Why cartoons make (some of) us smile
Dunbar RIM., Stirling-Middleton E.
Pocket cartoons are a regular feature of most contemporary newspapers and magazines. As such, they represent a way of conveying complex social and political commentary in a simple visual form. How well we enjoy verbal (oral) jokes depends on the number of mindstates in the joke, and here we ask whether this is also true of visual cartoons. We use survey data from a sample of 3,380 participants attending a public exhibition of published print media cartoons by well-known cartoonists to determine the extent to which viewers' ratings of cartoons are determined by the mentalizing content of cartoons, the participants' gender and age, and the publication date of the cartoon. We show that the number of mindstates involved in the cartoon affects its appreciation, just as in verbal jokes. In addition, we show that preferred topics vary by age and gender. While both genders strongly prefer cartoons that explore the complexities of romantic relationships, men rate visual jokes more highly than women do, whereas women prefer jokes that involve political commentary or the dynamics of close relationships. These differences seem to reflect differences in the way the social worlds of the two genders are organized.