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



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