised versions address these criticisms somewhat better than before; its core question - "what makes incongruity fun"? - remains unanswered.

Superiority Theory

The Superiority Theory was one of the earliest accounts of humor to gain prominence, proposing that laughing at a joke gives us pleasure when our mental patterns and expectations are violated; Arthur Koestler and Sigmund Freud were fans.

The Superiority Theory has been subject to significant criticism on various fronts. One particular objection is its assumption that an emotional response must exist between an event or story and how funny it is for it to be considered humorous; this seems at odds with many instances when laughter burst out through its medium, such as during a slapstick scene or knock-knock joke; furthermore it conflicts with how humor can often serve to mock people who do not fit our standards of beauty or morality.

Other objections to the superiority theory center around philosophical considerations about human creativity. Dedre Gentner's theory of structure mapping, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson's conceptual metaphor theory and Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner's conceptual blending theory are among such arguments used against it; all three support Incongruity Theory which holds that humor is an act of creative misrecognition.

Philosophers have dedicated much time and energy to understanding humor. They have debated about whether it is inherently subjective, how it relates to pain, how humor differs from taste perception, and the nature of comedy itself.

Today's humor research is an amalgam of elements from these primary theories, blended together in different ways. One such theory, known as Benign Violation Theory, states that humorous things violate social norms while still remaining safe psychologically; this approach stands in stark contrast with others that focus on surprise, atypicality or incompatible elements juxtaposed together to produce laughter.

Relief Theory

Humor encompasses many different elements, but can generally be described as an unexpected experience. According to Sigmund Freud's Relief Theory, humor helps us release pent-up nervous energy through laughter - this theory being supported by research that finds those under significant stress tending to respond less favorably towards humor; conversely those in good spirits often appreciate it more readily.

Not surprisingly, this concept may also explain why people laugh at the same jokes over and over. Repetition allows our minds to adjust and become more accepting of it; hence why some jokes remain timeless while others fail.

Freud's theory on humor relies on the concept that humor provides a release for sexual and hostile tensions. Joking and the comic save energy that would otherwise be spent suppressing these feelings; thus enabling it to be expressed through laughter instead.

But this theory has some flaws; for instance, it seems to contradict our desire for romantic partners who possess an appreciation of humor as one of their primary traits and does not explain why some find specific types of humor amusing while others don't find it so amusing.

Benign Violation Theory of Humor (BVT). According to this theory, humor consists of multiple small violations of norms, but must remain psychologically safe for an audience; otherwise laughter could turn to cringing; for example a joke featuring racist or sexist offences can quickly go sour and cause them to stop laughing altogether.

Irrationality Objection

Philosophically speaking, the Irrationality Objection asserts that since humor subverts our mental processes and expectations playfully, it should be seen as irrational. However, to counter this assertion and demonstrate its rationality it must first show how such violations can actually foster rationality - this can be accomplished by viewing humor as play with words and ideas.

In this regard, the Humean theory of motivation provides an adequate answer to the Irrationality Objection. According to this theory, we enjoy something by comparing its value against our desires - this constitutes judgment which ultimately shapes our motivations.

But our judgment of things depends on our prior beliefs about their values; therefore if the item's actual worth exceeds our previous beliefs of its worthiness, then we enjoy it; otherwise not.

With this theory in hand, we can demonstrate that participants do not appear reliably disposed to align their intentions with their value judgments - an important discovery that undermines Korsgaard's claim that any evidence of people making choices that seem irrational should be seen as morally serious issues.

This type of irrationality can often be seen in jokes that depict people negatively, such as one that shows blondes or Poles as especially stupid; blacks as lazy; Italians as cowardly; lawyers as self-centered and women as unmathematical etc. Many philosophers beginning with Plato have taken such humor seriously as an attack against its targets, but Humean accounts of motivations can explain why such jokes should not be taken too seriously.


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