Humor is a description applied to any thought, behavior, motivation, or experience that causes feelings of amusement or light-hearted happiness. Most people know what humor is without being able to define it, and humor is usually associated with laughter, smiling, and a slightly elevated mood.
The Subjective Nature of Humor
Almost all people who have received at least minimal socialization have the capacity to experience humor. However, understandings of humor are highly subjective and vary with age, culture, intelligence, location, and numerous other factors. Overall happiness can also affect a person’s sense of humor. Depressed or grieving people may be slower to laugh, while very happy people may find many things humorous. Understandings of humor change over time, and what may be humorous to one person can be highly offensive to another. Racist humor used to be widely accepted in the United States, but is now generally considered offensive. Nevertheless, because racist humor draws attention to taboo cultural ideas, many people still laugh at it.
Examples of Humor
There are many types of humor, and different cultures may classify humor differently. One culture may view another culture’s humor as completely uninteresting. A few examples of different types of humor include:
- Slapstick comedy, which is physical comedy using dramatic behavior, violence, and/or bodily humor. Many children’s cartoons use slapstick humor, and slapstick tends to be especially appealing to young people.
- Hyperbolic humor is humor that greatly exaggerates the reality of a situation. “My house is dirty so I have to burn it down” is one such example.
- Sarcastic humor generally focuses on portraying a situation as the opposite of what it really is for comic relief. For example, saying to someone in disheveled clothes, “I see you put a lot of effort into your outfit today.”
Humor and Psychology
Humor can improve mental health, and may also be used as a tool in psychotherapy. Some mental health conditions may inhibit a person’s ability to experience humor. Depression in particular can rob someone of even brief moments of joy. Severe deficits in cognitive functioning and traumatic brain injuries can also eliminate or interfere with a person’s sense of humor.
- American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
- Colman, A. M. (2006). Oxford dictionary of psychology. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Last Updated: 08-7-2015
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