Definition Essay on Sense of Humour

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I decided to do my project on the psychology of humor. I chose this topic because, like most people, I really enjoy humor, whether it be through conversation or a show or movie. I wanted to research how our sense of humor is developed and why it varies from human to human, the neurobiology of a “humorous” person, and the benefits of humor. Humor is the playful use of incongruity or alternative interpretations, a behavior that makes others smile, laugh, or brighten their mood, a physiological response, a social activity, or a tool used to combat stress. Like many concepts and behaviors in psychology, humor is not simple to study or understand but there are many psychological perspectives in which to explore it.

With the lens of Cognitive psychology, I asked, “What are the mental processes involved to create and understand humor?”

    • Biological psychology: what areas of the brain are involved in this processing and creation?
    • Personality psychology: how to explain the differences in our senses of humor
    • Social psychology: what is humor’s role in creating relationships and facilitating social interactions?
    • Developmental psychology: How does our sense of humor develop?
    • Positive psychology: What are the benefits of humor in terms of well-being and life satisfaction?
    • Cognitive psychology: what are the mental processes involved to create and understand humor?

One theory of mental processes used in understanding humor is the incongruity-resolution model which suggests that humor involves the activation of an incorrect schema, the detection of another correct schema, the realization of the error in using the first schema, and being amused by the new interpretation. For example, “What has four wheels and flies?” We first begin to represent this as some form of transportation that can fly through the sky but once we hear the punchline, “a garbage truck”, we realize that “flies” has a second meaning. The amusement comes from not realizing the dual meaning at first. For a joke to be funny, we must have the needed knowledge to activate the second schema and the timing has to be appropriate to activate this second meaning after the first meaning is fully processed. Humor also has an impact on attention. Research has shown that people pay more attention to humorous content. In a marketing experiment, they tracked eye movement on three different phrases selling consumer products: one funny, one positive but not funny, and one neutral. The results revealed test subjects had longer eye fixation to the humorous content. Other studies have shown that watching a funny video or engaging in humorous content can help people persevere and focus through tedious tasks. Humor has also been shown to better increase memory retention. This is known as the humor effect when we remember better on average, the meaning of information when it is presented in a humorous context compared to when it is not. We typically remember meaning better than exact details so a good joke teller must use rehearsal and retrieval strategies to retain the exact wording of jokes.

    • Biological psychology: what areas of the brain are involved in the processing and creation of humor?

The neuroscience of humor is complicated but to sum it up, it largely involves two areas: the medial prefrontal cortex and temporal association regions. The medial prefrontal cortex is thought to be involved in learning associations between locations and events and the appropriate emotional responses. This helps us properly respond in social situations. The temporal lobe is where the brain receives sensory information and is involved in understanding speech and imagery. It also merges semantic and abstract stimuli with distant associations, so being able to call on those second schemas to understand the punchline of a joke. The temporo-occipital junction shows activation in an MRI when detecting incongruence. Non-comedians showed less activity in the temporal lobe and more activity in the prefrontal cortex where executive functions such as complex planning and decision-making take place. Those with higher temporal functioning are able to let go of their top-down processing and allow their free and spontaneous associations to do the joke-telling.

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    • Personality psychology: how to explain the differences in our senses of humor

People of all ages and backgrounds use humor every day, but the way they do so may vary greatly. Nonetheless, it appears to be a very consistent trait throughout the lifespan regarding their sense of humor and how they use it. In 2003, Rod Martin and Patricia Doris developed the Humor Styles Questionnaire, a tool to measure and distinguish between four humor styles: affiliative, self-enhancing, aggressive, and self-defeating. Affiliative humor is used to promote one’s relationship with others and decrease tension through wholesome self-accepting means, the opposite of self-defeating humor. They are spontaneous and witty and enjoy laughing with others. These people are typically less depressed and anxious and more extroverted and open to experiences with high levels of self-esteem and emotional stability. Self-enhancing humor is used as more of a coping mechanism but in a positive way--looking on the bright side of things, remaining positive in trying times, and being able to laugh at oneself. Again, these individuals are less likely to be depressed, anxious, or neurotic and more likely to be extroverted and optimistic. Aggressive humor is the harsh use of sarcasm, put-downs, and teasing at the expense of others, disregarding the impact it has on them. Sexist and racist jokes fall under the category of aggressive humor. People who use this humor style exhibit higher levels of neuroticism and lower levels of agreeableness and mindfulness. The last type, self-defeating humor, is the use of tearing oneself down to make others laugh. Here, humor is being used as a defense mechanism to mask poor self-esteem. People who use this type show more depressive symptoms, higher neuroticism, and lower agreeableness and mindfulness as well. These four different categories of humor personalities just begin to scrape the surface of why some people may find some things funny and some may not.

    • Social psychology: what is humor’s role in creating relationships and facilitating social interactions?

Theories surrounding the evolution of humor and laughter describe them as important adaptations to social communication between humans. Laughter in a social situation indicates that the interaction is safe and may release feelings of tension and aggression. Studies have shown that people are more likely to laugh in response to a video clip with canned laughter than to one without and that people are 30 times more likely to laugh in the presence of others than alone. Researchers have also discovered that different types of laughter can be used to convey social hierarchies. Experiments done at UC San Diego demonstrated the difference between low-status and high-status individuals and how strangers in the study were able to judge a person’s social status by the quality of their laugh. Laughter is universal across human cultures, something that bonds us, and it even exists in some capacity in rats, dolphins, chimps, and bonobos, all very social animals. Studies have also found that spouses tend to have very similar senses of humor. Humor aids in initial attraction and then creates bonding and feelings of closeness throughout the relationship.

    • Developmental psychology: How does our sense of humor develop?

We begin developing a sense of humor as early as 6 weeks old when babies begin to laugh and smile in response to stimuli. The development of humor goes along with major developmental milestones. Babies are amused by peekaboo and tickling. Toddlers learning the language will laugh at funny combinations of syllables that seem out of place from words. Toddlers are also learning order in the world--they know that socks belong on feet, placing a sock on an ear is hilarious to a 2-year-old because that goes against where they believe the sock should go. When we develop schemas, we learn about incongruency and developing humor processing skills. 6-year olds have grown out of peekaboo and socks on ears and begun to appreciate silly innocent jokes that defy logic and play with the new language they are learning. By 10 or 11, girls and boys tend to diverge in their sense of humor. They both become more aggressive in their jokes though boys tend to be of more sexual and violent nature while girls’ humor leans more towards teasing. In adolescence, humor becomes heavily based on social acceptance and fitting in. Research has been done to predict the psychological adjustment of adults based on their humor type as adolescents. Self-defeating humor predicted loneliness and low self-esteem. Conversely, developing high self-esteem in the adolescent years would produce more affiliative humor styles in their adult years. However, humor is learned and as humans, we are constantly learning. While there are many developmental factors that can affect your sense of humor, you are still capable of growing and refining this skill.

    • Positive psychology: What are the benefits of humor in terms of well-being and life satisfaction?

Prior research has found that humor can facilitate recovery from stressful situations, even prolonging people’s tolerance for physical pain. Large corporations such as Google have begun intentionally creating play areas in the workspace and organizing fun events to lower stress, boost morale, and increase productivity. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter can stimulate and increase the intake of oxygen, stimulate your heart, lungs, and muscles, and release more endorphins. In the long term, it can boost your immune system by creating positive thoughts that release neuropeptides that fight stress and illnesses. Negative thoughts can do the opposite and weaken your immune system. Laughter can signal the body to release natural painkillers. Lastly, humor and laughter can increase life satisfaction and improve your mood, warding off depression and anxiety and instilling a more positive outlook on life.

In conclusion, I found this topic very interesting and enlightening. This was a broad overview and there is much more learning and research yet to be done. So basically, to sum it all up, go have a laugh and live a happier healthier life because of it.

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Definition Essay on Sense of Humour. (2024, January 30). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 23, 2024, from
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