Arousal Theory (Berlyne)

Daniel Berlyne's arousal theory, which was popular during the 1960s and 1970s, describes enjoyment of humor as a function of modulations to the individual's psychological and physiological arousal level.

Berlyne was not the first to link humor with arousal level, though earlier theorists tended to conceptualize humor's function as a release from pentup tension. In the 19th century, Herbert Spencer postulated that the muscle spasms induced by laughter were designed to relieve physiological stress. Sigmund Freud elaborated on this idea, arguing that the expulsion of negative impulses in the form of jokes creates a sensation of relief, akin to opening a control valve on a hydraulic system under excess pressure.

Arousal theory was inspired by mid-20th-century theories of learning and motivation. These theories characterized behavior as a ...

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