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The three-level scale and its consequences


A further look at Predictions 1 and 2 suggests a three-level scale for violation interpretations, associated with the perceivers Y, X, and Z. This scale may be constructed from the elements of the present theory, under an additional further assumption about the nature of the psyche, namely that in the mind, affective commitments are not completely independent of one another, but one can drive out the other. That is, if one feels two feelings, one more strongly than the other one, then the weaker one may be eliminated.7 In particular, if an affective commitment to some violated principle is strong enough, then it may be impossible to keep in mind both a violation of the principle and the view that things are really normal or acceptable, so that the weaker view is rejected. The derived scaling, shown in Table 1, is ranked by the strength of the Violation interpretation, where there is a simultaneously present, competing, Normal interpretation, the strength of which is held constant for present purposes.

Level Logic Commitment gets it is offended sees humor
Level 1 not-V none no no no
Level 2 V and N weak yes no yes
Level 3 V and not-N strong yes yes no
Table 1:The three-level scale.

The levels in Table 1 are ordered by the strength of the perceiver's affective commitment to the principle violated, as listed under ``Commitment'' in Table 1. At one end, a lack of attachment is associated with no reaction to the situation or joke. That is, if one isn't attached to any principles being violated in a situation, then one doesn't see any violation. Secondly, a weak, or ``detachable'' attachment, would seem to be present when one can see the presence of a violation, but at the same time, either one is not so attached to the principle that one can't see the violation of it as normal, or the violation interpretation isn't strong enough to drive out a competing Normality interpretation. The present theory claims that this state is associated with humor. Thirdly, a strong or ``non-detachable'' attachment to the violated principle is associated with perceived offensiveness or threat, where the Violation interpretation predominates, and the Normality interpretation is absent from or driven out of the mental representation of the situation (thus the need for the assumption made above). In this third state, the affective complexity that was present at the second level is simplified to a pure Violation.

It should be pointed out that a strong V interpretation may be matched by a strongly motivated N interpretation, so that even something quite offensive or threatening can be made to seem funny, if, for example, a joke is told well enough, or is told by someone felt to be ``safe''. This suggests that it is the relative strength of the V and N interpretations that is crucial, rather than solely the strength of the V interpretation by itself.

Now according to Table 1, ``not funny'' has two meanings, as mentioned earlier, namely Level 1 and Level 3. In Level 1 one doesn't see the point of a joke or humorous situation; in Level 3 one gets the point but it is offensive or hurtful rather than funny. The scale predicts relationships between humor perception and degree of affective involvement, which can in principle be independently verified by comparing different individuals or one individual at different times. These relationships have been discussed above.

It is important to note that in a comparison of two situations, the normality interpretation is not always held constant, and may be present or absent, stronger or weaker. A three-level scale of degrees of violation only applies clearly when the Normality interpretation is held constant across the compared situations, and the Violation interpretation is varied in strength (by varying the degree of attachment of the perceiver to the violated principle). Since the persuasiveness of the N view may be greater or lesser, too, this can cancel some of the effects of increased affective commitment to the Violated principle.

next up previous
Next: The logic of humor. Up: Humor is Affective Absurdity Previous: Uniqueness
Tom Veatch