Summer School on Humor and Laughter

Posted on Thu 25 Jul 2013by by Jennifer Hofmann

A hamburger walks into a bar and places an order. The bartender shakes his head and answers apologetically: “sorry, we don’t serve food.”

Where else would researchers from all over Europe and Australia talk about this simple joke for half a day? Of course at the international Summer School and Symposium on Humor and Laughter: Theory, Research and Applications.

Held at the Otto-von-Guericke University in Magdeburg, Germany (July 2013), the 13th summer school on humor and laughter was a platform where senior researchers, doctorates, students and practitioners from the field of humor and laughter met and discussed their research topics. As every year, it hosted prominent researchers of the humor and laughter research community, including the psychologist Willibald Ruch (University of Zurich), sociologist Christie Davies (University of Reading), Graeme Ritchie (School of Natural and Computing Sciences, University of Aberdeen), and Dr. des Tracey Platt (co-founder of the Zurich Interaction and Expression Lab).

The program was designed to provide both advanced students and experienced researchers with a thorough foundation in humor and laughter studies. Participants were acquainted with current theoretical models (like the incongruity-resolution model) and the latest theoretical advances, with methodological issues and with factual knowledge and challenges in the research and its methods. For example, humor exists without laughter (one might just be amused but does not show it in his or her behavior) and laughter exists without humor (for example in conversational laughter), but still, some contributions use the two terms interchangeably, which leads to biased results. The contents of the teaching also raised the awareness for such problems and gave room for interesting discussions, also across the disciplines (from experts in political satire to psycho-analytic views on humor, to engineering sciences).

To those interested in practical applications of humor in a variety of applied settings, the course offered an introduction to the approaches that are being used around the world to put humor to work and to deliver the benefits of humor and laughter (for example clown interventions, humor in teaching and educational settings, humor in family therapy).

This year, members of the ILHAIRE consortium were represented as lecturers in the summer school teaching program. For the first time, the terms “avatar”, “virtual agent”, “laughter synthesis” and “ECA” were mentioned on a regular basis during the discussion time and in the symposium.

From the ILHAIRE consortium, Willibald Ruch and the team of the University of Zurich presented amongst others a lexical approach to laughter, a workshop on the Facial Action Coding System and a talk on the expression of smiling and laughter. Jérôme Urbain of the team of the University of Mons presented an overview on automatic acoustic laughter processing. Furthermore, the delegates learnt more on humor and laughter in interactions and the uses of laughter in interactions (taught by Elizabeth Holt) and for example how to do humor research on the Internet (taught by Liisi Laineste), computational approximations of human humor processing (taught by Christian Hempelmann), and the script theory and cognitive linguistics (taught by Wladislaw Chlopicki), amongst others. On more practical terms, Giselinde Kuipers gave insights in how to publish in the journal of the society (Humor: International Journal of Humor Research) and Reinhold Wandel held a workshop on humorous drama activity. All in all, 14 lecturers covered the broad fields within humor and laughter research.

Liz Holt in the search of laughables and Willibald Ruch lecturing on laughter classification.


But of course, a summer school on humor and laughter without fun, smiles and joking around wouldn’t be complete and the city and citizens of Magdeburg made huge efforts to make the stay of the participants a fun one (even the statues helped).

The summer school local organizer and host Prof. Dr. Holger Kersten on Duchenne smiles in Magdeburgs statues.

A further highlight of the week was the symposium, where students and doctorates presented their work and outlined their projects. The topics entailed: “Arousal Seeking and Liberal Thinking Style as Predictors of Humor Structure Appreciation“, „Laughing Literati – an Exploration of Chinese Humor and its Cultural Context Through Song Dynasty Joke Collections“ or „Self-Mockeries of a Mullah A Case Study of Humorous Autobiography of Muslim Clergy Aqa Najafi Quchani 1878-1943“.

All in all, the summer school was a big success, with ILHAIRE being an active contributor, full of playful and serious interactions on the strictly serious topics of humor and laughter!

For all the German speakers, here is a little film on the summer school that was broadcasted by a German television station.

And last but not least: the most controversial joke of all times:
“What is the difference between a sparrow?”  *

Jérôme Urbain lecturing on laughter synthesis.

* None whatsoever! Both legs are of equal length, especially the left!

Jennifer Hofmann