Incongruity & Incongruity Resolution Theory

Today, humour is a huge part of human existence. Thanks to its relevance, it is of great importance in various disciplines, including popular culture, linguistics, psychology marketing, and mass communications. Even more, it constitutes a general and universal activity among humans of various climes.

Similarly, researchers across these various disciplines have sought to understand the mechanism through which people feel humoured. In this light, various theories have emerged all in a bid to discuss its peculiarities and factors. These theories attempt to describe the social function of humour while also identifying what suffices as humorous.

Prime among these is the incongruity juxtaposition theory, which emerged from the use of contradictions. In light of the above, this essay examines incongruity and incongruity resolution theory to conceptualize humour better.

Humour involves the capacity of an event, occurrence, or experience to provide amusement and provoke laughter. It involves a form of psychological reaction to an event that is identified by positive emotion and feeling of amusement and usually causes laughter. (Morreall, 2016)

Generally, almost everyone across all culture and age respond to acts of humour. Noteworthy, in such situations, people regard such individuals who understand humour as possessing a “sense of humour.” It is also widespread such that a person believed to lack this “sense of humour” is naturally considered strange and sometimes irrational. (Morreall, 2016)

Incongruity refers to a contradiction or inconsistency with what appears fitting or reasonable. It usually connotes the absence of harmony within elements or parts. It usually reflects a humorous expression.

For instance, the statement “Imagine that there is nothing like a hypothetical scenario” reflects incongruity as, in this scenario, the word imagine depicts a hypothetical scenario. It is then merely an incoherence to utilize a hypothetical scenario to imagine the absence of a hypothetical scenario.

Noteworthy, it is in this inconsistency that the joke lies. This idea, in turn, resulted in the much-accepted incongruous juxtaposition theory, which posits that people sense humour at the point where individuals realize an incongruity between an idea involved in certain situations and the actual items believed to exist in connection to the idea. (Morreall, 2016)

The History of the Incongruity Resolution Theory

The emergence of this theory is traceable to Francis Hutcheson, who posited and examined the notion of incongruity in his 1725 publication, “Thoughts on Laughter.” This exposition then developed to become a core concept and idea within the sphere which attempted to theorize humour as a reaction to a perception or feeling of incongruity. (Mulder & Nijholt, 2002)

Similarly, Arthur Schopenhauer stated that the supposed incongruity exists between an idea and the exact or real object that it stands for. In the same vein, Hegel espoused a position in agreement with Arthur. He viewed the idea being communicated as an “appearance” while then stating that humour then occurs by entirely negating that idea or appearance. (Mulder & Nijholt, 2002)

Regardless of their contribution, this theory’s initial formulation is all thanks to the poet James Beattie in 1889. However, his version is not the most famous as that title belongs to Kant, who stated that humour is the “sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing.” (Mulder & Nijholt, 2002)

Still, other scholars have similarly espoused the theory. For instance, Arthur Koestler argued that humour arises when two distinct references are established, and a collision is then engineered or created. Brian Boyd, Henri Bergson, Robert Latta, and John Morreall are further scholars who explored this theory. (Mulder & Nijholt, 2002)

The Incongruity Resolution Theory

This theory emanates from the controversy as to if incongruity is sufficient in itself to create humour, or if there is a necessity for a resolution of the incongruity. Precisely, this theory looks to establish that people do not experience humour from incongruity itself. Instead, it comes from the realization that an incongruity exists and its eventual resolution (that is, placing the items in question within the real or actual relation). (Morreall, 2016)

Similarly, in contrast with the Superiority Theory and Relief Theory, this theory states that the perception of an event that violates and contradicts our rational expectations and patterns creates humour. Noteworthy, it represents the most dominant theory in both the field of psychology and philosophy. (Morreall, 2016)

Furthermore, modern stand-up comedy vividly represents this perspective on humour. In this instance, a comedian produces a set-up line and a punch. The set-up line is usually the initial part of the joke, which creates an expectation in the mind of listeners. Then the punch is the subsequent part of the effort at a joke and functions to violate the expectation earlier created. Precisely, the punch is incongruous with the beginning. (Morreall, 2016)

This idea is illustrated by Kant using a story. According to him:

“An Indian at the table of an Englishman in Surat, when he saw a bottle of ale opened and all the beer turned into froth and overflowing, testified his great astonishment with many exclamations. When the Englishman asked him, “What is there in this to astonish you so much?” he answered, “I am not at all astonished that it should flow out, but I do wonder how you ever got it in.” (Morreall, 2016)

Now, Kant states that people get humoured because the expectation of the listener was strained for a while only to dissipate suddenly. This is because a listener expects a more thoughtful reply to the Englishman’s question only to have that expectation dissipate into nought. (Morreall, 2016)

Noteworthy, in these instances, nothing is learned through this process as people only get humoured due to the physical shaking of internal organs. (Morreall, 2016)

The notion of incongruity and the incongruity resolution theory has emerged through various processes of refinement from its first mention. As such, there are a variety of perspectives on the concept. However, one thing that is central to all these perspectives is the presence of contradictions between an expectation and the eventual realization. Precisely, in an attempt to conceptualize laughter, this theory submits that the attempt to resolve the contradiction is where humour arises.

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