The Psychology of Humor

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In Charlie Chaplin's film "The Dictator," he plays a fake character who is a barely veiled depiction of Adolf Hitler. The film offers an innovative method to commemorate the Holocaust in the postwar age. It honors the worth of laughing as a form of emancipation in the face of death. There are several hypotheses as to why we find something amusing. To illustrate this argument, consider the following: Why do people laugh when someone slips on a banana skin?

According to this theory, people laugh because such situations make us feel more superior to the victim in question. Therefore, the person who tripped over the banana is made to look stupid and therefore, it makes us more superior (Carroll 27). Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was the originator of this theory and he explains that people appear to be stupid when they misunderstand certain obvious situations. In contrast, Alexander Bain (1813-1903) criticizes this theory because he argues that it is too narrow to cover all kinds of humor. For instance, it does not apply to word play and all comic characters. Also, the existential philosophers argue that it does not take into account incongruity; which is considered the most important element of humor.

The Incongruity Theory

This theory was adopted by Immanuel Kant and later refined by Schopenhauer. It states that humor occurs when there is an incongruity between what we expect and what actually happens. People not only laugh at certain circumstances because it is incongruous but also incongruity can be interpreted in other different ways. For instance, a joke brings about a situation and then a cleverly created punch-line is introduced such that it makes the listener reconsider whatever he had heard before. Schopenhauer's explanation is based on the fact that laughter is the sudden insight of incongruity between certain concepts and real objects (Morreall 40). Therefore, Schopenhauer employs the notion of incongruity as a contrast to joking and seriousness.

Relief Theory

Relief theory describes how laughter is essential in releasing tension during emotional moments. This usually happens in movies whereby tension is high and laughter is used to relieve people from stressful situations. According to Shaftebury (1690), the theory argues that the free-spirited ingenious men, who have been controlled or even imprisoned, will find ways to relieve themselves from such constraints (Morreall 34). Hebert Spencer revised this philosophical view. Spencer maintained that emotions take physical forms of nervous energy and it tends to beget muscular motion. They both maintained the idea that laughter relieves nervous energy.

Works Cited

Carroll, Noel. Humour: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2013. Print.

Morreall, John. Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 2011. Internet resource.

April 19, 2023

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