The humor response has long been considered mysterious, and it is given relatively little
attention in modern experimental psychology, in spite of the fact that numerous studies suggest
that it has substantial benefits for mood and health. Existing theories of humor fail to account
for some of the most basic humor phenomena. On most occasions when a humor response
occurs, certain verbal or visual stimuli (the "setup" stimuli, which function as an establishing
operation) must precede a critical stimulus (such as a "punch line" or the final panel or critical
feature of a cartoon), which then occasions a sudden "revelation" or "understanding"; this
revelation is often accompanied by the humor response. We suggest that the setup stimuli
increase the strength of the revelatory response to a point just below the threshold of awareness
and that the critical stimulus, properly designed and timed, edges the revelatory response to
a point just above threshold. We also suggest that it is this threshold phenomenon that produces
most instances of the humor response. We discuss these issues in the context of some notable
humor of Carl Rogers and B. F. Skinner.
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