How humor is experienced : An embodied metaphor account

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Journal / PublicationCurrent Psychology
Online published28 Feb 2022
Publication statusOnline published - 28 Feb 2022


The study explores the humor-body association from the perspective of embodied cognition. According to the Conceptual Metaphor Theory, abstract concepts tend to be understood with concrete experiences through embodied mappings. Therefore, the current study attempts to investigate how humor, an understudied abstract concept, is perceived in the Chinese context by means of textual analysis and a behavioral experiment. Firstly, 6,500 entries of the corpus data related to laughter and humor in Chinese were used for the textual analysis. Extensive uses of embodied humor metaphors were found, which provided important linguistic evidence for the interaction between laughter, humor, and body. Secondly, a behavioral study was conducted based on some frequently-used embodied metaphorical expressions of humor (e.g., pěngfù dàxiào 捧腹大笑, meaning ‘to hold one’s sides laughing’) identified in the corpus. Specifically, the participants were instructed to either do embodied metaphor or non-metaphor actions as bodily primes (i.e., ‘holding one’s belly while bending forward and backward repeatedly’ vs. ‘turning one’s upper body from side to side with both hands on the back’) or perform no actions before completing the subsequent joke rating task and the mood rating task. Results showed that the participants who were primed with the embodied metaphor actions rated the jokes higher than those in the control groups who were primed with non-metaphor actions or had no primes. Also, there was no significant difference in the mood ratings across the groups. These findings suggest that embodied humor metaphors indeed affect humor experience and shape how humor is conceptualized. The current study supports not only the embodied view of humor understanding but also the conceptual metaphor account of abstract reasoning, which sheds new light on the theoretical development of the embodiment of abstract concepts.

Research Area(s)

  • Humor appreciation, Embodied cognition, Conceptual metaphor, Bodily primes, Abstract concept