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Human Mental Incongruity and Language Models' Next-Word Prediction

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

Human cognition is a complex interplay of expectation, perception, and interpretation. We often find humor when our mental expectations are subverted or contradicted. Similarly, language models, such as large language models (LLMs), demonstrate a remarkable ability to predict the next word in a sentence. Here, we explore the intriguing parallels between human mental incongruity and LLMs' next-word prediction, shedding light on the fascinating dynamics at play.

Human Mental Incongruity:

Human mental incongruity refers to the unexpected or contradictory elements that challenge our expectations and lead to humor. When conversing, we often anticipate the next words or ideas based on contextual cues, previous experiences, and social norms. However, when those expectations are subverted and something unexpected is said, it can trigger surprise and laughter.

Language Models and Next-Word Prediction:

Language models, like LLMs, are trained on massive amounts of text data to predict the next word in a sentence. They learn patterns, syntax, and semantic relationships from the training data, enabling them to generate coherent and contextually appropriate text. The predictive nature of LLMs is akin to a human listener trying to anticipate the speaker's next words.

Parallels between Human Mental Incongruity and LLM Prediction:

  1. Expectation and Subversion: In both scenarios, expectations play a vital role. Humans anticipate what others will say based on contextual cues, just as LLMs predict the next word based on the sentence context. Mental incongruity arises when expectations are subverted, leading to surprise and laughter. Similarly, LLMs can generate unexpected and humorous outcomes when they diverge from predicted next-word sequences.

  2. Contextual Understanding: Both humans and LLMs rely on contextual understanding. Humans interpret words and phrases based on the broader context of the conversation, incorporating nuances and implicit meanings. LLMs, too, consider contextual information encoded in the preceding sentence to generate the most probable next word.

  3. Pattern Recognition: Humans and LLMs exhibit pattern recognition abilities. Humans recognize linguistic patterns, humor devices, and rhetorical techniques that often result in incongruity and comedic effects. LLMs, trained on vast amounts of text, learn to identify and generate coherent patterns of language, sometimes resulting in unexpected and humorous predictions.

Implications and Future Possibilities:

Understanding the parallels between human mental incongruity and LLMs' next-word prediction provides valuable insights into the cognitive processes involved in both. This knowledge can inform the development of more sophisticated and contextually aware language models.

Moreover, exploring these parallels opens up exciting possibilities for AI-assisted humor generation, creative writing, and human-AI collaborations. By harnessing the predictive power of LLMs and leveraging their understanding of linguistic patterns, AI systems could be used to create comedic content, inspire creativity, or enhance human-generated humor.


Human mental incongruity and LLMs' next-word prediction share intriguing similarities. Both involve the interplay of expectation, perception, and contextual understanding. Recognizing these parallels deepens our understanding of human cognition and informs the development of AI language models.

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