A re-visit of three-stage humor processing with readers' surprise, comprehension, and funniness ratings: An ERP study

Li Chuan Ku, Yen Ju Feng, Yu Chen Chan, Ching Lin Wu, Hsueh Chih Chen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Humor processing can be divided into three sub-stages including incongruity detection, incongruity resolution, and elaboration (Chan et al., 2012, 2013; Feng et al., 2014). However, few studies have investigated the three-stage model of humor processing with readers' surprise, comprehensibility and funniness levels, and little discussion has been devoted to its biological underpinning. To verify the credibility of the three-stage model, electroencephalography (EEG) was utilized in corroboration with two types of stimuli including jokes and non-jokes in the present research. Participants were categorized into high vs. low score groups based on their rating scores of surprise, comprehension, and funniness to joke stimuli. The between-group analyses showed that compared with the less surprised group, highly surprised people elicited a primarily larger N400, which may suggest more incongruity perceived in reading jokes. Additionally, good comprehenders mainly elicited a larger P600, probably indicating a more successful resolution of detected incongruity in comparison with poor comprehenders. Finally, the highly amused group elicited a larger late positive potential (LPP) compared with the less amused group, which could reflect more affective elaboration of jokes. Participants' surprise, comprehension, and funniness levels had smaller impacts on other chief electrophysiological components, with the effects varying with different group contrasts. These results provided the evidence that different degrees of surprise, comprehensibility, and amusement to jokes would influence the three sub-stages (incongruity detection, incongruity resolution, and elaboration) respectively in humor processing. The current study thus generally re-verified the stability of the three-stage model through participants' behavioral ratings which had seldom been touched upon.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-62
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Neurolinguistics
Publication statusPublished - 2017 May 1


  • Amusement
  • Comprehension
  • Event-related potential (ERP)
  • Humor
  • Surprise

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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