Key points: Relief theory suggest that laughter relieves the nervous feeling in us
Laugh producing situations save psychic energy
The excess in the spare energy is relieved by the act of laughter
Freud believes that dreams and humour allow us to enjoy hidden pleasure unconsciously
Relief theorists viewed laughter as relieving an accumulation of nervous energy. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) came up with a relief theory, where he stated that all laugh-producing situations are pleasurable because they save psychic energy. It brings to the person pleasure because it spares expenditure of feeling, comedy because it spares expenditure of ideas and joking because it spares expenditure of inhibition. This excess in spare energy is relieved by the act of laughter. Freud also concludes that jokes are more than they seem. He believes that the humour we enjoy in jokes bears close relations with dreams. This is mainly because both have hidden benefits; both of them allow us to enjoy hidden pleasure "unconsciously".
What do we mean by "unconsciously"? For dreams, we enjoy the hidden pleasure while sleeping, in other words we are in the state of unconscious. As for the laughter, the pleasure we enjoyed is related to the term unconscious because when receive humour and we laugh, those words "ha,ha,ha" are not as purposefully as we would select a word in speech. Unless the laughter is a forceful one, our laughter is under weak conscious control most of the time.
Basically, the relief theory of laughter is when one is faced with a situation where tensions are created within us. As we try to cope with two sets of emotions and thoughts, we need a release and laughter is the way of cleansing our system of the built-up tension and incongruity, and in this case the laughter will be referred as the relief laughter.
The relief theory is also being used in the movies and plays we watch, especially plots that deals with thriller and adventure. It is a technique used when audience in a movie or play is experiencing high tensions, the plot will include comic relief at the right times. The tension or the suspense is built up as much as possible and then breaks it down slightly with a side comment, allowing the viewer to relieve himself from what he is facing with high-tension emotions. Shortly after, the tensions in the movie will build up once again!