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Reversal Theory

  • By: Michael Apter
  • In: Encyclopedia of Humor Studies
  • Edited by: Salvatore Attardo
  • Subject:General Media, Communication & Cultural Studies, Sociology of Culture

Reversal theory is a general psychological theory of motivation, emotion, and personality that has generated much research since the 1970s and continues to be applied in such areas as sport coaching and management consultancy. As a general theory, it shows how humor fits into a broad pattern of motivations and emotions rather than being an ad hoc theory of humor alone. Reversal theory posits that humor will result from three features of experience—playful arousal, cognitive synergy, and identity diminishment—all of which are seen to be essential ingredients. If any one of these is missing, something other than humor will be experienced. Thus, according to reversal theory, humor elicited by jokes, cartoons, wit, parody, slapstick, sarcasm, caricature, and farce occurs through one common underlying process.

Playful Arousal

The ...

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