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The psychology of humour

Updated on September 23, 2012

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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    • superfly47 profile image

      David McKenzie 

      6 years ago from Canada

      Hostile humor is actually a good thing, interesting.

    • profile image


      7 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"

    • glassvisage profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Northern California

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

    • profile image


      9 years ago

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

    • profile image


      9 years ago

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

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      is there any one to guide me???

    • profile image


      9 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.....

    • profile image


      9 years ago

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

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      not feeling that picture

    • profile image


      12 years ago

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

    • keiser62 profile image


      12 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.


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