Update 2: Outlining the Literature Review

Today is July 1st, which marks the official start of my research project. Since my last blog post, I’ve outlined what the literature review will need to cover in order to answer my research question: is it possible to predict a particular person’s response, i.e. humor, boredom, or offense, to a Cards Against Humanity joke?¹ If I’m going to answer this question and propose a model with any predictive power, I have to not only identify the underlying theoretical structure of humor but also the various factors that then influence a particular person’s experience of humor in practice. Put simply, I need to find what generally makes something funny—as opposed to boring or offensive—and then what makes something funny to a specific person.

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 12.55.10 PMTo this end, the literature review can be divided into two broad sections: (1) humor theory and (2) humor profile. Within section 1, I will review theories of humor, focusing especially on those which shed light on the kinds of humor common in Cards Against Humanity—e.g. taboo, dark, dirty, absurd, satirical, witty, etc. Section 2 is an even more ambitious project; in order to sketch out the complex web of factors that make up an individual’s unique humor profile, I will need to consider (a) identity, (b) sense of humor, and (c) sensibility. In this section, I will also review theory, but I will focus on finding valid and reliable tools for constructing a humor profile.

As I mentioned in my first update, I read Dr. Mcgraw and Warner’s The Humor Code: A Global Search For What Makes Things Funny in order to lay the groundwork for this research project. I’m really glad I did because the authors do a pretty good job of clearly and concisely outlining much of the literature that comes before Dr. McGraw’s own proposed theory of humor. Obviously, they couldn’t put together an exhaustive list. Nor could they do every theory complete justice, but at least it’s a start. After supplementing this list with lots of outside research, I now have a grasp of what has and has not been written in the field of humor studies.

From what I gathered, humor studies is a fascinating field of research. It is both ancient and modern. The first recorded scholarly treatments of humor can be traced back to the Greeks and yet, to this day, the field remains a hotbed of intellectual debate. Further, it is a relatively narrow subject and yet it pulls from so many different disciplines including philosophy, linguistics, psychology, sociology, anthropology and many more.² As a result, there are many competing and complementary theories of humor out there—enough to think you’ve cracked the code one second and then be at a complete loss the next. It’s easy to get bogged down by the sheer amount of information available. For that reason, I will dedicate my next blog post to following the most promising leads: the N+V theory and the Benign Violation theory.³



  1. It is worth noting that I added boredom as a potential response to a joke.
  2. Thomas Veatch, “A Theory of Humor,” HUMOR: International Journal of Humor Research 11, no. 2 (1998): 161.
  3. Ibid., 161-215.; Peter McGraw and Caleb Warren, “Benign Violations: Making Immoral Behavior Funny,” Psychological Science 21, no.8 (2010): 1141-1149.



Update 1: Beginning to Dissect the Frog




  1. lgkohout says:

    This is an amazing topic for a research project! I am really looking forward to seeing what you find in your research.

    I think it is so great that this topic is relatable to so many people (especially the college age population). But even if people are unaware of the game Cards Against Humanity, this project is still super interesting and humor is something I think everyone can relate to. Your Literature Review Outline is very simple and clear which is great. I really liked the note you added in on how “ancient” research on humor is, and that it was looked into during the time of ancient Greece. I think this history – along with the theories of humor at the time – could be put together to create a really interesting timeline that shows how humor theory has evolved.

    With the theories you have learned about (both “competing and complementary”), are there any in particular that stood out to you for any reason?

    Another question I have is what part of this project interests you the most, out of curiosity? Is it the psychology behind humor or more of the model you are trying to create to possibly predict behavior?

    Can’t wait to see your final product! Keep up the good work.