Henri de Jongste
[Topics in Humor Research 9] 2020
► pp. 21–48
Chapter 2. Constructing mental models
In the previous chapter, we introduced the concept of mental models as people’s mental representations of situations, both the ones in which we communicate and the ones about which we communicate. Mental models of a situation in which we communicate are always centred on the self, but any form of successful joint action undertaken by people in a situation requires a shared view of what the situation entails and what responses are adequate. In other words, the mental models that people construct for themselves need to be similar and compatible enough to those of others to give people a feeling that they understand each other’s position and to enable successful interaction. The question how we can re-construct the mental models of others and assess the similarity and the compatibility of their mental models to our own is therefore essential to a study of interaction.
Applied to The Office, the question is how the TV audience and the collective senders can construct such similar and compatible mental models of the sitcom scenes that a sense of understanding can emerge, even though there is no on-line communication channel linking these two groups. We will investigate in this chapter, therefore, where a perceived similarity and compatibility of mental models comes from. What common background knowledge and skills are involved in the mental models that we construct for ourselves and the mental models that others construct that makes us feel that we perceive a situation in the same way?
To investigate further what similarity and compatibility of mental models means, we need to describe how mental models are structured, and what the components might be that are similar and compatible with the components of other people’s mental models. Identifying the components of mental models also enables us to see how they can lend themselves to playful and humorous manipulations by the collective senders of The Office and the recognition of these manipulations by the TV viewers so that a sense of understanding can emerge.