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Figure Out Why This Is Funny---Scientists Use Math To Predict Humor

Update Date: Dec 01, 2015 09:15 AM EST
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For those of you who love to laugh, did you know that you are a mathematical equation too?

Does that itself sound funny? Well, it isn't. A joke might seem abstract and unquantifiable, yet researchers from the University of Alberta  have created a new mathematical model to quantify humour, according to HNGN.

This is at least the first ever quantifiable theory of humor presentation.

"This really is the first paper that's ever had a quantifiable theory of humor," Chris Westbury, lead author of the study, said in a press release. "There's quite a small amount of experimental work that's been done on humor."

It is funny that the study began with the researchers examining the "snunkoople effect," referring to people giggling at made-up non-words. This made Westbury probe possible quantifiable theories of humor.

It also led to the assumption that entropy, "which is a measure of how ordered or predictable something is" can enable us to understand why made-up words are funnier than those that are not made up.

"We did show, for example, that Dr. Seuss - who makes funny non-words-made non-words that were predictably lower in entropy," said Westbury. "He was intuitively making lower-entropy words when he was making his non-words. It essentially comes down to the probability of the individual letters. So if you look at a Seuss word like yuzz-a-ma-tuzz and calculate its entropy, you would find it is a low-entropy word because it has improbable letters like Z."

The researchers first asked subjects to compare the humor of two non-words. Next, they asked subjects to rate just one non-word for its humorous content. Westbury and his researchers supposed that the "funny" words were based on "entropy ratings".

"The results show that the bigger the difference in the entropy between the two words, the more likely the subjects were to choose the way we expected them to," said Westbury. "To be able to predict with that level of accuracy is amazing. You hardly ever get that in psychology, where you get to predict what someone will choose 92 per cent of the time."

Hence, researchers can really figure out the various ways in which ideas and words can be funny, with multiple implications for psychology.

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