3QuarksDaily has an interesting piece on the psychology of humour and how it is used to negotiate and establish social hierarchies.
The article looks at two theories of humour that try understand what makes something funny. A common explanation is the ‘incongruity’ idea, that suggests when something is suddenly out of context it is more likely to seem funny.
But as the article notes, these theories “fail to explain why we are amused by certain instances of incongruity ‚Äì a man showing up to his job at a real-estate agency with a ‚Äúkick me‚Äù sign on his back ‚Äì but not others ‚Äì a man showing up to his job at a real-estate agency with a cure for cancer”.
The other approach is the ‘superiority’ theory, that suggests that humour is used to establish social hierarchies – those considered objects of humour are further down the social ranking.
But it’s also the case that we seem to use it as a form of flattery for our superiors – various studies (nicely summarised in this NYT article) find that we are much more likely to laugh at the jokes of people higher up the social hierarchy.
The 3QD piece considers the role, development, and rather intriguingly the morality of humour. It’s a little short on links to actual studies which is a little frustrating but it otherwise an interesting and informative exploration.
Link to 3QuarksDaily article ‘Is Humor Immoral?’.