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Doctoral dissertation project of Lena Straßburger

It’s a matter of life and death – incongruity in humor and horror (working title)

Humor and horror provoke feelings that could not be more conflicting. Joy and fear are in opposition to each other. But the underlying linguistic structures and the cognitive processing can nevertheless be very similar. The linguistic stimuli triggering humor or horror can both be traced back to incongruity and a combination of oppositional scripts via the same logical mechanisms is possible both in humor and in horror. This hypothesis serves as the fundament for bringing the two research topics of humor and horror together with a fruitful transfer of linguistic humor theories to a systematic horror investigation.

This dissertation project disentangles the linguistic differences between humor and horror and aims to gain more insights into the cognitive processing of both. Methodologically, the effects of incongruities on readers are investigated through a corpus analysis, an acceptability questionnaire, a self-paced-reading study and event related brain potentials.


Short biography

Lena Straßburger completed her studies of German, French and Geography with the first state examination (equaling a master’s degree) at the University of Cologne in 2015/16. Her thesis with the title “Incongruity in humor and horror using the example of the US-series DEXTER” was nominated for the Faculty award. Since April 2017, she is a scholarship holder of the a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for her doctoral research. Her research is supervised by Prof. Dr. Petra Schumacher for whom Lena also works as a Research Assistant since April 2016. Lena’s research interest lies in the interdisciplinary interface of humor and horror in neuro- and psycholinguistics, literature studies and psychology. During her doctoral studies, she spent two months at the University of Zurich for an internship at the Institute for Psychology where she was trained in the Facial Action Coding system (FACS certificate). Lena organized the a.r.t.e.s forum 2017. She is a mentor for the a.r.t.e.s Eumanities-fellows and the a.r.t.e.s. “predocs”. She is a member of the committee “a.r.t.e.s. international – for all”.

Contact: l.strassburger(at)uni-koeln.de


Presentations and poster presentations

“It’s a matter of life and death – incongruity in humor and horror” (presentation), 2018/06/27: International Society for Humour Studies conference 2018, Tallinn University, Tallinn

“It’s a matter of life and death – incongruity in humor and horror” (presentation), 2018/02/27: Colloquium by Prof. Willibald Ruch and Dr. Jenny Hofmann

„Incongruity – from humor to horror“ (presentation), 2017/07/20: 17th International Symposium on Humour and Laughter, West Lafayette, USA

„Auf Leben und Tod – Zur Inkongruenz in Humor und Horror“ (poster presentation), 2016/10/14, LingUnite, Aachen, Germany

„Auf Leben und Tod – Zur Inkongruenz in Humor und Horror“ (poster presentation), 2016/1/5–8: Sprachwissenschaftliche Tagung für Promotionsstudierende (STaPs), Cologne, Germany

„Inkongruenz in Humor und Horror am Beispiel der US-Serie DEXTER“ (presentation), 2016/06/14: Colloquium for empirical linguistics by Prof. Petra Schumacher, Cologne, Germany


Teaching experience

Summer semester 2016 – summer semester 2017

Introductory seminar “Introduction to German linguistics”, 4h, Institute for German Language and Literature, University of Cologne


Cover photo: The symbol of the clown illustrates how close humor and horror are by both spreading laughter and by being instrumentalized in the horror genre. (Source: https://pixabay.com/de/clown-schauspieler-nase-zirkus-362155/) // Portrait photo: Patric Fouad