Getting a joke: the time course of meaning activation in verbal humor Academic Article uri icon


  • Two lexical decision semantic priming experiments examined when, in the course of reading a joke, the initial and the intended meanings are primed; whether the meanings overlap in time; and what happens to the initial reading when the punchline is encountered. In Experiment 1, probes related to the first activated sense (S1) vs. the second sense (S2), or true meaning, were presented at each of three temporal sites for visually displayed joke tests: shortly after joke onset, at an intermediary position, and at punchline offset, whereas in Experiment 2, probes were presented at joke offset following prolonged viewing. The results from Experiment 1 showed S1 priming effects at the initial and intermediary time point. Priming for S2 also emerged at the intermediary time point and persisted at the final time point. In Experiment 2, the priming effect at joke offset was reliable only for S2. The results are taken to support a concurrent meaning activation view [in line with Attardo, Humor 10 (1997) 395] at incongruity detection, and a selective activation view [in line with Giora, Journal of Pragmatics 16 (1991) 465] at incongruity resolution. 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Vaid, J., Hull, R., Heredia, R., Gerkens, D., & Martinez, F.

citation count

  • 55

complete list of authors

  • Vaid, J||Hull, R||Heredia, R||Gerkens, D||Martinez, F

publication date

  • September 2003