Too Close for Comfort, or Too Far to Care? Finding Humor in Distant Tragedies and Close Mishaps

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations

Abstract

Humor is ubiquitous and often beneficial, but the conditions that elicit it have been debated for millennia. We examine two factors that jointly influence perceptions of humor: the degree to which a stimulus is a violation (tragedy vs. mishap) and one's perceived distance from the stimulus (far vs. close). Five studies show that tragedies (which feature severe violations) are more humorous when temporally, socially, hypothetically, or spatially distant, but that mishaps (which feature mild violations) are more humorous when psychologically close. Although prevailing theories of humor have difficulty explaining the interaction between severity and distance revealed in these studies, our results are consistent with the proposal that humor occurs when a violation simultaneously seems benign. This benign-violation account suggests that distance facilitates humor in the case of tragedies by reducing threat, but that closeness facilitates humor in the case of mishaps by maintaining some sense of threat.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1215-1223
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological Science
Volume23
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • emotions
  • humor
  • judgment
  • psychological distance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'Too Close for Comfort, or Too Far to Care? Finding Humor in Distant Tragedies and Close Mishaps'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this