Psychology ETDs

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Jerry M. Suls proposed an information processing model for the understanding of cartoon humor. The model describes two processes involved in humor appreciation: recognizing the incongruity (the "incongruity" variable), and finding a logical explanation or solution to the incongruity (the "complexity" variable). Suls states that there are no other operative variables in cartoon humor appreciation besides these two. The implication of this is that cartoon content should have no effect on humor c1ppreciation when incongruity arid complexity are controlled. The present study was a test of Suls' model. Cartoons previously rated for incongruity, complexity, hostile content and sexual content were shown to Ss who rated them for humor Three levels each of incongruity and complexity were used: high, medium, and low; and three levels of content: hostile, sexual, and neutral. By using cartoons from all 27 of the possible combinations of the three levels of the three variables, each variable was investigated with the other two held constant. The results of the humor ratings demonstrated no effect of incongruity on humor, an inverse relationship between complexity and humor, and that sexual cartoons were rated as more humorous than neutral cartoons, which were rated as more humorous than hostile cartoons. The incongruity results were contradictory to the prediction of Suls, who hypothesized a direct incongruity-humor relationship. These results are also contradictory to predictions of Berlyne and others who have proposed models of humor based on incongruity. The complexity results also failed to support Suls, who predicted a curvilinear complexity-humor relationship peaking at moderate complexity. Differences between the humor ratings of the three levels of content also contradicted the predic­tions of Suls' model. The content results also failed to support predictions from Freud that sexual and hostile cartoons should be more humorous than neutral cartoons.

The presence of surprising interactions indicates that further investigation of all three of these variables is needed. In particular, incongruity, which is at the base of a number of cognitive theories of humor, needs further replications to determine whether it is an operative variable. Also, the topic of individual differences, personality and ethnic variables, and their relationships to incongruity, complexity and content have not been adequately explored or even investigated at all in the cases of incongruity and complexity.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Samuel Roll

Second Committee Member

Alex Thaddeus Quenk

Third Committee Member

Sidney Rosenblum



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