Release Theories of Humor

Release theory focuses on the psychological and physical processes of tension build-up in people and the release of this tension by humor. According to John Morreall, humor is best understood as a release process in which laughter operates like a safety valve in a steam pipe, releasing built-up nervous energy. Herbert Spencer had a simple version of the theory in which a laughter stimulus evokes emotions but then shows them to be inappropriate. This entry begins with a review of Sigmund Freud’s analysis of humor, which focuses on the way in which humor can help release built-up psychological energy. The entry then examines humor as a potential source of liberation from psychological constraints, as suggested by M. M. Bakhtin and Harvey Mindess. It then ...

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