Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Mary Morris - Chair

Second Advisor

Diana Robins

Third Advisor

Erin McClure

Fourth Advisor

Eric Vanman


Most of the extant humor research has focused on humor comprehension with only a few studies investigating humor appreciation as a separate construct. The purpose of this investigation was to determine the relation between humor and underlying cognitive processes. Literature on brain injured individuals has indicated that working memory, verbal and visual-spatial reasoning, cognitive flexibility, and concept formation are related to performance on comprehension tests of humor. In this study, cognitive processes underlying both verbal and nonverbal humor were investigated in a sample of healthy young adults. There is evidence that semantic and phonological humor are associated with different neural networks; therefore, both semantic and phonological humor were explored. Studies investigating physiological arousal and humor have indicated that arousal is necessary for the experience of humor. This suggests that the appreciation of humor may require the integration of cognitive and affective information, a process mediated by the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC). Thus, a second goal of this study was to investigate the relationship between humor comprehension and appreciation and the VMPFC, by including experimental tasks that previously have been linked to VMPFC functioning. Participants included 94 undergraduate psychology students between the ages of 18 and 39 years. Participants watched film clips and listened to jokes. After the presentation of each joke and each film clip, they completed a humor comprehension/appreciation inventory developed for this study. They also completed measures assessing a range of cognitive abilities hypothesized to underlie humor perception. Hierarchical regression analyses revealed that verbal reasoning was predictive of semantic humor comprehension, indicating that verbal reasoning is a core cognitive ability for the comprehension of jokes in which the humor depends on factors other than simple word play. Cognitive measures were not predictive of phonological humor comprehension or nonverbal humor comprehension. Hierarchical regression analyses revealed that the indicators of VMPFC functioning did not correlate with either humor comprehension or humor appreciation and did not moderate the relation between humor comprehension and humor appreciation. Future research is necessary to elucidate the relationships between cognitive abilities and humor perception and to further explore the contribution of the VMPFC to humor appreciation.


Included in

Psychology Commons