Undergraduate Honors Theses

Date of Award





Dr. Rod A. Martin


Surprise is an important element of many cognitive theories of humour (e.g., Suls, 1972): the less predictable the punchline, the funnier a joke is expected to be. Many theories also predict a curvilinear relationship between speed of joke comprehension and funniness: jokes that are too easy or too difficult should be less funny than those that require an intermediate amount of processing. This study was designed to investigate these two assumptions of past theories. Undergraduate psychology students (N = 183) participated online and completed two tasks. The Joke Completion Task required the participants to read the joke stem of a series of jokes and predict the punchlines. Each predicted punchline was rated for its similarity to the actual punchline. In the Joke Rating Task, participants rated the funniness of a different series of complete jokes. The participants’ speed of comprehension (reaction time) was also measured during this task. As expected, the results were contrary to the predictions of past humour theories. Predictability of punchlines was found to be positively correlated with joke funniness, and the reaction time for comprehension of a joke was negatively correlated with funniness. These findings suggest that previous theories may be incorrect, and a new cognitive conceptualization of joke processing may be needed. A general outline for a new conceptualization of humour is presented using the framework of System 1 and System 2 thinking from Kahneman’s (2011) research.