What is humor? 4 theories on its function

Since the beginnings of Western philosophy, humor has been one of the fundamental themes of various thinkers. However, the term “humor” was not used in the sense that we currently use it.

Previously, it was part of the theories that explained different personalities and character models and even body fluids. It was not until the 18th century, with the development of modern science, that the term “humor” changed its meaning and began to be associated with experiencing what is funny, or rather, began to be. indicate the quality of being funny or funny.

Below we will see some theories that explained humor in philosophy and psychology overtime.

    Theories on what humor is

    Surely when we think of the word “humor”, we think of words like “laughter”, “comedy”, “clowns”, “theater”, “joke”, “smile”, among other concepts associated with fun.

    If they asked us what humor is? we could surely define this word as a state of mind; a quality of joviality and grace; a willingness to accomplish something (eg, “I’m not in the mood”); or, a personality attribute (“has a sense of humor”).

    However, the latter has not always been the case. With the constant development of philosophy and science, we have gone through different understandings of humor, which go pejorative connotations with healing potentials. Below, we’ll take a look at 4 of the theories that have explained humor over time.

    1. Humor as an obstacle to reason

    One of the first to use the term “humor” in the context of pleasure was Henri Bergson in 1890, in a book entitled La rire. However, humor studies did not become very present during this same period. In fact, of classical philosophy in the early twentieth century, humor had been seen as a negative thing.

    Consistent with thought patterns that gave reason predominance over the body and emotions, classical and modern philosophy viewed laughter, comedy, wit, or joking as a way to nullify self-control and mastery. self.

    Humor was often considered a quality to be avoided, so that the human being does not fall defeated and vitiated by laughter. Even the laughter and the humor had been related to the immoral, the malicious or the malicious.

    2. Humor as a sign of superiority

    In the twentieth century, humor and laughter began to be signs of superiority, that is, they were seen as a means of reflecting feelings of greatness towards others or about a state. earlier of ourselves. He has widely suggested that in order to make us laugh at something or someone we must first make a comparison with this someone. Next, look for elements of humor that are a sign of the other person’s inferiority or situation.

    It is then that the laughter is triggered to reaffirm this inferiority and therefore its own superiority. An example of this would be instances of verbal harassment or bullying based on derogatory humor towards the other person. In other words, humor would have psychological components related to self-defense, personal competence, judgments, self-esteem, egocentricity, among others.

    3. The theory of incongruity

    Faced with the rise of the theory of superiority, the theory of incongruity emerges. While one said that the cause of the laughter was a feeling of superiority, the other suggests that it is rather an effect of perceiving something incongruous. For example, something that goes against our values ​​or our mental patterns.

    This humor theory then generated explanations of the “nervous laughter” which manifests itself in situations that seem unexpected, uncomfortable, absurd or even annoying, but occur in a context where these sensations cannot be clearly expressed. . Through humor and laughter, we show the incongruity or discomfort that the situation generates for us.

    Another example of this could be political humor. Here again, faced with the incongruity of attitudes, ideas or public behavior of people occupying positions of political representation, it is common to respond with humor, sarcasm, irony, mockery, caricature. In this way, humor has significant political value: it allows us to express our dissatisfaction in a socially valued way that is easily shared and distributed among different people.

    4. Theories of humor as healing and well-being

    One of the most representative theories of humor, both in philosophy and in psychology and even in physiology, is the theory of well-being, relief or healing. This largely suggests that humor (the clearest physical / muscular effect is laughter), has effects on the nervous system and allows different levels of tension. In other words, humor and laughter they have the potential to release accumulated nervous energy.

    Faced with the theory of superiority, which spoke of dysfunctional elements for coexistence; this theory that humor also has important components in adaptive terms.

    Among others, the latter has been very present in the development of different psychotherapeutic currents. Laughter therapies have even been generated, the uses and applications are very different.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Kuiper, N., Grimshaw, M., Leite, C. and Kirsh, G. (2006). Humor isn’t always the best medicine: specific components of a sense of humor and psychological well-being. International Journal of Humor Research, 17 (1-2): DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/humr.2004.002.
    • Monrreall, J. (2016). Philosophy of humor. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed October 3, 2018.Available at https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/humor/#IncThe.

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