The Rise and Fall of Humor: Psychological Distance Modulates Humorous Responses to Tragedy

A. Peter McGraw, Lawrence E. Williams, Caleb Warren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations

Abstract

Humor is a ubiquitous experience that facilitates coping, social coordination, and well-being. We examine how humorous responses to a tragedy change over time by measuring reactions to jokes about Hurricane Sandy. Inconsistent with the belief that the passage of time monotonically increases humor, but consistent with the benign violation theory of humor, a longitudinal study reveals that humorous responses to Sandy's destruction rose, peaked, and eventually fell over the course of 100 days. Time creates a comedic sweet spot that occurs when the psychological distance from a tragedy is large enough to buffer people from threat (creating a benign violation) but not so large that the event becomes a purely benign, nonthreatening situation. The finding can help psychologists understand how people cope and provide clues to what makes things funny and when they will be funny.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)566-572
Number of pages7
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Volume5
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • coping
  • emotion
  • humor
  • psychological distance
  • time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology

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