Harry L. Hollingworth[1]
Columbia University

Reactions to comic situations are notoriously dependent on individual temperament, mood and circumstance. So much is this true that few attempts to control these variable factors experimentally or to measure in any way the subjective clement in the response to the comic have been reported. One of the most striking things about such reactions is the important rôle played by adaptation to the stimulus. There is a decided change in the reaction whenever the element of novelty, surprise or shock is eliminated, or whenever the climax is in any way anticipated or remembered. But the mere fact that these factors are subjective or highly variable is no reason why they should not submit to measurement by appropriate methods. Nothing would seem to be more subjective and variable than judgments of scientific eminence, of the relative beauty of picture postals, the legibility of handwriting, family resemblance in penmanship or the persuasiveness of advertisements. Yet all these have yielded to methods of measurement and the coefficients derived have been sometimes objectively verified. Thus the writer has found that subjective judgments of the relative persuasiveness of advertisements actually check up with the keyed results of those advertisements when they appeared.

The variable elements in judgments of the comic fall into two chief groups:

1. Variabilities in the observer.—No two individuals are supposed to react in quite the same way to the same comic motive. Associations leading into remote quarters of personal experience, recent happenings and present apperceptive

( 133) attitudes most diverse in kind, emotional complexes varying widely in color and complexity, seem nowhere else to be so potent as here. One individual never wearies of a favorite jest which for others soon loses its flavor. Another is perennially amused by puns which bore his friends; some of us always `see the funny side' while others never seem able to `catch the point.' Even the fact of racial differences, so difficult to detect in most traits, is apparent here.

2. Variabilities in the comic situation.—Every-day observation shows that some jokes lose their relish immediately after the first hearing while others will endure a considerable number of repetitions before adaptation takes place or even will improve with increased familiarity. There are differences in speed, in the number of repetitions required, as well as in the final degree of adaptation, which may be easily measured, analyzed and balanced against each other. The semi-metaphysical classics have had much to say concerning the processof adaptation, but these statements have been usually spun out of exceeding fine yarn. The only strictly experimental ventures into the field of the comic, to the writer's knowledge, are the questionnaire of Hall and Allin[2] and the tests of Martin [3] by the various psychophysical methods. Neither of these papers throws any clear light on the questions pro-posed in the present inquiry. The purpose of this study is to seek answers to some or all of the following questions concerning the two groups of variabilities outlined above.

I. Judgments of the comic:

1. What differences are found among a group of observers, in the apperception, appreciation and evaluation of a given series of comic situations?

2. What variability does the same observer show from time to time in his reactions to the same motive?

3. How does the average variability of the same observer compare with that of a group of observers?

4. Is the consistency of an individual in any way corre-

( 134) -lated with his own agreement with the group average? Is his consistency in any one task characteristic of his performance in a different task?

5. What relation does the character or quality of the motive bear to the degree of variability in these cases?

6. Does the judgment of the comic display any peculiar characteristics? What contribution to the general theory of judgment can such an investigation make?

II. The psychology of adaptation to the comic:

1. Do all jokes decrease in funniness with repetition?

2. If so, do they all grow stale together or do some be-come chestnuts more quickly than others?

3. Or are there perhaps (a) waxing jokes, in which each repetition provokes an even greater appreciative reaction, (b) waning jokes which decline steadily in affective value, and (c) static ones, which undergo no transformation in merit. What are the chief `categories' of the comic, and what is the behavior of each type in the chestnut process?

III. Can such experimental investigation contribute in any way toward the `theory of the comic' which hitherto for the most part has been treated only in an analytical and introspective way?


The comic situations were in this experiment afforded by a series of thirty-nine jokes, ranging rather widely in character and merit, culled from a collection to which several individuals contributed their choicest specimens. The attempt was made to secure, as far as possible, `uncirculated' jokes, so that each observer would begin at an approximately identical point of adaptation. It need hardly be remarked that this condition was not rigidly fulfilled. Tradition asserts that there are only five distinct jokes in the world, but for our purpose to chief categories were chosen as comprising the principal types disclosed by an analysis of the whole collection and several representatives were selected for each category. The classification seems to cover most of the distinct types pointed out in the analytical treatises. In order to classify the jokes fairly, ten disinterested observers independently

( 135) sorted the group of 39 under the to headings, and in the final interpretation of the results with respect to the adaptation process the majority of these to votes decided the category under which the joke was thrown (see Table IX.). The jokes were type-written on cards of the same size, and in order to leave the interpretation of the situation entirely to the reader, the titles, often suggestive of one interpretation rather than another, were omitted.

The plan adopted for securing the judgments was a modification of the order of merit method so successfully employed by Cattell,[4] Sumner,[5] Norsworthy,[6] Wells,[7] Downey [8] and Thorndike.[9] The present modification, which may be designated the group method as contrasted with the strict order method possesses several advantages which justify its further development. Instead of arranging the material in strict order of merit the observer placed them in to piles, according to their `degree of funniness.' In the first pile were placed the superior jokes, in the tenth the poorest ones, while the intermediate piles represented gradations of merit from best to poorest. No instructions were given as to the amount of difference represented by these successive piles, nor as to the number of cards to be placed in each.[10]

Ten observers took part in the experiment, all of whom were women, students in the Barnard laboratory, with one and a half year's work in psychology. When the average position of each card for the ten observers was calculated, the 39 jokes

( 136) could be arranged in a strict order of merit according to their respective averages. The advantages of this group method are several.

It is much quicker than the strict method, less fatiguing and monotonous to the observer, yet correlates closely with results from the same observers by the strict order method. Further, the method gives opportunity to observe any changes in value of the group as a whole. Thus by multiplying the number of cards in a given group (say 7) by the position of that group (say number 9) and adding these products for all ten groups a figure is obtained which gives some measure of the total value of the series for a given individual or group. Now if the cards are arranged a second, third, fourth, etc., time by the same observers, these sums will indicate the change in total value of the series during the successive trials (see Plate III.).This figure is of course not in any sense an absolute measure. It is conditioned by shifts in the individual's standard of value, by his personal variability of judgment, by the variation in standard from individual to individual, and by the fact that no card can be thrown higher than the first nor lower than the last pile. Nevertheless it affords an interesting and suggestive index of the total series behavior which the strict order method cannot yield. It will be shown later that the M.V. (mean variation) in such experiments always bears a constant ratio to the number of places into which the objects are to be sorted, so that the relative variability is the same here as in the strict method.

There may be, in the group method, a certain tendency to arrange stimuli according to qualitative or type resemblance, which might to a degree disturb the judgment of merit,—a tendency, that is, to put all puns in the same pile, etc. But there is no evidence in the results that such an inclination has in any way operated. Moreover the tendency is just as strong, in the strict order method, to put qualitatively similar stimuli in the same region of the scale. Thus Wells found that in arrangements of picture postals according to preference there was a tendency to place near each other cards bearing similar scenes, color schemes, etc. It is conceivable

( 137) that even in arranging individuals with respect to scientific eminence, contiguity in space or similarity of field or method may operate as a more or less significant associative factor in determining relative position. But since these factors also help determine the individual's actual judgment of merit, they need not be supposed to warp that judgment in any undesirable way.

In the present experiment each of the 10 observers arranged the cards five successive times, the trials being a week apart. This plan thus gave data for investigating the variability of the group, of the individual, of the total value of the series and of the behavior of each card under the influence of repetition. Both Wells and Downey have shown that a week is ample time for the elimination of any great disturbance through the memory factor in the successive trials.


Results will be treated under three headings: First, with respect to judgment; second, with respect to the `chestnut' process; third, with respect to the theory of the comic.

Table I. shows the average value and the M.V. of each card (numbered in a random order) for the 10 observers in the five successive trials, and indicates also the final position of each joke in each trial. Adding each column of average positions gives for each trial the total value for the series and averaging the M.V. column gives the average M.V. of the 10 observers for each of the five trials. Thus the total value of the series amounts to 214.1 points in the first trial, and drops in each following trial, through 216.5, 230.7, 235.0, to 239.9 in the fifth. That is to say, the jokes as a whole wane in value, assuming that the average standard of the group remained approximately constant throughout. The shift is not so great, however, as we might expect. Since the observer was instructed to have always ten piles, the jokes could not all begin in pile 1. There would be at least one in each of the other nine piles, making the highest possible number of points(with 30 cards in pile 1 and one card in each pile from 2 to 10) 84. Nor could the cards all fall to the bottom pile, since there

( 138) must needs be one remaining in each of the other nine, so that the lowest possible limit would be 240. Thus the maxi-mum possible fall would be from 84 to 340 points, or a loss of 256 points. The actual drop is only from 214 to 240, or 26 points, approximately one tenth of the possible fall. This slight change is probably due to the fact that the cards originally in pile Io could never be thrown lower. Yet those in the piles above, while becoming weaker in their laughter-provoking quality, preserved their superiority to the pile below and could not be assimilated with them. This means then that the general standard of the individual would fall from trial to trial, the lowest group (10) representing each time an absolutely lower value. This drop would extend itself all the way up the scale, so that the jokes which remain on a level throughout the experiment really drop, those rising do not rise so much as they seem to, while those dropping fall more rapidly, with respect to absolute value, than they appear to. The total waning coefficient does not then measure the absolute change in value of the group, but it is nevertheless a significant figure in comparison of group with group or individual with individual.

The average M.V.'s for the successive trials show no change in magnitude, remaining always between 2.1 and 2.3 places, or .22 the total number of positions. The significance of this ratio will be referred to later.

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Table 1a

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Likes and Dislikes.—If the cards be arranged in a final order of merit for each trial and the M.V.'s of the best cards compared with those of the poorest, that is, if the M.V.'s of the top and bottom of the series be compared, the members of the group are found to agree more closely at the top than at the bottom. Table II. gives the M.V. for the first and last ten places in each of the five trials. Inspection shows two facts. First, that the M.V. for the top groups, taken either by 5's or 10's, is less than for the lower. Thus the average M.V. for places 1-10 is 2.03 compared with 2.22 for places . 30-39. The M.V. of places 1—5 is 1.97 compared with 2.09 for places 34—39.

Table 2

Second, this difference becomes smaller with each repetition, the differences between the M.V.'s of 1—5 and 34—39 being successively .46, .23, .21, .13, .05, and between the M.V.'s of 1—10 and .30—39, being .39, .24, .17, .10, .01. Generalizing we may say that in the beginning individuals agree more

( 141) closely on the good than on the poor, but that with successive repetitions this difference disappears (see Table III.).

Table 3

This first relation seems to be a usual one in judgments of this subjective character,—of preference, beauty, persuasiveness, etc. Thus in Wells' study of picture postals, although the author does not call attention to the fact, the figures yield the following result. For places 1—5 and 45—50, the M.V.'s are much alike, being respectively 8.7 and 8.5. For places I—10 the M.V. is 8.5 while for 40—50 it is 10.2. For 1—15 it is 9.5 as against 10.3 for places 35—50, etc. In a yet unpublished study by the writer, of the judgments of twenty men with respect to the persuasiveness of 50 advertisements the same relation holds, the average M.V. for places 1—10 being 9.8 as against 10.8 for places 40-50.

This seems to be a not uninteresting point in the psychology of judgment, the significance of which is not clear. Wells finds that for repeated trials by the same individual the reverse situation holds, the same individual agreeing closer at the bottom of the scale than at the top, and the suggestion is made that this may mean that we are more certain of our dislikes than of our preferences. Giving the present relation a somewhat analogous interpretation, it may mean that although a single individual may be more certain of his antipathies, a group of individuals will resemble each other more in their preferences than in their aversions.

Or the relation may mean simply that we attend to things possessing positive quality. That here where the expression of the judgment is in terms of preference we attend

( 142) more strongly to the end in which our preferences really lie. But that this is not true for all- individuals will be later pointed out. Dearborn [11] finds judgments of unlikeness easier to make than judgments of similarity, and Downey finds some evidence for the same relation, although the average of her results confirms the statement of Wells. But the judgment of preference is qualitatively different from the judgment of resemblance, the one being based on feeling-tone, the other on more restricted perceptual factors.

Another possible interpretation of the data is that the differences between the superior cards, at the top of the scale, are greater than those of the mediocre at the bottom. This was clearly shown by Cattell to be the case in judgments of scientific achievement. Thus "The figures show that the average differences [12] between the chemists who are in the first tenth are about eight times as great as between the chemists toward the middle of the list and about twelve times as great as between the chemists toward the bottom of the list" But there are at least three reasons for believing that there is considerable change in attitude when the same observer turns from arranging men according to merit to arranging simple stimuli according to affective tone. The difference lies in the fact that part way down the scale, in the latter case, the expression of judgment changes from terms of decreasing preference into terms of increasing positive dislike, whereas probably few scientists who would get into a total group would be rated as positively bad, the judgment being expressed rather in terms of more or less merit. Arrangements of scientific merit resemble the scale of sensation intensities, varying always in terms of degree, while arrangements of preference resemble the gradation of feelings from the positive pole through a region of indifference to a decided negative pole.

In the second place the suggestion that the smaller variability in the upper ranges depends on objective differences in

( 143) the stimuli is contradicted by the fact that in the successive arrangements by the same individual four of the ten observers were more consistent in the lower range than in the upper, and this would hardly be expected if the differences between the cards in this lower range were actually smaller than in the upper. Furthermore if something like Weber's law holds for judgments of affective tone as well as for sensation intensity, differences in the upper range would have to be greater in order to yield equal variability, and considerably greater if the variability is still smaller. The whole question of this closer group agreement in the upper ranges seems to merit further investigation and especially, the tendency of the differences to become uniformly smaller in successive trials.

Another striking relation brought out by the comparison of various order of merit arrangements of stimuli on the basis of such affective factors as preference, beauty, persuasiveness, funniness, etc., is the constancy of the ratio of the aver-age M.V. for the series as whole to the number of possible positions in the range. If by M.V. we designate this average variability and by P the total number of positions in the scale then M.V./P is, with various kinds of material, with different groups of observers and with a widely ranging value for P, usually .20, and with high reliability. The following table exhibits this relation in such material as the writer has at hand.

Table 4

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Figure 1

That is to say, the M.V. is always about one fifth of the total number of possible places, or the P.E. (probable error) assuming a normal distribution, about .168 or about one sixth of the range. The evidence seems to the writer too strong to permit of explanation in terms of mere coincidence. Of course if the material had been the same throughout, the only variable being the number of places into which it was sorted, this is just what we might expect, for the relative P.E. would remain constant, the absolute P.E.

depending on the fineness of the grades of distinction. But we have here eight distinct sets of material, judged in terms of a considerable range of traits, by widely differing groups of observers, both as to sex, training, interest and number. The only constant factor is that the judgment is always based on the affective reaction to the stimulus. And we find that in every case the probable error is approximately one sixth of the range.    (It would probably be slightly larger if it were not for the fact that the end error tends to reduce the variability of the extreme upper and lower positions.) Assuming that the M.V.'s were equal in all parts of the range (and they do not vary greatly), and allowing a P.E. in both directions from both the upper and lower extremes, the total range would then be divided into four sections, each separated from its neighbor by the respective P.E.'s, somewhat as follows. This would mean that, so far as the average judgment of the group of observers is concerned, there are only four distinct grades of difference or merit in the material, only four shades of distinction on which the group would, in the long run, agree, these grades corresponding to the sections lying about A, B, C and D as central tendencies.

This situation is curiously analogous to that disclosed in judgments of the same observer, where practice shows that about four distinctions of certainty, clearness, etc., are all

( 145) that can be comfortably and accurately made. The same thing that holds for the variability of the individual holds for the variability of the group. And the fact that the law holds for such different kinds of material and traits argues an interesting resemblance between the judgments involved in such affective discriminations.

The size of this ratio M.V./P would become smaller as the material came to be selected so as to disclose more pronounced or more objectively measurable differences. Thus in judgments of resemblance of penmanship which are supposedly more directly perceptual and objectively verifiable in kind, Downey finds M.V.'s which, if arranged as below, according to the range of possible positions, would yield an M.V./P value of about .163, or a probable error of about .130, meaning that while there are only about four clearly marked grades of beauty, funniness, persuasiveness, etc., there are about five clearly marked degrees of resemblance.

Table 5

This ratio M.V./P can then be used as a reliable index of the objective character of judgments and with greater accuracy than the crude M.V. employed by Wells. Using this ratio the objectivity of his three classes of judgments would be,—preference .201, colors .086, and weights .141, showing that the judgments of weight order were more subjective than those of color order, thus reversing the order assigned by Wells.


Turning now from the variability of the group to the successive judgments of the individual, several questions suggest themselves;

1. Does the individual, as the group, judge the upper range positions with greater regularity than the lower?

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2. Is there any correlation between the individual's consistency in his successive judgments and his agreement with the average of the group?

3. Is there such a thing as general consistency, that is, does the individual whose successive judgments in this experiment show little variability judge as uniformly under other circumstances?

4. Is there any correlation between the individual's relative position in the group with respect to consistency or with respect to agreement with group average in this experiment, and the same measures in another experiment, with different material? In other words, is the individual who is variable in judging one class of material also variable in judging other material, and is his approximation to the group average in one case any index of his position for other material?

Table 6

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Table VI. gives for each individual the M.V. of the five trials for the different sections. These figures were secured by computing the final average of each card for the individual, arranging the cards in a final order of merit according to these averages and then calculating the M.V. of each position in the five trials. These M.V.'s for the eight positions in each section were then averaged to get the average M.V. for the section. The average of these gives, finally, at the bottom of each column, the average M.V. of the individual for all 39 sections. Comparison of the column shows that in six cases the M.V.'s are smaller for the upper and in four cases for the lower ranges, the average for the 10 observers being practically identical for corresponding sections, perhaps somewhat less for the lower ranges,—.84 for 1—8 as against .78 for 32—29, and 1.39 for 9—18 as against 1.37 for 25—32. So far as this difference is genuine it confirms the finding of Wells that the same individual is, on the average, more certain of the judgments in the lower than in the upper sections, differing in this respect from the judgments of the group.

Table VII. shows the consistency of each individual as measured by her average M.V., the correlation of her own average arrangement with the average arrangement of the group of 10 observers, also the position of each observer in the group with respect to both these measures. The correlation between these two main columns is —.49, indicating that a large individual variability or personal inconsistency is correlated directly with approximation to group average. This provides an interesting contrast with Wells' result for picture postals. In his experiment the individual whose personal consistency was greatest correlated most closely with the group average, and this led to the suggestion that he who knows his own mind best is likely to be the best judge of the mind of others. Downey's results pointed in the same direction. But all that the contrast shows is that the rule does not hold for the present material. As will be seen later, the process of adaptation gives to the comic situation a changing rather than a static value. As will be pointed out in the discussion of the `chestnut' process, in the average opinion

( 148) of the group, some of the jokes change greatly in value with successive repetitions, one class rising in the relative scale, another class just as decidedly falling, while only about half of the cards approximate their original positions in the later arrangements. This means that if a given individual's judgments are to be an index of the opinion of the group, his evaluation of the waxing or waning jokes must vary correspondingly, thus giving him a high M.V. In so far as the individual's consecutive arrangements remain uniform, in just that far does he come short of being representative of his group. It is clear from this result that in all such measurements the stability of the material must be in some way ascertained before the results can be safely interpreted. In an unpublished study, by the writer, of the relative strength of appeals, the results of Wells and Downey are confirmed although the correlation is not high, being about +.30 with a P.E. of .08. The material for this experiment consisted of 50 descriptions of an ideal commodity, each description appealing to a different interest, instinct or effective conception. The descriptions were arranged in strict order of merit according to the persuasiveness of their appeal to the reader. Nine of the observers in the experiments on the comic took part in this experiment as well. Two sortings, one month apart, were made, and each individual's personal consistency, as measured by the correlation of her two trials, compared with her approximation to the group average, as in the present experiment. Table VIII. shows for each observer the consistency coefficient for each experiment, and also her correlation, in each, with the group average.

The correlation of the individual positions in the consistency columns


is –.30. In so far as this coefficient is reliable it indicates the absence of such a thing as general consistency in the two experiments. Of course for so few cases the correlation coefficient of –.30 is not very reliable, the probable error (.6745 . 1 —r2/√ n) being .20.


But there is nothing to indicate that the individual whose judgments are variable in one experiment will also be found variable in another.

Table 8

The coefficient for the correlation of approximation to the group average in the two experiments is +.22. This figure is subject to the same high probable error as is the consistency coefficient, but in so far as it is reliable it indicates a certain degree of general judicial capacity, the individual who is the best judge of her group in one case being somewhat more likely than any other to be the best judge of the same group in another case.


The writer's principal interest in carrying out the experiment lay in the study of the judgments themselves, but examination of the behavior of the cards from trial to trial discloses several clear differences. If for each trial the aver-age value of each card be taken and the whole 39 arranged in a strict order of merit, some of the cards are found to rise in their relative position from trial to trial, others to fall as uniformly, while another large group either remain stationary or vary irregularly. This means that, aside from changing in absolute value, the jokes also change in relative merit under the influence of repetition. The group as a whole, as measured by the total value of points, we have already seen to fall in value. But some of them fall much less rapidly than others, so that cards which are originally low in the scale

( 149) mount higher and higher in relative position, while cards originally more or less high drop lower and lower. The result is that when the curves are drawn for the five successive trials, the cards differentiate themselves into a waxing, a waning and a static group. Table I. has already shown the position of each card in each trial and the following plates show the behavior of the waxing and waning groups, the heavy line in each representing the average of the total minor group. The behavior of these cards can also be calculated by comparing their individual position in the 10 piles into which they were each time sorted, thus using their approximate absolute value instead of their relative position. When this is done the curves of Plate III. are secured, in which are shown the `absolute' change in value of the whole group and of the three minor groups (waxing, waning and static). If we assume that the observer's absolute `standard of funniness' remained constant from week to week the relatively waxing group will have increased in absolute value as well as in relative position within the group, and we would then have a class of jokes which not only did not suffer adaptation but actually increased in funniness with increasing familiarity.

The reader will recall that the 39 jokes were classified by 10 observers under the 10 categories of the comic. Table IX. gives the score of the votes for each of the 39 jokes. Comparison of this table with the position of each card in the waxing, waning or static groups shows that the waxing group consists entirely of naïve jokes and of calamity jokes in which the predicament of the victim is self-induced; the waning group consists of the sharp retort, the pun or play on words, wit, caricature and the occupation joke; the static group includes jokes in which the nature of the category is not clear, as evidenced by the scattering votes of the judges, of a few naïve in which the naïveté involves or resembles the play on words, and the calamity joke in which the victim's predicament is brought about by the design or retort of a second party. This result seems to tally well with the facts of introspection and of daily observation. The artless remarks of children, the reply or slip which unintentionally yields amusement,

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Table 9

the harmless predicament in which the weakness, stupidity, absent-mindedness or excitement of men involve them, the Jack and Jill episodes of street and drawing room, the sudden

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Plate I

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Plate 2

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Plate 3

( 155) revelation of unguarded human nature, etc., do not soon lose their laughter-provoking power. The whole performance is objective, does not involve any deception or subordination on our own part, and even anticipation does not rob the event of its comicality. But the pun, the witty stroke, the sharp retort, jokes whose original success depended on the degree to which they misled, deceived or tricked our own mental processes of judgment or expectation will not so well endure repetition because our subjective deception is no longer forthcoming. Anticipation and repetition cause such jests to wane rapidly, just as the present experiment indicates.

Now the static joke is likely to be one which involves both this subjective and objective relation,—thus if the calamity is self-imposed by the victim, the success of the stroke depends not so much on any deception, surprise or incongruity in the observer's mind as on the character of the spectacle itself, and the joke waxes. Whereas if the calamity is induced by the design of another it is likely to depend for its success on our own surprised reaction to a sharp retort or an unexpected verbal relation. Here then two tendencies are at work,—the calamity element which waxes, and the retort element which wanes. The net result is that the joke falls into the static minor group, neither rising nor falling in relative position, at least doing neither with regularity. Chance remarks of the observers as they went through the sortings from week to week clearly confirmed the above results, but no complete record was kept of these statements nor of the observer's introspections.

Another interesting point in the behavior of the cards is indicated in the general rise of the waning and fall of the waxing cards on the last day. This tendency to reversal seems to have been caused by the fact that, for the encouragement of the observers, who had by this time come to be somewhat bored by the performance, each was told that this was to be the last time. The effect of this remark seems to have been to increase the value of the poor jokes, so that, although the pack as a whole still dropped in value, the waning group fell more slowly than before. The final effect was that the

( 156) waning group seemed to become relatively better and the waxing relatively poorer.

The writer does not care to attempt in the present paper a thoroughgoing application of the data here reported to the theory of the comic, though such an analysis would not be at all out of place with such clear-cut results. Schauer[13] has recently attempted to show that all the forms of the comic rest on a primitive play impulse,—the delight in banter, play-fighting, `neckerei,' and that what causes the laugh is not the `incongruity,' `unexpectedness' nor `suddenly relieved tension' of the experience nor any `feeling of superiority' in the observer, but solely the success of the trick as a play activity, the comic being here, as Miss Smith [14] has already suggested, only one form of the successful experience. Schauer then divides the comic into two types,—the objective-comic, in which the trick is perpetrated on another by natural forces, by a third person, or by the victim's own blunders, and the subjective-comic, in which we are ourselves the object of the trick and feel ourselves led on, duped or disconcerted.

The results of the present experiment accord nicely with Schauer's analysis, the waxing group corresponding to his objective-comic, and the waning group to his subjective-comic, while the static group contains both elements, either for the same or for different observers. It appears, further-more, that the same situation, such as a stage fright, a social faux pas or a financial embarrassment may be originally decidedly waning in quality, but as the circumstance becomes an affair of memory and the victim is increasingly able to view his own previous predicament from the spectator's point of view, the `oblivescence of the disagreeable' gets in its work and the experience passes from the waning into the waxing category.


  1. ' The writer was assisted in the conduct of the experiment and in the computation of the `waxing' and `waning' results reported in section II. by Miss E. V. Dunnett, A. B. Barnard, '10.
  2. 2 Hall and Allin. On Tickling and Laughing. Amer. Jour. of Psychol., g, Oct., 1897, pp. I-41.
  3. Martin,L. J. Psychology of Esthetics. Amer. Jour. of Psychol., 16, 1905 PP.35-117.
  4. Cattell, J. McKeen. A Statistical Study of American Men of Science. Science, 24, Nov. and Dec., 1906. See also his Statistics of American Psychologists. Amer. Jour. of Psychol.,14, 1903, pp. 310-328.
  5. Sumner, F. B. A Statistical Study of Belief. Psychol. REV., 5, 1898, pp. 616-631.
  6. Norsworthy, N. The Validity of Judgments of Character. Essays Philosophical and Psychological in Honor of William James, 1908, p. 551.
  7. Wells, F. L. On the Variability of Individual Judgment. Essays Philosophical and Psychological in Honor of William James, 1908, p. 511.
  8. Downey, J. E. A Preliminary Study of Family Resemblance in Handwriting, Psychol. Bulletins, Univ. of Wyoming, No. 1, 1910.
  9. Thorndike, E. L. Handwriting. Teachers College Record, 11, No. 2, 1910, p. 57.
  10. Just what differences in degree this classification would show, and whether or not a Weber's law principle is present in the discrimination of these affective stimuli, would be an interesting topic for investigation.
  11. Dearborn, G. V. N. Notes on the Discernment of Likeness and Unlikeness. Jour. of Phil., Psychol., and Scientific Methods, 7, 1910.
  12. Measured inversely by the size of the probable errors and directly by the difference in grade.
  13. Schauer, O. Ueber das Wesen der Komik. Archiv. f. d. Ges. Psychol., 18, 1910, p. 410.
  14. Smith, W. Comedy and the Comic Experience, PSYCHOL. BULLETIN, March, 1910, p. 84.

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