The psychology of humour

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What's so funny?

Freud developed detailed theories concerning the nature of humour and why some things are funnier than others. One way to put his theories in perspective is to look at tragic situations about which jokes have been created. Why would people make jokes about such events?

According to Freud, sexual and aggressive themes underlie much of what people consider humourous. Additionally, hostile humour is funnier when directed towards someone we dislike. Hostile humour can reduce tension, especially that caused by tragic or unnerving events.

Tendentious jokes - those about such things as hostility and sex - can provide insight into the unconscious of the joke teller as well as the respondent.

Aggressive jokes allow aggressive desires and feelings to be held in check, in a socially appropriate manner. These sorts of jokes are not only acceptable in society, but may even be encouraged. It's a great way to introduce uncomfortable topics in conversation, for instance. This is known as catharsis.

Thus, telling jokes about scary or sad events can be a way to reduce and relieve stress caused by the event.

Of course, jokes are funnier when directed towards someone we don't like. Studies show that men find humour about women funnier than that about men, and vice versa.

An interesting note: it may seem that hostile humour told to an already hostile person may make things worse. Actually it reduces hostility in that person and is received better than by a relaxed person.

Tension is a big part of humour. The more tension involved, the funnier it is. Thus, more sensitive people are more likely to find something funnier than a calm, tensionless person. A person told a rat in a box might bite will find it funnier if it's actually a toy rat in a box than a person told the rat is harmless.

All in all, laughter serves an important psychological function, keeping us in a healthy mental state.

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11 comments

keiser62 profile image

keiser62 9 years ago

I've never actually thought about the nature of a joke or bothered putting them in to a category. This brings to light a new area of research for me. I guess I need to study up on Freud and a few others.


teresa 9 years ago

That's what I've been trying to tell him all along...


jenny008 7 years ago

not feeling that picture


demna 6 years ago

think you for that but me i need the imprtance of humor in psychology do you understand please answer


anny 6 years ago

I m a budding psychologist. i want to do my research in the area of humour psychology. so any suggestions? or which area need o explore.....


anny 6 years ago

is there any one to guide me???


Lucy 6 years ago

Ahh!! I laugh an awful lot! Does that mean I'm tense and sensetive? lol :)


shivam 6 years ago

you might want to read up on desmond morris' research on babies and humor. His 'no danger' theory is interesting.


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 6 years ago from Northern California Author

Thank you all for your comments, and to shivam for yoru suggsetion. I hadn't heard of that research.


Reader 5 years ago

Recent books out on the psychology of humor include Hurley Dennett and Adams' "Inside Jokes" and Wallace Chafe's "The Importance of not Being Earnest"


superfly47 profile image

superfly47 3 years ago from Canada

Hostile humor is actually a good thing, interesting.

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