The humor response has long been considered mysterious, and it is given relatively little attention in modern experimental psychology, in spite of the fact that numerous studies suggest that it has substantial benefits for mood and health. Existing theories of humor fail to account for some of the most basic humor phenomena. On most occasions when a humor response occurs, certain verbal or visual stimuli (the "setup" stimuli, which function as an establishing operation) must precede a critical stimulus (such as a "punch line" or the final panel or critical feature of a cartoon), which then occasions a sudden "revelation" or "understanding"; this revelation is often accompanied by the humor response. We suggest that the setup stimuli increase the strength of the revelatory response to a point just below the threshold of awareness and that the critical stimulus, properly designed and timed, edges the revelatory response to a point just above threshold. We also suggest that it is this threshold phenomenon that produces most instances of the humor response. We discuss these issues in the context of some notable humor of Carl Rogers and B. F. Skinner.
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