Hoffding Stepphenomenon


HOFFDING'S THEORY OF HUMOR/ LAUGHTER. The German philosopher and psychologist Harald Hoffding (1843-1931) advanced the notion that laughter - as an expression of pleasant feelings - is possible at a lower stage of consciousness than is involved in the "upper-level" of the appreciation of the ridiculous. According to Hoffding's theory of humor/laughter, laughter may be aroused, also, by certain physical conditions without being the expression of any emotion (e.g., intense cold may produce laughter as well as shivering). In Hoffding's analysis, smiling does not appear until the fourth week after birth, when it is accompanied by various "bleating" sounds; such sounds - together with the smile - develop later into laughter which is considered originally as an expression of satisfaction. Hoffding's position on laughter approaches Hobbes' humor theory when the former examines how laughter is aroused by the perception of the ludicrous: laughter is primarily an expression of pleasure in general, but - because in the struggle for existence where self-preservation plays a leading role -laughter comes to be the specific expression of the satisfaction of the "instinct" of self-preservation (which Hoffding identifies with the love of self). Thus, in Hoffding's theory, the original sentiment of pure "superiority" may be tempered somewhat by contempt, or by sympathy (in the latter case, one may observe humor). In this sense, Hoffding's humor/laughter theory may be viewed as a "Hobbes-plus" theory of laughter in which the pure superiority emphasis of Hobbes may be augmented by Hoffding's "plus" element of sympathy. One of the most significant features of Hoffding's theory of the ludicrous is his choice of the affective - over the cognitive -nature of the contrast involved in a potentially humorous situation. Hoffding maintains that in humor one feels great and small at the same time, and sympathy makes laughter humorous, just as it changes fear into reverence. See also HOBBES' THEORY OF HUMOR/LAUGHTER; HUMOR, THEORIES OF.

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