• Sonja HeintzEmail author
  • Jennifer HofmannEmail author
Living reference work entry


Humor comprises, in its broadest definition, everythingrelated to the funny. This includes how humor is perceived, appreciated, and produced by individuals, but it also includes humorous stimuli (texts, cartoons, jokes, situations) and their properties. The concept of incongruity is postulated as a central element of humor in many theories and models; as such, humor is inherently related to the possible. The present chapter first defines humor and gives a brief overview on humor theories. Then, the family of incongruity-resolution theories of humor and the wittiness model of humor are described, as they are particularly relevant for understanding the relationship of humor and the possible. Next, the relevance of individual differences in humor and aspects of humor development are discussed. Then, empirical findings on humor and humor interventions are presented briefly. The final section explores the links between humor and the possible from five perspectives: playfulness,...


Humor Incongruity Nonsense Playfulness Wittiness Incongruity-resolution Creativity Irony 
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Apter, M. J. (Ed.). (2001). Motivational styles in everyday life: A guide to reversal theory. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  2. Attardo, S. (Ed.). (2017). The Routledge handbook of language and humour. London: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  3. Attardo, S., & Raskin, V. (1991). Script theory revis(it)ed: Joke similarity and joke representation model. Humour: International Journal of Humour Research, 4, 293–347. Scholar
  4. Bergen, D. (2018). Humour as a developmental phenomenon: The contributions of Paul McGhee. Humour: International Journal of Humour Research, 31, 213–231. Scholar
  5. Chan, Y. C., Chou, T. L., Chen, H. C., & Lian, K. C. (2012). Segregating the comprehension and elaboration processing of verbal jokes: An fMRI study. NeuroImage, 61, 899e906. Scholar
  6. Chan, Y. C., Chou, T. L., Chen, H. C., Yeh, Y. C., Lavallee, J. P., Liang, K. C., & Chang, K. E. (2013). Towards a neural circuit model of verbal humour processing: An fMRI study of the neural substrates of incongruity detection and resolution. NeuroImage, 66, 169–176. Scholar
  7. Craik, K. H., Lampert, M. D., & Nelson, A. J. (1996). Sense of humour and styles of everyday humorous conduct. Humour: International Journal of Humour Research, 9, 273–302. Scholar
  8. Feingold, A., & Mazzella, R. (1993). Preliminary validation of a multidimensional model of wittiness. Journal of Personality, 61(3), 439–456. Scholar
  9. Ferguson, M. A., & Ford, T. E. (2008). Disparagement humour: A theoretical and empirical review of psychoanalytic, superiority, and social identity theories. Humour: International Journal of Humour Research, 21, 283–312. Scholar
  10. Forabosco, G. (2008). Is the concept of incongruity still a useful construct for the advancement of humor research? Lodz Papers in Pragmatics, 4(1), 45–62. Scholar
  11. Freud, S. (1905). Der Witz und seine Beziehung zum Unbewussten. [The joke and its relation to the unconscious.] Vienna: Deutike.Google Scholar
  12. Freud, S. (1928). Humour. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 9(1), 1–6. Retrieved from Scholar
  13. Heintz, S. (2019). Separating content and structure in humour appreciation: A bimodal structural equation modeling approach. Journal of Individual Differences. Advance Online Publication, 41, 37. Scholar
  14. Hofmann, J., & Rodden, F. (2019). Representing, detecting, and translating humour in the monolingual and multilingual brain. In J. W. Schwieter (Ed.), The handbook of the neuroscience of multilingualism (pp. 335–354). London: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hofmann, J., & Ruch, W. (2019). Moving forward in fostering humour: Towards training lighter forms of humour in multicultural contexts. In L. E. van Zyl & S. Rothmann (Eds.), Theoretical approaches to multi-cultural positive psychological interventions (Vol. 1, pp. 1–20). Cham: Springer.Google Scholar
  16. Hoicka, E., & Akhtar, N. (2012). Early humour production. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 30(4), 586–603. Scholar
  17. Keith-Spiegel, P. (1972). Early conceptions of humour: Varieties and issues. In J. H. Goldstein & P. E. McGhee (Eds.), The psychology of humour: Theoretical perspectives and empirical issues (pp. 4–39). New York, NY: Academic.Google Scholar
  18. Maitland, S. (Ed.). (2017). What is cultural translation? London: Bloomsbury Academic.Google Scholar
  19. Martin, R. A., & Ford, T. E. (2018). The psychology of humour: An integrative approach (2nd ed.). London: Academic.Google Scholar
  20. Martin, R. A., & Lefcourt, H. M. (1983). Sense of humour as a moderator of the relation between stressors and moods. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 1313–1324. Scholar
  21. McGhee, P. E. (1979). Humour: Its origin and development. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman and Company.Google Scholar
  22. McGhee, P. E. (2010). Humour as survival training for a stressed-out world: The 7 humour habits program. Bloomington: Author House.Google Scholar
  23. McGhee, P. E. (2018). Chimpanzee and gorilla humour: Progressive emergence from origins in the wild to captivity to sign language learning. Humour: International Journal of Humour Research, 31, 405–449. Scholar
  24. Oring, E. (2003). Engaging humor. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  25. Proyer, R. T. (2018). Playfulness and humor in psychology: An overview and update. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research, 31(2), 259–271.
  26. Raskin, V. (1985). Semantic mechanisms of humour. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.Google Scholar
  27. Renner, K. H., Enz, S., Friedel, H., Merzbacher, G., & Laux, L. (2008). Doing as if: The histrionic self-presentation style. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 1303–1322. Scholar
  28. Ritchie, G. (2018). The comprehension of jokes: A cognitive science framework. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Roeckelein, J. E. (2002). The psychology of humour: A reference guide and annotated bibliography. Westport: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  30. Rothbart, M. K., & Pien, D. (1977). Elephants and marshmallows: A theoretical synthesis of incongruity resolution and arousal theories of humour. In A. J. Chapman & H. C. Foot (Eds.), It’s a funny thing, humour (pp. 37–40). Elmsford: Pergamon.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ruch, W. (1992). Assessment of appreciation of humour: Studies with the 3 WD humour test. In C. D. Spielberger & J. N. Butcher (Eds.), Advances in personality assessment (Vol. 9, pp. 27–75). Hillsdale: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  32. Ruch, W. (2008). The psychology of humour. In V. Raskin (Ed.), The primer of humour research (pp. 17–100). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ruch, W., & Hehl, F.-J. (2007). A two-mode model of humour appreciation: Its relation to aesthetic appreciation and simplicity-complexity of personality. In W. Ruch (Ed.), The sense of humour: Explorations of a personality characteristic (2nd ed., pp. 109–142). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ruch, W., & McGhee, P. E. (2014). Humor intervention programs. In A. C. Parks & S. M. Schueller (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychological interventions (pp. 179–193). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  35. Ruch, W., & Heintz, S. (2016). The virtue gap in humour: Exploring benevolent and corrective humour. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 2(1), 35–45. Scholar
  36. Ruch, W., & Heintz, S. (2019). Humour production and creativity: Overview and recommendations. In S. R. Luria, J. Baer, & J. C. Kaufman (Eds.), Creativity and humour (pp. 1–42). San Diego: Academic.Google Scholar
  37. Ruch, W., & Hofmann, J. (2017). Fostering humour. In C. Proctor (Ed.), Positive psychology interventions in practice (pp. 65–80). New York: Springer. Scholar
  38. Ruch, W., Heintz, S., Platt, T., Wagner, L., & Proyer, R. T. (2018). Broadening humour: Comic styles differentially tap into temperament, character, and ability. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 6. Scholar
  39. Suls, J. M. (1977). Cognitive and disparagement theories of humour: A theoretical and empirical synthesis. In A. J. Chapman & H. C. Foot (Eds.), It’s a funny thing, humour (pp. 41–45). Oxford: Pergamon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Suls, J. M. (1983). Cognitive processes in humour appreciation. In P. E. McGhee & J. H. Goldstein (Eds.), Handbook of humour research (pp. 39–57). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Warren, C., & McGraw, A. P. (2016). Differentiating what is humorous from what is not. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110, 407–430. Scholar
  42. Wyer, R. S., & Collins, J. E. (1992). A theory of humour elicitation. Psychological Review, 99, 663–688. Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

Section editors and affiliations

  • Wendy Ross
    • 1
  1. 1.Kingston UniversityKingstonUK